Head to a professional baseball park this season and you might expect to see a Bobblehead doll promotion, a one-run pitchers' duel or a mammoth home run that bounds off the upper deck.
If you plan to attend a Hopkins GRO Softball League game, however, be prepared for a whole different ball game, as you're more likely to see a student-to-professor double-play combination, a 28-15 final score or a pack of zealous dogs regularly interrupting play.
Since the early 1980s, graduate students, staff and faculty from Homewood and East Baltimore have taken to the Johns Hopkins intramural fields each summer to compete in a co-ed recreational sports program started by the Graduate Representative Organization. From June to late August, areas on or near the Homewood campus become an after-hours playground for JHU folk looking for a little exercise, fresh air or competition--or all of the above.
The 2002 slate of GRO summer sports includes soccer, volleyball and softball, which is the reigning king in terms of popularity.
How popular have the leagues become? Mike Renwick, intramural and sports club coordinator, says that several teams had to be turned away this summer because they registered after the deadline.
This year an estimated 225 to 250 players compete on 19 softball teams. Soccer and volleyball attracted an additional 200 participants.
"This season has been an overwhelming success in my eyes," says Renwick, who came to Hopkins a year ago. "The numbers of participants are quite high, and I have gotten a ton of feedback from the players, 99 percent of it positive. I couldn't be happier."
Renwick attributes the success of this year's summer program in part to the addition of the Ralph S. O'Connor Recreation Center, which has increased the overall visibility of rec sports and has led to the creation of full-time staff positions to oversee the programs. He also cites an increased emphasis on league organization and the efforts of Eugenio Culurciello, the GRO sports coordinator, for the contagious amount of fun people are having.
Culurciello says the GRO historically supported opening up the leagues to nongrad students.
"All campus people are entitled to a good time, and I want graduate students to play with their professor and with their undergraduate students," he says. "This all contributes to a harmony that will reflect in a better relationship, not only on the playing fields but in life and in research, teaching and learning."
A significant addition to the program this year, Renwick says, is the GRO Athletics Web site. Whereas in previous years the league's organization was more informal, the new Web site--which includes rules, schedules, standings and a captains' list--legitimizes the games even more, Renwick says, and adds to the fun.
"It's an easy way to communicate, and you don't have to stop by the Recreation Office to find out what the standings are, when your next game is or what the policy on some issue is," says Renwick, who has coordinated intramural programs at two other universities.
The volleyball games are played in the Recreation Center, while the soccer and softball games are played on the Wyman Park Intramural Field located off Tudor Arms Avenue, behind the Space Telescope Science Institute. The university leases the Wyman Park space, which is part of the Baltimore City parks system, for intramural use throughout the year. Larger than a football field, the expanse is ample enough for two softball or soccer games (or one of each) to be played simultaneously.
Renwick says that the Wyman Park field is indispensable.
"It's a beautiful location, and allows us to do a lot in terms of programming," he says.
Renwick admits, however, that the field does have some endearing idiosyncracies--among them, dips and bare patches that can make fielding what should be a routine grounder in softball a bit of a challenge; the ball-eating creek that runs behind the field; and the "dog issue," as the park is a popular place for area residents to walk their canine friends. Both the creek and the dogs are here to stay, Renwick says, but to remedy the field situation, a seeding program is planned for next spring to make it more lush and level.
Teams in the leagues typically represent university departments or divisions, and the players range from graduate students in their early 20s to those in their 50s and beyond.
Rebecca Osthus, a graduate student in the Institute for Human Genetics in the School of Medicine, says she joined the GRO athletic program last summer because it provided her and some colleagues with the "semi-competitive" environment they sought.
"What we hoped to gain from participating was not only having a fun setting to play softball and soccer but also a chance to socialize with each other and the other teams," says Osthus, a player/captain for teams in both the soccer and softball leagues. "It also ensures that everyone gets out of the lab and into a park for a few hours at least one evening a week. The people who come out are all there to have a good time and relax, so it ends up being a great experience."
Renwick this year will coordinate 26 intramural leagues and sports clubs, including the summer programs. The rec sports that occur during the academic year--including table tennis, basketball, karate, badminton and Ultimate Frisbee--are traditionally played by Homewood undergraduates. But Renwick says there's room for others.
"I would love for faculty and staff to intermingle even more and to mix with graduates and undergraduates as much as possible," Renwick says. "When I was playing in rec groups at Rutgers University, it was the most fun to play teams made up of professional staff and professors. To interact with them on a social level makes the academic experience that much more meaningful."
Rebecca Osthus says that the diversity she has seen on teams this summer has been "fairly strong" and that there are many women playing soccer. "Most teams are made up of people from all walks of Hopkins life, and all ages and backgrounds," she says.
One reason for the popularity of the summer leagues, according to Renwick, is that the players themselves call the shots. Renwick provides only a basic rules structure for each.
"In GRO, the people have plenty of say in the league--they decide for the most part when and how they want to play the games," he says. "I would say these freedoms are part of the big appeal to people who are for the most part busy during the day, and for those coming from East Baltimore who may not be able to get here until the later hours." In addition, all the leagues are self-officiated.
The summer programs run roughly from early June to late August. To date, the volleyball season has been completed (DIG-SET-SPIKE claimed the title in both the 4 on 4 and 6 on 6 leagues), and the playoffs for soccer and softball are fast approaching.
Renwick says that most of the people who join the GRO leagues come out simply to have a good time. He adds, however, that once people get on the field, the competitive juices start to flow.
"I know a few people who are out there just to win the championship, and they put together a team just to do that," he says. "I think the level of competition ranges from team to team, person to person, which is fine as long as everybody gets out of it what they want. From what I'm getting in terms of responses, people are happy and having the times of their lives."
To check out the latest standings and playoff schedules for the summer rec leagues, go to www.jhu.edu/~recsport/GRO/groath.htm.
To learn more about the year-round rec sports program, go to http://www.jhu.edu/~recsport.