Recreational Sport: Making the Grade on College Campuses

By Lewis, James B.; Jones, Tom R. et al. | Parks & Recreation, December 1998 | Go to article overview

Recreational Sport: Making the Grade on College Campuses

Lewis, James B., Jones, Tom R., Lamke, Gene, Dunn, J. Michael, Parks & Recreation


Leisure professionals understand that most Americans possess at least a casual interest in sport and, therefore, seek to provide opportunities to fulfill the demand for sport through programming. Many people desire spectator-sport opportunities, and professional and amateur sports organizations have created substantial sporting events to fulfill that niche. Many, though, seek more active participation, and leisure professionals have attempted to create recreational sport opportunities to meet the needs of that group. Recreational sport programs have found their way to the core of almost all recreation programs today offered in public and private, nonprofit and for-profit, college and university, and employee-service recreation settings. Although service settings differ in what they offer and how they administer programs, many of the basic delivery techniques are similar.

Growth in sports programming continues in most service settings, but one of the most prolific growth areas is found among the nation's colleges and universities. This area is growing because of the age range of the population it serves, the ability to provide adequate on-site facilities for comprehensive programming in a variety of sports activities, and the opportunity to conduct programs for different levels of ability and interest.

Recreation on college campuses, referred to as recreational sport, traces its roots to the early twentieth century. As schools began to develop athletic departments in the late 1800s and early 1900s, administrators realized that although a significant population was served by the athletic program, there were many students who could not, would not, or simply did not participate in intercollegiate athletics. Thus, there was a need for sport participation among the masses. Colleges and universities were frontrunners in the development of sporting pursuits in America (Snyder & Spreitzer, 1978; Dulles, 1965), and it is generally recognized that recreational sport was "born" in 1904 at Cornell University.

The collegiate coaching staff at Cornell provided specialized instruction to students who were not on intercollegiate teams (Meuller & Reznik, 1979). All through the country, students wanted physical exercise that was more interesting and fun than the rigid calisthenics and exercise/gymnastic programs favored by the faculty (Mueller & Mitchell, 1960). However, as they were not athletes participating on intercollegiate teams, coaches were asked to instruct students in sport for reasons other than competition.

According to Snyder and Spreitzer (1978), in their book Social Aspects of Sport, collegiate sport originated as an informal student movement. First there were sport clubs -- groups of students interested in sporting activities such as rowing, baseball, football, and track and field. These students joined clubs to participate in activities that were generally dismissed by faculty as frivolous. One college president commented that sport activities were ungentlemanly and certainly unhealthy. The president of Cornell, however, thought it appropriate that students be allowed to pursue athletic interests without joining an intercollegiate team. Thus, the concept of playing sports for the sake of participation began to take hold on college campuses and, in 1913, the University of Michigan and Ohio State University began intramural athletic departments. The purpose of those departments was to organize and schedule sport for the recreational enjoyment of the students.

Defining Recreational Sport

Professionals who program and deliver recreational sport have trouble defining this field. Hence, in many professional discussions of recreation, the field of recreational sport is often overlooked. This article will focus on the growth of college and university recreational sport programs and attempt to further define these programs and their role in the larger park and recreation profession.

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Recreational Sport: Making the Grade on College Campuses


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