It is a cold, wet day near the end of November. Heavy snow has been falling since the early hours of the morning throughout Provo. As the sun begins to set across the Utah Lake, a small group of students gathers on the Richards Building fields. Despite the snow, many of them wear shorts, while even more wear t-shirts.
The BYU Intramural Tournament is in full swing, and these athletes wouldn’t miss it for the world, much less a blizzard.
“Unless ESPN calls and offers me a job, or an NFL team offers me a tryout or the prophet calls me in for an interview, I’m not missing that championship game,” said Riley Lewis, a BYU student who plays intramural flag football.
His dedication is no different from that of hundreds of other students who consider intramural sports an important part of their college experience. While most athletes are motivated by trophies, fame and money, intramural athletes compete for one thing: the t-shirt.
Every year the intramural department produces an original t-shirt design. Members of the championship team of each division of each sport receive a free t-shirt at the end of their championship game. Because the t-shirt changes each year, one shirt is never enough.
“Now that intramurals is the most competitive thing in their life, people get crazy all for a t-shirt,” Lewis said. “I know I am a little that way.”
“Crazy” may be the perfect word to describe the lengths some students will go to to win a game.
Shayla Robins, a BYU student who plays intramural soccer, told the story of a fight that broke out during a coed soccer game.
“A kid on our team decided that he was going to go all out with another opponent,” Robins said. “Then later there was another one-on-one, and words started flying in a crude language. Next thing I see are refs and sideline officials coming over to break up a fist fight, and I heard even more swear words.”
While Robins’ experience is a rare one, some referees say it happens more than most students would care to think. Because of this, the BYU Intramural Office has implemented strict policies to combat bad sportsmanship on the field, giving officials broad jurisdiction over the areas they officiate. According to the BYU Intramural website, this authority includes the power to eject from current and future games and from intramural participation in other sports.
“I think most problems arise because of students trying to relive high school glory days,” said Garrett Johnson, a past director of intramural leagues at BYU—Idaho. “I don’t know how many times I’ve had to say some variant of, ‘Sorry, kid, this isn’t the state championships. Calm down.'”
Lewis agreed with Johnson, comparing some students to Uncle Rico in the popular movie “Napolean Dynamite.” Rico was portrayed as an ex-high school football star who still lived in the past.
“I know I am a little that way,” Lewis said.
Intramurals are similar to other athletics in another way as well—the injuries. It is a rarity for BYU’s basketball or football teams to finish a season without at least one sport-stopping injury. While the intramurals office does everything in its power to keep students safe, accidents are the nature of the game.
Landon Hyde, an avid intramural soccer player, has broken three bones in two separate intramural games.
“I broke my leg, both bones, in soccer when my own defender ran into me shielding the ball,” Hyde said. “The bone came out of the skin. I have a rod and four screws in my leg.”
Hyde also got kicked in the arm as a goalie and ended up with another broken bone.
Most people would consider just one injury of that magnitude a sign that it was time to retire, but Hyde can’t stay away.
“I still do intramurals, and I know it’s not their fault,” he said. “But I’ve met a ton of people it happens to.”
Players cite the lack of experience on the field as key to many injuries.
Despite weather problems, injuries, busy schedules and more, many BYU students continue to give everything they have to winning that elusive t-shirt. To those who don’t play, it may seem a foolish waste of time, but to those who spend dozens of hours a month on intramurals, nothing could be more worth it.
Lewis loves intramurals because it is a great way for him to de-stress. “It is fun to play with classy guys that will give you a good game,” he said.