Intramural sports prove to be a major motivator at Rye Lake MS/HS

Students look forward to school, racking up points in order to play

teachers and students play basketballAidan Morrison can’t wait for Mondays, and he looks forward to fifth period the most. Thinking about what he has to do to be ready makes him feel more awake and focused, he says.

“I look forward to going to school,” the Rye Lake Middle School eighth grader added.

Aidan’s enthusiasm isn’t unique at the school. In fact, it’s spreading. Many of his classmates feel the same way since the start of intramural basketball and volleyball this past winter. Once a week for each sport, teams form and play one another - basketball on Mondays, volleyball on Wednesdays, and open gym on Fridays.

“It feels good to have competitive games,” Aidan said. “Monday is my favorite day of the week.”

That’s music to the ears of Principal Eric Ford, who in his first year at Rye Lake wanted to do something new and different.

Intramurals are open to all students in grades 6 through 12, but not every student can simply walk on the court and play. They have to earn it.

teachers play defense against students on the basketball court

That’s the genius of the program he and Assistant Principal Maureen Salka have implemented. Similar to the thinking behind the school’s PBIS - Positive Behavior Intervention Supports - program, intramurals provide incentives for positive student behavior.

Students have to earn points that they track on a points sheet and have signed by a teacher. A total of 18 points are possible for actions like attending class, doing classwork and behaving appropriately. A minimum of 14 points is required to play ball that day. 

“This gives them more ownership and accountability,” Mr. Ford said. “We treat it like a real high school sports team.”

Teacher Frank Zambrano organized the program. He and Teacher Assistants Curtis Anderson, Carl Crump, Charles Giles, and Godfrey Tonge serve as coaches and mentors to participating students.

student shoots basketball over teachers' heads“This is based on students' choices and inputs,” Mr. Ford said. “We know that a lot of students struggle to maintain purpose in school. We know that sports is a way to pull them in, to connect them. Once we started intramural sports we had a decrease in incidents, especially from the students that typically display those challenges. It became something they look forward to.”

There haven’t been intramurals at the school in the recent past, and there’s never been such a program this structured or extensive.

So far, it has been a success. A football program is in the planning for fall. Meanwhile, there have been students-versus-faculty all-star games replete with fan voting, player trades, playoffs and sharp-looking blue and white jerseys that say RLC across the front. 

The games help students to feel like they’re a part of something, Mr. Ford said. At the same time, it motivates them to do what they need to do.

“It’s working,” Ms. Salka added. “You always know what day is game day because you hear the words, ‘My sheet. My sheet!’ They highlight the scores on the board in the lobby.”

Seventh-grader Jace Thomas said intramurals break up the school week so that it’s not all work. There’s a chance to play and compete, he said, and for students to get their energy out on the court.

“I feel like it helps a lot of kids,” Jace said.