What do Happy Feet, Two Peas in a Pickle and Space Cowboys have in common?


For those on the lookout for a fun, engaging outlet away from the classroom or office, look no further than UT Health San Antonio’s intramural sports program. It’s replete with fun and quirky team names and valuable opportunities to unwind and make friends across campus.

Whether one is extremely athletic or venturing into a new sport, there are a variety of options available — from volleyball, soccer and pickleball, to basketball, football and more.

Doubles pickleball team members Ben Fox and Elizabeth Khanh-Uyen Nguyen, go by the name Court Traitors because they’re both tennis players who came over to a new sport.

University video producer Ben Fox, who is on a doubles pickleball team, said one of the best parts of being on an intramural sports team is interacting with other staff, faculty, students and residents.

“You get to see people’s true personalities come out,” he said. “You get to see what they are really like, and the environment is super chill. Everyone is supportive of each other, and competition remains friendly.”

Currently, eight team sports comprise the university’s intramural program. They include:

  • Indoor volleyball.
  • Four-on-four basketball.
  • Softball.
  • Flag football.
  • Tennis
  • Co-Recreational (Co-rec) soccer.
  • Co-rec sand volleyball.
  • Pickleball.

Keeping track of all the teams is a job expertly run by Ben Rivers, associate director of student activities, who oversees the university’s intramural sports program. Rivers receives support from eight work-study students who help with everything from game setups to tabulating statistics for wins and losses.

While students make up roughly 97% of the university’s 887 intramural sports participants, staff, faculty, residents and their significant others, also participate.

The intramural sports program’s most popular sport is sand volleyball, with 225 participants, Rivers said.

“You didn’t have to play high school volleyball to play sand volleyball, so that’s why it’s very popular,” he said.

Other popular sports include basketball, softball and soccer, Rivers said.

A great outlet that fosters friendships

Intramural sports have been at the university since the 1990s, enabling participants to unwind, get some great exercise and meet new people, Rivers said.

“Being a student … is very tough,” Rivers said. “Our students kind of tend to be in the classroom … and on the computer a lot and so this is a chance for them to get away from that. …. [it’s a way] for them to get out there and meet students in the other [schools] … and create friendships.”

Emma Philipps, captain of the women’s flag football team Ball Busters, is featured in a yellow cap along with her championship-winning team.

Second-year medical student Emma Philipps, captain of the recent championship-winning women’s flag football team Ball Busters, said intramural sports is a great way to expand connections across the university.

“I think, at least for me, it’s just been a great way to meet new people … and get out of your comfort zone if it’s a sport that you’re … afraid to play,” she said, adding that she also played on other intramural teams, including tennis.

“I lost like every single [tennis] game, but … it was fun to get out there and push myself and try something new,” she said.

The men’s and women’s flag football teams were reinstated earlier this year due to requests from students like Philipps. Philipps had asked about intramural flag football after playing for a charity powder puff football game.

“We had so much fun playing, we wanted it to be like a bigger part of the campus and … so myself and a couple other men … said, ‘hey, it would be awesome if we could get some flag football going on,’” she said.

“[Playing intramural sports] helps me take things less seriously and gets me out of … the intensity of academics …,” she said.

First-year medical student Juan Fernandez, captain of the soccer team Strangers United, said the intramural sports program was part of what drew him to the university.

“… For me, when I was kind of considering what school to go to, I think that’s one of the things that kind of brought me to love … UT San Antonio Health …,” he said, adding that playing sports is a great way to manage stress and get to know others.”

“It’s an excellent opportunity to go out and … socialize with others, connect with others and also … be active,” he said. “[Playing intramural sports] really helps me manage my stress and … have a good time with others …,” he said.

The pickleball sensation

Pickleball — a sport incorporating elements of tennis, ping pong and badminton — has also become increasingly popular and was introduced to the university’s intramural sports program in the spring of 2023 following Rivers’ first visit to Chicken N Pickle — a restaurant and entertainment complex with pickleball courts and professional instruction — in the fall of 2022.

