The pathos of IM basketball

The first intramural basketball game I attend is somewhat marred by the fact that only one team decides to show up. They’re stretching on the bleachers when I arrive at Lasell Gymnasium, eight o’clock sharp. On the court, a girls’ game is winding down, and when women’s team star and tonight’s ref Abi Jackson ’03 calls time, the team I’m here to watch still has no dance partner.

Three minutes later they’re trudging out into the cold; there will be no one to play tonight. From the way “The Weasels,” winners by default, are grumbling, it looks like they’d trade away this effortless victory in a second for the chance to lose. In IM basketball, there’s always the risk that your march to the gym will be in vain, that your rivals for the night don’t have their act together, or are simply too disinterested to show. For those who live on the outer reaches of campus, the pain of a frigid, slippery walk wasted is compounded.

“It’s kind of annoying,” said Jackson, a Garfield House resident, “because I have to turn around and go back home.”

Therein lies the agony of intramurals. But with victory comes the ecstasy. For out-of-season varsity athletes, an IM win is like a stop at 7-11 compared to the five-course meal that is a varsity victory. The first is a brief, sweet, near-effortless rush, the second the product of painstaking preparation and sacrifice. In the end, varsity may be more fulfilling, but there is no denying the charm of the Slurpee-style win, particularly when shared with comrades.

For non-varsity players, IM provides the opportunity to relive high school glory days, bond with entry or house-mates or, perhaps, try to repeat that Nash-to-Nowitzki action seen on TNT the night before. IM basketball accommodates no matter how seriously each player takes his hoops.

Three leagues, A, B and C, each in excess of 10 teams, separate the big from the small, the short from the tall, the title-seekers from the fun-seekers. According to Dan Doyle ’04, a ref and Renaissance man who plays on a team at each level, the A-league is the place to go for size and skill.

“A lot of the A-league players are ex-basketball players from high school, or kids who played here and dropped off the varsity team,” Doyle said.

Jackson pointed out that several A-league teams are filled with varsity athletes from various out-of-season teams, adding a very high degree of athleticism.

“Men’s soccer can run all day, and football is a bunch of very large men,” she said.

Players with a more relaxed IM ideal fill the ranks of the B- and C-leagues. As Doyle puts it, “A-league is pretty competitive. B and C are more about coming out and having fun.”

The girl’s league, meanwhile, is experiencing something of a down year. According to Jackson, in past years the league has averaged about eight teams. This year, only four have joined up; probably, she said, because the girls’ league was not as well-publicized and hyped as its male counterpart.

“It’s a pretty basic level of play,” Jackson said. “It’s mostly a bunch of people running around. . . I try not to make too many calls.”

League champs receive gift certificates to local restaurants, but you get the feeling that intramurals isn’t about the prize at the end of the road. It’s about the plucky C-league point guard I watched late Thursday night try to drag his team back from the abyss of a double-digit deficit, rallied by teammates shouting about his resemblance to Dallas Maverick Steve Nash.

It’s about Williams E becoming the Lakers for an evening. It’s about relieving the chill of cold days and even colder nights with the heat and sweat of fast-paced basketball. Forget who carries off the trophy and bragging rights when the playoffs end the second week of February; IM basketball lives in the moment. Just pray that the other team shows up.