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Peculiar Collegiate Intramural Sports


College students need plenty of ways to vent frustrations, and stay sane under the pressures of papers and projects. Goofball sports can help. Here are some prime examples of collegiate silliness.

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PennUltimate Frisbee

Although no longer considered weird, the 1970s aficionados of what used to be called Ultimate Frisbee occupied the fringe of athletic normality. The sport, invented (the word seems odd when applied to something so apparently straightforward – throwing, catching, what more?) in a northern New Jersey exurb, spread regionally to the colleges these young people attended.

The situation at Penn was typical. By the late 70’s, a rabidly enthusiastic bunch of fans had convinced the bemused authorities to accord intramural or club status to the PennUltimate Frisbee team. Consonant with its name, its players were noted more for intellect than athleticism. They also included graduate students, staff and faculty. Alan Rachlin, a super-smart Wharton/Penn Law double-threat, was one potent promoter. He recruited everywhere he went, from eateries to the Law Library. However, only a charitable observer could have inferred such fierce playing from the team’s distinctly un-buff appearance.

Today the game, played intramurally, intercollegiately, and internationally, now avoids the Frisbee moniker to avert copyright challenge. Players today wear protective gear and perform airborne saves fit for soccer.

What remains unchanged is a certain anti-snobbism and frequent self-officiation. Team names such as the Oberlin Praying Manti and Flying HorseCows indicate the self-deprecatory, nose-thumbing attitude of team members.

Mattress Sports

No dirty thoughts – this is athletics!

Boston College Mattress Jousting

Students at this otherwise respectable college de-stress during exams by racing towards a standing figure with mattresses upright in their arms. The static target is, in the vernacular, generally ‘creamed’, and the opposing ‘knights’ usually end in a heap as well.

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Toccoa Falls College Mattrress Surfing

As a variant, some students place one slippery, plastic-encased mattress on top of another, take a running start, and try to travel as far as possible as the top mattress slides over the bottom one. Some female practitioners at this small Georgia institution achieve quite an impressive distance once they hop on. This is not an official sport, at least not yet!

United States Naval Academy ‘Aircraft Carrier Landing’

In a variant on these two previous pastimes, Plebes combine surfing with jousting to create a sport dangerous enough to require helmets. The two combatants lay their mattresses on a dorm hallway floor some distance apart, and then sprint towards each other, jumping belly first onto the mattresses with maximum forward momentum. The mattresses careen into each other, helmets crash, and the law of inertia is decisively demonstrated. The future pride of the US fleet is resourceful enough to pre-lubricate the hallway with Pam, water, and soapy solution to decrease friction, and well-behaved enough to towel it clean afterwards. One wonders whether Academy upperclassmen would discipline such Plebe nonsense.

Barnard College Greek Games

Barnard College has held suitably intellectual Greek Games for decades. The April 2010 iteration of this beloved event expanded upon the traditional scarf dance, hurdling, chariot race (with a team of human ‘horses’), and hoop rolling. Barnard assembled an entire day of athletic activities such as the opening Torch Race, Yoga in a Toga, Stilting, Discus Throwing, Relay Races, Plato’s Pilates, Tug-of-War, and Capture-the-Flag. Greek costume and, as with the original games, poetry and performance, form a part of the day’s events. Wonderful archival 1920’s footage is at

University of Virginia Inner-Tube Water Polo

This goofball method of wasting time and cooling off is now a recognized sport at UVA, boasting several pages of rules and warnings to consult one’s physician. Here is a sample: “Players may not hold, push, hit, splash, dunk, or tackle any other players with or without the ball.” This seriousness belies the complete silliness of attempting a goal while floating in a large rubber ring.

UVA also offers Wallyball, a combination of volleyball and wallball, played in a racquetball court, and Pickleball, combining table tennis and badminton, played with a paddle and a wiffle ball. Thomas Jefferson would be so proud!

Western Illinois University, IL – Battleship Canoe Swamping

Three teams, equipped with canoe and bucket, compete to sink the others and stay afloat themselves in the college pool. The strategic choice is between bailing one’s own canoe, and dumping water into the other team’s. This is one of the activities offered on WIU’s Dad’s Weekend, in March. While this seems like a chilly season for getting this wet, it sounds like a suitably goofy way to celebrate fathers.

These are only a few of the peculiar activities that students at various colleges have adopted as their stress-relievers. Check this spot for more collegiate nonsense soon.

