Club and intramural sports promote spirit and community
Graduating seniors, coaches and administrators share moments of joy from Dartmouth club and intramural sports.
This article is featured in the 2022 Commencement & Reunions special issue.
This year, members of the Class of 2022 participated in 33 club sports and competed in intramural leagues and events during all three terms. According to the Office of Campus Life, three-quarters of students participate in some form of athletics — and Dartmouth’s club and intramural athletes outnumber the varsity players by more than two to one.
However, the College on the Hill did not always support athletics in the way it does today. Early in the College’s history, the administration hoped to discourage students from playing games, instead directing them towards “more useful” activities like manual, agricultural and academic labors, according to the first code of Dartmouth College law.
Students protested this regulation beginning in the mid to late 1830s, when games of “football” – which involved teams with far more than eleven players, and whose purpose was essentially to just control the ball — would break out spanning the length of the Green. Teams were often divided by class year or by whether the student was a “Social” or “Frater,” the two types of literary societies that provided social outlets on campus.
Former student Joseph Bartlett Eastman, who graduated in the Class of 1843, wrote in a letter home that “There seems to have been something of a contest at Hanover between the Quacks and the Juniors, but I imagine it will turn out to be ‘much squeal and little wool,’ as the devil said when he shaved the pigs.”
Despite Bartlett’s prediction, sports grew among Big Green students. The NCAA’s founding in 1910 led to the concept of recruitment at the collegiate level — which prompted the creation of club and intramural teams so any student could play sports recreationally. Today, these teams still enjoy much popularity and success.
In the spring term, the women’s club soccer team defeated Brown University to bring home the Ivy League Championship. Women’s club soccer coach Stephen Severson ’74, who has coached the team since 2003, said he felt proud of the team’s win.
“We were looking over at Brown on the other field and they looked 10 feet tall and really strong,” he said. “We were a little nervous, but we came out with the win. They out-shot us 10 to three, but two of ours went in and none of theirs did.”
Severson attributed a large part of the team’s unity and success to the graduating class.
“They set a very admirable tone of encouragement but no harshness,” he said. “I really appreciated how kind they always have been while still being sufficiently directive when needed. Our team is pretty chilled out but still has a good time.”
Former women’s club soccer captain Sophia Greszczuk ’22 said that winning the Ivy League championship made her feel the same excitement for the sport that she had in high school.
“I feel like it’s somewhat of a freshman thing [to join club sports] because you’re trying to make friends, and you’re trying to continue who you were in high school, but I came back my senior year because of the community,” she said.
Severson shared that team bonding is core to his coaching philosophy, exemplified through his detailed website and game blog, texts to current and former players on their birthdays and team dinners at his house.
“The team sees us [my family and I] as a resource outside of soccer,” he said. “It’s a really nice thing to step a tiny bit off campus and have a home-cooked dinner.”
The men’s club soccer team also made it to the finals of the Ivy League tournament this spring for the first time in its recorded history. Former men’s club soccer team captain Matt Schnell ’22 said that, especially after the tournament, he feels grateful for his relationships on the team.
“We played five games in two days, which was exhausting, but driving down and staying in the hotel was so much fun,” he said. “It was my last real competitive soccer that I’ll probably play for a while, so I definitely tried to create a lasting memory that weekend.”
In addition to their leadership roles on their respective club soccer teams, Greszczuk and Schnell both play several intramural sports. Greszczuk says that soccer and her intramural hockey team are her two favorite things to do on campus.
“[Intramural hockey] has sparked a genuine interest in hockey among my friends, and we spent some great days out on Occom practicing,” she said. “We’d get all hyped up for games and wear our Hawaiian shirts or other matching outfits.”
Schnell said he has organized and played for soccer, basketball, softball and flag football intramural teams over the course of his time at Dartmouth.
“I’m a super competitive person, so we’re definitely there to win, but it’s also lower stakes, which allows us to have a good time,” he said.
Intramural sports coordinator Mason Kaiser said he has done research for his graduate program indicating that involvement in intramural programs has significant positive effects on students’ happiness and success in the classroom.
“The Dartmouth way is very unique, but it’s very taxing on students,” he said. “Putting something together to get students out of their dorms and doing something active is the most rewarding part for me.”
Robert Crawford ’22, who said he has helped organize intramurals and played on the soccer, basketball, flag football, hockey and softball teams, believes that intramurals are extremely fun regardless of whether or not someone has played the sport before.
“If you can get a team together of 10 friends, then you have a designated weekly time to hang out,” he said.
Crawford said his last team, the Sachem Salamanders, made it to the finals of the intramural softball tournament.
“I played baseball my whole life, and it was great to watch all my friends get into the sport that I love,” he said.
Katie Smith ’22, who also played on the Sachem Salamanders, as well as in the intramural hockey league, said she thought the most fun part of her experience was when her team surpassed others’ expectations as an underdog.
“We were mostly made up of people who had never played softball before,” she said. “Nobody expected to go far, so my most rewarding intramural memory was when we beat the GDX ’24 team in the semifinals.”
Smith added that playing intramural sports during her senior year felt like a return to normalcy following the COVID-19 pandemic.
John Weingart ’22, who said he has been playing intramural hockey, basketball, volleyball and flag football since his freshman year, added that intramurals gave him a sense of belonging on campus.
“When I joined the freshman hockey team I barely knew how to ice skate, so I was just falling on my butt over and over,” he said. “Our team was really bad – we lost like four games straight – but when we finally won one game we popped a bottle of champagne outside of the rink and started spraying it in celebration.”
Kaiser said he recognizes that club and intramural competitions are important to the culture of the Dartmouth community.
“I wrapped up a softball tournament this past weekend, and there were three or four all-senior teams who had to take a minute knowing that this was their last game together,” he said.
While it is easy to discount club sports and intramurals as low-level competition, the dedication that students put into them represents a grassroots spirit that is uniquely Dartmouth and is alive and well in the Class of 2022. Perhaps the sustained popularity of intramural sports at Dartmouth signifies the importance of community and quality time with friends – two things that are important for all.