“Coincidentally, we were getting our tennis courts redone, so I had them include pickleball lines,” Rivers said.

Pickleball has become an increasingly popular sport.

There are now 45 pickleball teams at the university. As the fastest growing sport in the country according to a March 2023 report by the Association of Pickleball Professionals, the sport has become a growing phenomenon with 48.3 million adult Americans — nearly 19 percent of the adult population — playing the game over the course of a year.

Fox first learned about the university’s pickleball league by doing a Google search on intramural leagues. He joined the league in the spring and is teamed with Elizabeth Khanh-Uyen Nguyen. The duo go by the name Court Traitors because they’re both tennis players who came over to a new sport.

“I’ve been playing tennis for years and it is somewhat sacrilegious in the tennis community to cross over to the dark side that is pickleball,” Fox said. “I didn’t like [pickleball] at first, I wanted to go back to tennis pronto. However, after injuring my shoulder in a basketball incident, I had to take a break from tennis. … Now, I really like and appreciate the finesse aspect of the sport.” 

Human Resources Communications Manager Jennifer Meek first tried and liked pickleball about a year ago at an event at Chicken N Pickle.

“[My husband and I] were looking for a league … to play more and get better,” Meek said.

Meek learned about the university’s league from co-worker Fox while on a video shoot and enjoys the relaxed and casual environment.

“It builds camaraderie and fellowship among us,” she said. “It’s also a great mental break from all our mission-focused work.”

What’s in a name?

Another element of fun on the courts and fields are the creative team names that grace the university’s intramural sports rosters. From pickleball team names like Baby Got Backhand and Dink Now, Wine Later to meaningful names like soccer team Strangers United, each name is a unique expression of each team’s personality.

Meek and her pickleball partner, husband Jason Meek, named their team Pickle Rick from an episode of the popular animated series Rick & Morty.

Fernandez, who helms the soccer team Strangers United, said his teammates came up with their name via a group chat since they’re students that came together from different schools to play as one.

Free agents welcome

One can join the university’s intramural sports teams as a free agent or as part of team. In Fernandez’s case, he wanted to gauge his class load before committing to playing soccer. After a month, he determined he could fit into his schedule. By then, each of the schools had solidified their teams, so he joined as a free agent and volunteered to be captain of Strangers United, the soccer team comprised of 13 students from different schools. Only two students knew each other when the team was formed, Rivers said, adding that the team has done quite well, finishing the regular season with four wins, three losses and a tie.

“It’s definitely [a] very rewarding experience to be able to see students from all these different schools really come together and … play as a team,” he said.

‘It brings people together’

John Reddell, a physical therapy student in the School of Health Professions, joined the sand volleyball team Sand Monsters in fall 2022 because it balances competitiveness with being “chill” and unites participants with common interests.

John Reddell, a physical therapy student in the School of Health Professions, joined the sand volleyball team Sand Monsters in fall 2022 because it balances competitiveness with being “chill” and unites participants with common interests.

“Even if you don’t know how to play, everybody’s willing to help you along and teach you,” Reddell said. “You’re among your classmates … it brings people together.”

Fox said in addition to improving his game, enjoying the vibes and working on his tan, participating in intramural sports is a healthy outlet.

“It provides a safe environment for those who want to connect with each other and get good exercise at the same time. …,” he said. “I would encourage anyone interested in joining to do so. There are very little barriers, and some sports even include the equipment. Some sports have 100% free entry as well.”

The seasons for the intramural sports program run during the spring and fall semesters and a “lighter version” is available in the summer, Rivers said. The fall season will end in November. Registration for the spring season will take place in January, with the new season expected to start in February, Rivers said.

While some sports are free to join, others have some fees for equipment and referees.

To learn more or sign up for one of the university’s intramural sports teams, click here.

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