Something odd happened last Thursday night. I took the field at Fauver Stadium, where the blindingly bright lights illuminated the green artificial playing surface with eerie anticipation and the crisp September air brought with it the smell of competition. It was that time of year again intramural season.

I started intramurals as a freshman, at a time when no one lacked enthusiasm and everyone wanted to be friends. That was how it began as a hall bonding experience. I would get back to my hall from a volleyball practice on a Thursday night and get a knock on my door asking if I could go play soccer for our intramural team. And even though my body was usually aching from being on the court for two hours and I had just showered, I never had to think twice about it.

‘Absolutely!” was my eager response, and I was out the door with cleats in hand. Thursday nights soon became my favorite night of the week, despite the fact that I can never remember our team winning a game.

My sophomore year, my schedule got busier. Classes became more demanding, other commitments dictated my nights and, to make things just a little more difficult, I lived in Southside. But my friends from my freshman hall had organized a team again that fall, and I couldn’t say no. There was something addicting about playing a game without pressure.

I’m pretty sure I only made it to two or three games that year, but each one brought with it the usual feelings of freedom and empowerment. And I loved how, at least in one aspect of college life, I felt as if I could do nothing but exceed expectations. I still remember one game where I had the ball by the sideline with a defender coming over to challenge me. It was pretty clear that the defender expected me to have about as much skill as a rock, so I figured I would channel something from my 10 years of playing soccer and make a move. As I faked to the outside and cut into the field, I heard the exclamation I love to hear most from any opponent ‘Oh, shit!”

But despite the incredulous rivals and all that beautiful freedom, I still could not remember winning a game. Now, I’m a pretty competitive person, and the whole winless streak was finally beginning to unsettle me. I was having a harder time coming up with excuses for why I couldn’t just get over the hump the justifications I would use when I lost at other trivial games, such as, ‘This really isn’t the type of game you can win,” just didn’t seem quite good enough to use on a sport.

Last spring was my fourth season of intramurals, and I had a feeling that this was my time. I was going to get that coveted win that had eluded me all those years on the Fauver soccer field.

But it never happened. Instead, my team was disjointed, comical and, as I’ve found quite often on the intramural field, too caught up with spending time with each other to really care too much about the result of the game. And while I loved it, I couldn’t deny the fact that I still really wanted to put a tally in the win column.

Fast forward to a week ago, when I took the field for my fifth season of intramurals. It was chilly and clear perfect soccer weather and playing felt just like it always did. Only one thing was different… We won.

Oddly, it was not everything I thought it would be. In fact, I’m not even sure the game will register as a victory in my mind, simply because that is not what intramurals are about.
They are about the competition and about being able to laugh at your mistakes. Most importantly, though, they embody one of the few times when a sporting event is pure and simple and the point is to have fun.

Hilfinger is a member of the class of 2010.

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