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Peculiar Collegiate Intramural Sports and Activities

College students faced with the words ‘Exam Week’ often exert an astonishing amount of creative energy entirely unrelated to their studies. Intense academic pressure minus classes equals a torrent of silliness and novel ways of letting off steam. Other creative activities are the result of the ‘retort’ effect of a mass of brilliant kids thrown together in overheated dorms and laboratories. An earlier article examined some of these sports, games, and pastimes. Let’s continue our examination of intramural silliness with a few more off-the-wall collegiate sports and activities

Luther University, IA – Black light Volleyball

In a fully darkened play space, white-shirted players compete with glow-in-the-dark volleyballs under ultraviolet lights. Just visualizing this generates a giggle. Although not mentioned in Luther University’s website, the possibilities for audience snuggling sound encouraging. With all the surprise features of laser tag, minus the expense and specialized equipment, this fun sport is spreading.

Middlebury College, VT – Muggle Quidditch

Sadly, this sport does not involve actual flying broomsticks. However, this rough, high-speed game does have three types of balls, three player positions, hoops, and a neutral player known as “the Snitch” who runs around the field being pursued by “Seekers”. To reproduce the aerial and unfettered scope and feeling of the Hogwart’s wizard sport, the Snitch” actually is allowed to run far outside the field of play. Muggle Quidditch is also played at Emerson, Boston University, and University of Pittsburgh. Given the popularity of the Harry Potter movie series, it will likely spread throughout the Muggle world. With some assiduous effort, perhaps some clever science students can get it airborne soon.

Algoma University in Canada – Indoor Cricket

While information on this sport is a bit scarce, the visual image evoked by combining these two words; indoor and cricket, is quite funny enough. The leisurely greensward game of British aristocracy, often requiring more than one day, and interrupted by lunch and a hearty and lengthy tea break, is eccentric to begin with. The sport is now beloved by former Commonwealth nations, is played by these exchange students outside the dorms at Penn, for example. To stage this quintessentially grass-based game indoors, as Algoma does, is to elevate it to sublime silliness.

Bennington College, VT – Whiffle ball, Laser Tag

This small New England college is rumored to have been the model for a novel in which brilliant Classics majors re-enact the violent rituals and madness of the ancient Eleusian mysteries, with deadly results. At any random moment, one can find view students practicing modern dance or practicing drama on the lush green at the center of Bennington’s campus. Thus, it is not surprising to find that Bennington students have a Zombie Defense group, and a club dedicated to creating secret societies and rituals. In comparison, Whiffle Ball and Laser Tag (think paintball played in the dark with a laser gun and a target on one’s own chest) seem tame, but undeniably fun.

The University of California at Irvine – Medieval Combat

These genial eccentrics use foam swords and other weapons to cudgel, slash, and otherwise overwhelm their opponents. The sport is more than mere mayhem – they learn serious medieval battle tactics in the process. Irvine’s club teaches ancient military formations, more suited for storming an Arthurian castle than sinking a submarine or remotely bombing a distant target. The group, known as SWORD, also trains all participants in the proper use of large foam weapons. This seems like a critical and dangerously overlooked life skill.

Many places – Inventing stuff

These activities generate all the competitiveness of true sport, with no reward beyond intellectual glory. Additionally, they all require substantial physical effort.

MIT – Concrete canoe

This widespread competition is beloved at MIT. Wooden canoes serve as the armature for a fiberglass and paper clip cast and wooden frame. Concrete mixture, carefully tested for its performance characteristics, is poured into the mold. The resulting vessel evokes those ads in the back of comic books (‘Wouldn’t you like to pour a concrete planter?’). The proud craft challenges its buoyancy and resistance to wave action in the MIT Moat. The navies of the world watch with interest.

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University of Michigan – Solar car

This is a passionately pursued goal, with teams from colleges such as Michigan and Penn devoting months to the creation, testing, and endurance racing of bizarrely shaped, totally solar powered vehicles. The designs tend towards the long and narrow with wings to capture the sunlight. Drivers need a jockey’s size and shape.

Carnegie Mellon – Robotic car

DARPA sponsors a competition to develop an entirely autonomous vehicle, combining sensing equipment, processing of environmental data, and steering. The military, we are certain, watches this massive investment of effort with care.

All such activities burn off excess energy and ventilate accumulated anxiety. The creativity of students in wasting time is apparently endless. Keep your eyes and ears open for other goofy intramurals!

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