Laughter erupted from the Stillwater Christian School gym Thursday night, accompanied by the squeaking of shoes and the slap of high fives as students from Flathead Valley Community College enjoyed an evening of intramural volleyball.
Some dressed in knee braces and uniform shorts from their high school teams while others wore khakis and Vans, but each member of the four co-ed teams turned out with a smile regardless of their experience level.
“I’m a competitive person and have missed my sports, and so it’s great to just let loose,” said Bailey Benzing, a freshman physical therapy student from Conrad.
Benzing played volleyball throughout high school, and though she exhibited the skill and stance of an experienced athlete, on Thursday night, she was out to have fun with her hodgepodge team.
“Some of the best people that I’ve met have been at these things. Without that I wouldn’t know anyone,” she said.
According to intramurals program coordinator Sarah Bergford, that is the goal — to allow students the chance to try something new while making connections that will benefit them throughout their college experience.
“It’s a great stress reliever too,” Bergford said. “If you’re studying for a crazy test and you just need to take a deep breath, you can go out and play dodgeball or shoot some hoops.”
Bergford has acted as intramurals coordinator for the last eight years, and said the most common feedback she’s received has been that students have often met some of their best friends through the no-pressure, laid-back atmosphere of intramural sports.
Unlike bigger universities with a larger student pool, FVCC’s intramural program allows students the flexibility to come and go as they choose.
“It’s open to all students,” Bergford said. “They can come one week and then not come for the rest of the semester. They can come every week. It’s just really whatever works for their schedule.”
Whether the night involves volleyball, basketball, dodgeball or slip n’ slide kickball, Bergford assembles teams as players show up rather than asking students to commit beforehand.
Grace Burtsfield, a freshman from Kalispell, showed up earlier this year for her first volleyball game since her freshman year of high school unsure of what to expect.
Watching her pink ponytail bounce as she laughed while trash-talking the opposing team, Bergford said you would never guess how shy she had been the week before, when she entered the gym with a girlfriend.
Burtsfield returned for her second and third games by herself, joking and cheering on her teammates, some of whom she’d met before and others whom she had not.
Scoring point after point, Burtsfield showed little of the shyness Bergford described seeing in her the week prior.
Teams consisted of a variety of attitudes, from the highly competitive to the laid-back jokesters, making for both some impressive plays and a few dance breaks when the playlist blaring over the speakers broke out an old favorite.
Moments after scoffing at a missed dig, Jack Couch, a freshman from Hamilton, couldn’t help but bust out the familiar moves to “Thriller” as Michael Jackson’s howls echoed through the gym.
As one ball flew out of bounds, one player stuck out his foot, punting it back over his head and across the gym into the game taking place next to them. Distracted by the interruption, the neighboring team lost track of its own ball, and all 30-plus students cracked up before resuming their mutual games. Several times a missed ball bounced for a point, but both teams wordlessly chose to keep playing the dead ball for the simple fun of it.
Bruised but smiling, the evening ended with “good game” and high-fives among players who entered as strangers and left as friends.
Though each event varies in turnout, Bergford said she’s seen a continuous growth in participation over the last few years, especially with the addition of on-campus housing at the college, which she said allows students to become more engaged.
Next year, with the addition of the new College Center containing a multi-purpose activity complex and two full basketball courts, Bergford said she hopes to see an uptick in participation.
For more information about FVCC’s intramurals and other programs, visit https://www.fvcc.edu/campus-guide/student-life/intramural-sports/ or contact Bergford at (406) 756-3893.
Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or email@example.com.