The Oberlin Stories Project

On discovering intramural sports at Oberlin

Ashley Docherty ’13

“At Oberlin, I expected to just exercise my mind; playing intramural basketball gave me a chance to get moving and be a part of a team.”

Ashley stands by a lake surrounded by mountains

I never thought I’d learn to love sports at Oberlin, but after two invigorating seasons of intramural basketball, I’m totally hooked. With stellar academics in the arts and sciences, Oberlin is lauded more for its intellectual vitality rather than its athletics, so I was surprised to find that I could have so much fun playing basketball.

Like many students at Oberlin, I arrived with a mild case of sportsphobia; Oberlin has plenty of sports teams, but I didn’t see myself going to the football game every Friday. Growing up in Texas, where Friday night football and never-ending pep rallies frequently interfered with class time, I resolved to minimize my exposure to sports as much as possible in college. My over-exposure to sports at a young age — my parents shuttled me from soccer practice to volleyball matches to tennis lessons — only added to my lack of enthusiasm for athletics.

I decided to attend Oberlin because of the world-renowned art museum, the thousands of student musicians, the incredible professors, and the intellectually curious student body. I never imagined that I’d be playing sports on the regular, but this past year I discovered one of my favorite things about Oberlin — intramural basketball. One of Oberlin’s hidden gems, intramural basketball, happens once a semester for eight weeks and ends with the playoffs where teams compete to win the much-coveted intramural championship t-shirt.

I first learned about intramural basketball in the same way I find out about everything at Oberlin — reading flyers posted in every corner of campus. When moving in at the beginning of the year, I noticed an inconspicuous poster advertising intramural sports throughout the year. I hadn’t played basketball since middle school, but intramural sports struck me as the perfect way to get some much-needed exercise. I had fond memories of playing basketball in middle school so I thought I’d give it a shot in college.

I assembled a team of my closest friends and acquaintances largely made up of fellow Harkness co-op residents. I knew that finding eight people to consistently show up to basketball games would be a challenge, so I decided to assemble my team with an emphasis on quantity over quality. Meal times at Harkness are the perfect place to assemble a lot of enthusiastic people so I often made announcements about intramural basketball during dinner. Harkness is not known for its athletic prowess, rather, for its high concentration of vegans and nudists. Many of my teammates were new to basketball or, like me, had last played in middle school. Despite our relative inexperience, we were excited for the season to start. After much deliberation, the team came up with a suitable name for our group: the sHarkNess BlaZers.

Like many of my teammates on the sHarkNess BlaZers, I assumed that our intramural competition would be somewhat talentless and extremely rusty on the court. I quickly discovered that intramural basketball league is largely made up of teams of Oberlin athletes (members of the baseball team, the football team, and the basketball team). Still, the perceived athletic talent of our competitors did not deter the team. I was also under the impression that the league was coed; this also appeared to be false, since we were the only team with girls. Girls can do anything boys can, especially at Oberlin, and in many games the girls were the highest scorers for our team.

Needless to say, we lost every game our first season, but in the spring semester we came back with some more experience and a super cool T-shirt design (our T-shirt design and a recount of intramural basketball can be found on the blog of Karl Orozco ’13). Even in our second season, we were definitely the league underdogs and the joke of intramural basketball. Despite our lack of experience, we hustled and played some serious defense throughout the season. Our persistence paid off, and after a nail-biting final game, we won! My earlier strategy of quantity over quality paid off; our competitors only had five players and we showed up with at least 10 for our rematch. As the other team grew tired in the final quarter, we were able to play hard until the very end.

Intramural basketball showed me the importance of trying new things, even when I’m not the best at something. Like my dad always told me — winning isn’t everything. At Oberlin, I only expected to exercise my mind; playing intramural basketball gave me a chance to get moving and be a part of a team. I’d like to think that I’ve overcome some of my aversion to sports, helped show other people that sports can be fun, too. I appreciated the camaraderie of being part of a team and the spirit of the game, and I met so many great people on my team and in the intramural basketball league that I probably wouldn’t have gotten to know if it hadn’t been for basketball. Oberlin is a place to rediscover forgotten hobbies and find new ones, to try new things, and to make new friends even in ways that you’d least expect.