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Health and Wellness

100 Years of Intramural Sports

As cheers echo across Miller Field and the sounds of sneakers scuffing against gym floors reverberate through Carmichael Gym, we find ourselves at the threshold of a remarkable milestone: the centennial celebration of intramural sports at NC State.

women playing intramural flag football in the 90s

We celebrate 100 years of camaraderie, competition and community through this enduring tradition, and the shared joy of play within our Wolfpack community. Last year, the Department of Health and Exercise Studies celebrated 100 years of physical education at NC State, reflecting on their dedication to the well-being of students.

Established in 1923 as the Department of Physical Education and Athletics, a two-year physical education requirement (PE 101 and 102) was established for freshmen and sophomores, sparking our culture of movement and wellness on campus. John F. Miller, an alumnus and former athlete of Springfield College in Massachusetts, was named department head and served in that role from 1923 to 1951. Miller instilled a dedication to teaching, developed a comprehensive curriculum and established the first intramural sports program in North Carolina in 1924.

John F. Miller holding a trophy
John F. Miller, University Archives Photograph Collection. Oversize photographs (UA023.030), Special Collections Research Center at NC State University Libraries

While faculty provided supervision, intramural sports were primarily student-run activities, with students officiating their own contests. Miller set three outcomes for the program:

  1. Help students develop desirable health habits. 
  2. Train students mentally, morally and socially.
  3. Help students learn sportsmanship, fair play and self-sacrifice to the best interest of the group.

From the beginning, Miller recognized the significance of intramural sports in providing enjoyment, fostering community spirit and alleviating stress. In 1928 Miller shared, “Play the game you like to play and play it that you may be a healthier and happier man that will do credit to N.C. State College.” The birth of this extraordinary experience on our campus began with a leader, a handful of eager students and a place to play. Little did they know, their beginnings would turn into a century-long legacy that enhances the lives of countless NC State students.

Technician, Vol. 7 No. 3, October 3, 1926

The opening of Thompson Gymnasium in 1925 created more opportunities for growth, as the building provided a much needed space for physical activities and gatherings. Home to all NC State athletic endeavors, including physical education, intramurals and men’s basketball, Thompson Gym also became the center of campus social life, hosting dances, concerts and commencement exercises. 

In 1926, fraternity and dormitory intramural leagues were established, offering touch football, volleyball, handball and wrestling in the fall, basketball, swimming, table tennis and boxing in the winter and softball, track, tennis and horseshoes in the spring. These leagues persisted for more than 90 years, maintaining a consistent tradition of athletic engagement for these communities.

Intramural sports continued to gain popularity over the years, with approximately 880 individual students participating in the program by 1940: “When it comes to enthusiasm, interest, spirit of rivalry and spirit of good sportsmanship, State College intramurals take their hats off to no college in the entire country.”

In 1955, Art Hoch was named the second Intramural Athletic Director in the school’s history, and by 1965 40 percent of State students were participating in intramural sports. During his tenure, Hoch was noted as having helped grow the program to be one of the best in the south, making important investments in equipment and facility improvements. This resulted in the addition of rugby and cricket as new sports, 100 teams registering for basketball and an average of 40 student employees working for the program.

Carmichael Gym n 1961
Carmichael Gymnasium, September 1961, University Archives Photograph Collection. Postcards, 1900-1996 (UA023.035), Special Collections Research Center at NC State University Libraries

The completion of Carmichael Gymnasium in May 1961 and the addition of Big Four Sports Day continued to grow recreational programming as college enrollment increased, with the student body reaching nearly 8,000 students. In addition to the development of Miller Field during this time, there were several other significant events that unfolded, including: 

  • The introduction of women’s intramural programming in the fall of 1969, and its growth to more than 300 female participants that academic year. By 1973, the women’s intramural program was considered “one of the best in the state.
  • The first Intramural Golf Tournament at Wildwood Golf Club in 1964.
  • In 1966, with more than 4,000 intramural athletes, NC State’s program was considered “the largest and most lavish of any school in the Atlantic Coast Conference and perhaps in the south.”
  • Gross participation for both men and women involved in intramural sports totaled over 12,000 by 1974, with overall student enrollment at approximately 14,000.

Sam Halstead became the fifth Director of Intramural Athletics and Assistant Professor of Physical Education in fall 1982, at which point Intramural Athletics had divided into two distinct areas: Intramural and Club Sports. By 1983, Intramural Athletics changed its name to Intramural–Recreational Sports with a plan to expand recreational opportunities beyond just sports competition. 

In 1986 Halstead states, “Sports and activities, through participation in intramurals, aid stress management, the socialization process and the overall adjustment to college life. There has to be a balance. Once you cease activity, and become inactive, it affects not only the physical well-being, but the psychological and mental well-being as well.”

intramural volleyball games in carmichael gym
Intramural volleyball games in Carmichael Gym, University Archives Photograph Collection. Student Life Photographs, 1893-1997 (UA023.025), Special Collections Research Center at NC State University Libraries

Randy Bechtolt, former assistant director of Intramurals and current senior lecturer in Health and Exercise Studies, said that the institution introduced the highly-coveted Intramural Championship t-shirt in the early 1980s, noting their popularity in a statement, “I’ve had people come up to me and beg me to sell them one.”

Since their establishment in 1924, intramural sports have consistently offered Wolfpack students, faculty and staff the chance to engage in sports, unwind from daily stressors and build connections within the community. While mainstays like basketball and volleyball have endured, other sports have come and gone as trends have adapted over time. Today, activities like soccer, cricket, ultimate frisbee and pickleball have seen a surge in participation and popularity.

Intramural sports remain a favored activity, with 5,700 students participating in 55 leagues, special events and tournaments during the 2022-23 academic year. Assistant Director for Sports Programs Ben Strunk stated: “We strive to provide a premier experience for all NC State students to play sports with their friends in a variety of competition levels and sport offerings. We program popular team sports, such as soccer and basketball, alongside unique events like pool battleship and Texas Hold’em.”

The goals Miller established in 1924 persist to this day as Wellness and Recreation strives to cultivate this vibrant community. We honor Miller’s legacy through the annual John F. Miller Award, given to a top student employee in collegiate recreation who demonstrates leadership, professionalism and teamwork, is committed to healthy, active lifestyles and reflects a positive representation of the department.

Brandon Smith, 2016-17 John F. Miller of the Year Award winner
Brandon Smith, 2016-17 John F. Miller of the Year Award winner

Brandon Smith, 2016-17 John F. Miller of the Year Award winner, shared, “Winning the John F. Miller Award was one of my greatest honors. [It was the] culmination of a lot of hard work of individuals who believed in me and taught me professional skills that I have carried with me until this point in life.”

100 Year Anniversary Commemorative Championship T-shirt

Join us in celebrating this monumental milestone. If you would like to get involved, consider registering to play an intramural sport for a chance to win our commemorative 100 Year Anniversary shirt, or donating to the Wellness and Recreation Enhancement Fund to continue building the great legacy of this program.