100 years later, RecSports still playing strong

By Michael Sugerman, Daily Staff Reporter
Published October 6, 2013

In 1972, University alum Jim Warner and his housemates formed a team called “Morrow’s Men,” named after their landlord. They competed in 16 intramural sports, and Warner became the Intramural Athlete of the Year.

Forty-one years later, Warner — wearing his Morrow’s Men team shirt — looked around the Intramural Building gym and said with a grin, “The smell is the same as 40 years ago.”

Warner was one of about 350 intramural athletes and employees of past and present to fill the gym in celebration of the program’s centennial Friday.

In 1913, the University was first in the nation to create a formal department for recreation on a college campus. Fifteen years later, it built the first dedicated intramural facility in the country.

“Recreational sports is yet another contribution that this remarkable university has made to all of higher education, and in so doing, to the lives of millions of people in this country — especially millions of students,” said Loren Rullman, associate vice president for student life.

In its 100 years, the program has expanded from a couple thousand students to nearly 18,000, playing on more than 2,000 intramural teams, in addition to 2,000 students on 32 competitive club teams, Rullman said. The IM Building was eventually joined by the Central Campus Recreation Building, North Campus Recreation Building, 38 acres of fields, tennis courts, basketball courts and several other programs.

Since the intramural program was established, approximately 35 million games have been played in recreational facilities, according to Bill Canning, outgoing director of Intramural Sports.

Michigan Radio Network Color Commentator Jim Brandstatter, the event’s emcee, discussed his own memories of playing IM sports and said they help students realize their love for sports even if they can't play on varsity or club teams.

“The purpose of the program is to create transformative experiences for students to learn, grow, contribute and lead,” Brandstatter said. “That’s exactly what the University of Michigan is all about. The words of the fight song — ‘leaders and best’ — aren’t just lyrics. They’re an attitude.”

Canning attested to this sentiment with statistics: nearly 70 percent of students played varsity sports in high school, whereas only one percent play on varsity teams at the University, he said.

He said the IM program successfully epitomizes the “sports for all” vision of its founders, former Michigan basketball coach Elmer Mitchell and former Athletic Director Fielding Yost, providing avenues for competition even when varsity athletics are not a reality.

Though 100 years is a great milestone to celebrate, it also means it’s time for the University’s recreational facilities to be renovated. As a result — thanks in part to lobbying by student coalition “Building a Better Michigan” — the University's Board of Regents approved a $65 per semester charge as part of every student’s tuition that will go toward funding the renovations. The fee will ultimately raise $173 million, $80 million of which will go specifically to improving intramural and recreation buildings and resources.

Law student Jessica Kraft, who played a role in starting the “Building a Better Michigan” campaign, said the University has a “bright future” in recreational sports.

“Hopefully when you come back and visit again, you’ll see amazing new buildings with new students in them doing the same old, great Michigan thing of being the leaders and the best,” Kraft said.

In a night that focused both on the history and future of Michigan’s recreation program, the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association paid tribute to the University’s impact on intramural sports over the years.

NIRSA president-elect Stan Shingles presented a NIRSA resolution that recognized “the contributions of the University of Michigan to the profession of collegiate recreation, and commends this university for their significant role in establishing collegiate recreation – the programs, facilities, and dedicated professionals to the mainstay of today’s college experience.”

Equally as important as the program’s national influence, Canning said, are the social networks it creates between participants, employees, student leaders and sponsors.

Warner, the University alum, is a testament to the intramural sports social web — he met his wife at the last intramural game he played at Michigan. She was visiting a mutual friend and ended up filling in at third base on his co-ed softball team.

“I can attribute my marriage of 37 years to intramurals at the University of Michigan,” Warner said.