By Whitney Jones, News Editor
After three years of solid increase in intramural sports, participation is stalling, but the program’s coordinator said he is not worried.
“The numbers for intramurals have stayed close to the same,” said Blake Pennington, intramural coordinator. “They are still very strong. I mean, we’re to a point where we would run out of space if we had any more or too many more participants.”
Since Pennington became the intramural coordinator in 2008, he said the program saw a 45 percent increase, even though this year growth has plateaued.
For the 2010-2011 school year, 3,439 players participated in intramural sports. This number counts individuals once for every sport they play. The latest count for this school year — 1,669 — only includes the fall semester’s players.
Pennington said one reason for past years’ growth is the continued increase of student enrollment at Union.
The intramural program made changes that may have encouraged more students to sign up to play late-night games, ranging from flag football to ultimate Frisbee to sand volleyball.
“The big change this year has been the website. … I’ve received great feedback from students regarding the website as far as ease of registration,” Pennington said.
Before partnering with IMLeagues, a website that allows college students to sign up for intramural sports and view their schedules and stats, Pennington said the process to play an intramural sport was more difficult.
During his first year at Union, students had to stop by his office to form intramural teams or email him to join a roster. Now students can form teams from their dorm rooms by registering online.
“When it’s not user-friendly for the students, then it makes it more complicated on my end as far as communicating to people game times and communicating schedules and things like that,” Pennington said. “The website has been incredible. Intramurals are as smooth now as they ever have been — since I’ve been here at least.”
The most popular intramural sports at Union are flag football, basketball, softball and indoor volleyball, Pennington said. For these intramurals, he typically helps organize and manage about 50 teams.
However, with the growth from the past few years, Pennington has faced several obstacles.
One of his biggest challenges is finding a place to host the games. With basketball, for example, Pennington has to work around the Bulldogs’ and Lady Bulldogs’ schedules, which is why most games do not begin until late evening.
Basketball intramurals are now played in both Union gyms and the facilities at West Jackson Baptist Church. If the number of teams grows any more Pennington said he will have to look for more locations where students can play a friendly game.
Kristen Miller, sophomore business management major and student intramural coordinator, said another dilemma is finding volunteer referees, part of her job.
“I run into not having enough volunteers to fit all the games because we have so many teams,” she said. “I have to strategically schedule people, which is tough because it’s a volunteer position. They are paid minimum wage for reffing a game of their peers, and no one is ever going to be happy with what they call.”
Mark Brown, junior sport management major, plays in intramurals and referees some of the games. He said he too has seen growth in the program and credits that partly to Pennington’s efforts, which include slimming down the number of sports offered by eliminating those that are less popular, such as wallyball.
“(Pennington) has tried to have a wider range (of sports), and he’s been really flexible,” Brown said. “It’s not a big deal to get rid of it and find something else that people would like to play.”