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Out of Left Field: The importance of intramural sport, from a former coach

Where average Joes can feel like professionals
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PHOTO by FAZLUR REHMAN MALIK
PHOTO by FAZLUR REHMAN MALIK

Almost exactly a year ago a close friend of mine asked me to help coach the intramural team he was tasked with captaining. Basketball had been a common interest that drew us together in first year. Naturally, as someone who loved the sport and was seeking a respite from the rigors and vagaries of academic life, I accepted.

Fast forward a few months later to December: exams were winding down, and we were fresh off of missing the playoffs due to a technicality and an extremely questionable foul. Some of the guys had the good fortune of finishing exams early, and one of them was returning home to Australia because his exchange was ending.

An end-of-season dinner would be a perfect way to see the team before the winter holidays and would double as a send-off. Not all of us could make it because we are, first and foremost, students.

But I remember thinking at the end of the night how seldom I actually saw most of these guys — at most, two times a week for two and a half months. Yet, I thought of how natural it felt to be around them. I quickly realized these were the bonds of a team. A team that, though not competing at a professional or even amateur level, had tasted the bitterness of defeat and the sweetness of victory as one.

The season in the second semester saw new faces join the old. That semester yielded great success and promise in the standings but was cut short before the finals game in March due to the impact of COVID-19.

This was not simply an unceremonious end to some intramural basketball season at some college; this was the abrupt end of being around the sport I love, meeting new people, making new friends, taking a break from studies, and feeling a sense of camaraderie in a university setting notorious for inspiring feelings of alienation.

A few of the guys had played extensively in high school — sometimes at very high levels — and thus were inclined to keep playing, while some had never participated in a team sport until then.

A close friend of mine said that intramural sports gave him the chance to feel like a professional despite being an “average Joe.”

The title of this article is a reference to the Oscar Wilde play The Importance of Being Earnest, a satirical play about Victorian sensibilities where the protagonists escape social burdens by maintaining fictitious personae. This is a fitting title when discussing an escape from academic pressures.

Average Joes moonlighting as professionals: decidedly serious people — students — benefiting from a little triviality in their lives — something as simple as organized sports once a week.

Out of Left Field is the Sports section’s newest column. Ever wondered if the university has more to offer than Varsity sports? Out of Left Field will explore the wackiest, weirdest, and most underrated athletic opportunities at U of T.