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Club and intramural sports foster community, outlet for UNC students

Then-sophomore Jasper Ou at the Carolina Division sectional tournament in the First United Methodist Church in Charlotte on Jan. 29, 2022. Photo courtesy of the UNC Club Table Tennis Team.

This article is part of the Mental Health Collaborative, a project completed by nine North Carolina college newsrooms to cover mental health issues in their communities. To read more stories about mental health, explore the interactive project developed specifically for this collaborative.

Not every college student is able to commit to Division I athletics, but roughly 6,500 students at UNC have connected through club and intramural sports.

UNC Campus Recreation has 51 offerings, ranging from quadball to ballroom dance. Assistant Director for Sports Programs Justin Ford oversees an umbrella of activities — both relaxed intramural and competitive club initiatives — that curate athletic and personal growth for participating members.

“The benefit of being involved in intramural and club [sports], it just provides a sense of community,” Ford said. “We look at what we do and what we provide and try to foster the student development, leadership, teamwork, [and] conflict management involved with that.”

While Campus Recreation provides the space and equipment, Ford notes that the wellness goals of each organization — especially traveling club sports — are formed from within.

“What we tried to do and make sure is providing those resources for every single club to be successful, but also not to put the pressure on those clubs to say like, ‘OK, you have to compete here and there and travel and do all this stuff,’” Ford said. He later added, “We just want students to just to be well and to provide those opportunities for them to seek out their own wellness, in a sense.”

Junior Daniel Xie, vice president and treasurer of club table tennis, said he appreciates the convenience of tables for a quick pressure-relieving outlet.

“Here at UNC, the tables are always available," he said. "If you ever feel like playing, you can always go. That helps provide a hobby of mine whenever I’m stressed."

Xie also said the flexibility of practice schedules has been a major draw. Junior teammate Jai Hyeon Lee shared this sentiment, viewing intra-club play as an opportunity to find equilibrium.

“Balanced life is really crucial," Lee said. "Not just studying, but socializing and playing sports."

Sophomore Garrett Cauley, member of the club tennis team, was thrilled to pick up his racket again after competing throughout high school. What excited him even more, however, was the chance to be surrounded by like-minded players and students.

Beyond cramming 20 to 30 team members in Bandido’s Mexican Cafe and organizing formals, Cauley noted the team’s emphasis on building rapport through team-oriented practice matchups.

“The in-club scrimmages are a really fun bonding experience, because it’s a competitive environment and you’re trying to win, but it’s a lot more relaxed because you kind of get to do it with the team and it’s a chill environment,” Cauley said.

When people do go to practices," he later added, "everyone who goes wants to be there and it just creates a nice, detoxifying, mental health, really Zen environment.”

However, current students are not the only beneficiaries of club and intramural sports’ wellness impacts. Campus Recreation leverages community service partnerships — like Special Olympics Orange County and the UNC Blood Research Center — to incentivize hosting charitable tournaments and leagues within programs.

These community bonds grow a sense of purpose in each student: a tie that binds far beyond Chapel Hill. The coveted intramural championship T-shirt exemplifies just how much participation means to alumni.

“There are a couple of occasions throughout the year where we’ll get emails from former winners asking [if we] can send them another T-shirt because they’ve worn it out so much, or they really want to get one for their firstborn," Ford said. "It’s a lasting memory that they have from participating, and it’s made a big difference in their Carolina experience.”


@dthsports |

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