By Robin Lancaster
The time for running around outside is drawing to a close and the time for wrapping up warm and thinking is near. As such I have been doing some thinking about running around outside (and inside for that matter). Ever since my first intramural game I have felt that there was something a little different about the way we do sports at St. John’s. I have never tried to put my finger on it before but my new found desire to stay inside out of the cold has given me opportunity to do just that.
Perhaps it is not so surprising that our sports are a little different because our school is just a little different. At St. John’s the classroom does not really refer to the space in which classes are conducted but rather the attitude which the students bring to the subject. Whether we are discussing Plato or Newton, the approach remains the same. Each participant in the class is both teacher and student, here listening to their classmate clarify the text, there clarifying it themselves, then listening once more. Ideally the class weighs the ideas put forward by the text and their classmates based on their merits and seeks to improve them by continued scrutiny. The classroom is characterized by mutual respect and a willingness to improve both oneself and one’s ideas. This attitude is the soul of our classroom and this soul is evident not only in the formal academics of the college but throughout the many facets of our community.
With such a classroom as ours the text which we study can be anything, so long as people have thoughts about it and a desire to improve. Few places is this more apparent than on the field. The sport at hand is our text, teammates and opponents our interlocutors, each play a dialogue, and each game a lesson. Just like in an academic classroom the students have an array of different perspectives on the game and different backgrounds. In an intramural game at St. John’s it has happened that a team has someone who has never played football before in their lives playing right alongside a former collegiate quarterback. One might think that such a disparity of experience would only cause frustration, but, just like in the classroom the wide range of experience is essential to the nature of the league. Inexperienced players are not held back from sport and told that they don’t know enough to play, they are thrown into the thick of things and respected as any other member of the team. This experience is not unlike that of freshman language, where one is tossed into a sea of Greek cases and moods and expected to learn to swim. And, as with freshman Greek, there is nothing more rewarding than finally gaining some mastery over a sport with which one has little experience.
Experienced players are no less rewarded by this sporting culture. Someone who has played a particular sport for many years will have a multitude of habits and skills built up that often become indistinguishable and therefore hard to improve. When one is asked to help someone learn the basics of a sport those skills become clear and distinct once more and the teacher often learns as much as the student.
Somehow the intramural program manages to have this unique character while still maintaining the essence of competition and improvement that are at the heart of sport. There are five intramural teams on campus, the Druids, Greenwaves, Guardians, Hustlers, and Spartans. In your freshman year at St. John’s you are assigned alphabetically to one of these teams and then in your sophomore year you are drafted either onto the same team or another. The bonds of community are much the same as any other sports team. One will often see alumnae returning to play for their team years after they graduate. Throughout the year we play a series of sports including Ultimate Frisbee, Soccer, Athenian Reason Ball (our own version of flag football), Basketball, and Handball. Each of these sports is a new text which has new lessons to teach each athlete while also being an avenue to bring glory to your team. One such glory is the coveted athletic blazer. The blazer is awarded to an athlete for both consistent attendance and victories in the sports attended. This highest award for a St. John’s athlete sums up the nature of the athletic program, which consists in the dedication to improvement which all St. John’s classrooms share and the competition of true sport. In short, there is little that could be truer to both sport and St. John’s than the intramural program we have today.