Club & Intramural Sports

Elmer Mitchell, 1911

Elmer Mitchell in 1912 as a senior captain on the baseball team. In 1919, Mitchell became U-M's first official Director of Intramural Athletics. 

Like many other athletic activities at the University of Michigan, students were integral in the organization of intramural sports on campus. By the early 1900s, however, some students still felt excluded from certain recreational events. As a result, the faculty recognized the need to centralize the administration of intramurals. In 1912, the Board of Regents passed a resolution stipulating that “every student should have free access to Ferry and Palmer Fields for such personal exercise as well as to witness all games, meets and contests.”[1] In 1913, the Department of Intramural Activities appointed Floyd Rowe as its Director to develop a program that would benefit the student body at large. Rowe helped create thirteen sports programs for students, including football, track, cross country, basketball, ice hockey, cricket, rugby, golf, tennis, and baseball. Following the outbreak of World War I, the intramural program was dissolved, and the department’s facilities were utilized by the military.[2] 

Elmer D. Mitchell, the namesake of today’s Mitchell Field, graduated from the University of Michigan in 1912, returned to U-M in 1917, and came to resurrect intramural sports on campus. While Mitchell served as U-M’s first varsity basketball coach for two years, he soon focused his efforts on developing a sound recreational sports program at Michigan, becoming the school’s first official Director of Intramural Athletics in 1919. His committed work in this position helped further popularize the concept of “Athletics for All” on Michigan’s campus, and is a major reason why Mitchell is often referred to as “the father of intramural sports.” In Mitchell’s first year, the Department of Intramural Athletics offered 14 activities for a total of 7,822 students. By his retirement in 1942, the department oversaw 36 sports, as Mitchell had added activities more suitable to intramural competition, like handball, wrestling, swimming, squash, and weightlifting.

Mitchell demonstrated an allegiance to Fielding Yost’s famed “Athletics for All” philosophy. He once allowed a black fraternity to play in a student basketball tournament when such an action was seen as controversial. He also helped coin the slogan: “A sport for every student and every student in a sport.” Always working to increase the awareness of his department, Mitchell organized a yearly carnival featuring a student talent show, a singing quartet, and a “strong man who would break chains.”[3] In addition to Mitchell’s consistent efforts, the building of facilities such as the Yost Fieldhouse and the Intramural Sports Building helped make athletics more widely available to all students, whether or not they were Varsity athletes. In the construction of these two important structures, the University demonstrated that it was serious about developing a sports program “for all.”

 


[1] Bowen, Robert, Jr. "Intramural Athletics at the University of Michigan." Studies in the History of Higher Education in Michigan. Ed. Claude A. Eggertsen. By Rodney J. Grambeau. Ann Arbor: Lithographed by Ann Arbor, 1950. 101-05. Print.

[2] Shannon, Ella Walton. The Life and Professional Contributions of Elmer Dayton Mitchell to American Physical Education and Sport. Diss. The Ohio State U, 1975. Print.

[3] Ibid.