Julia Schel, OpenText - R+T Park Recreational League Organizer (Q&A)
You play a very active role in organizing the R+T Park's sports teams. Can you elaborate on your involvement and why it is important to you?
Three years ago, I joined a beach volleyball team that was looking to expand their roster; they recruited me as I simply walked past the court. The team was incredibly welcoming and I soon learned that the entire league’s culture was also focused upon having fun and being encouraging. The year after, I took on the role of captain and started a team of my own. I recruited colleagues who all work in the same department, and in many cases had known each other by sight, but had never actually met each other. Last year, I started organizing intramural beach volleyball during the off-season: we start playing in the spring when running and jumping are barely enough to keep us warm, and end in the fall when our cold toes can no longer feel the sand beneath them. This year, I expanded my involvement even further and started a slo-pitch league with a true connoisseur of the game. The league was comprised of four teams and involved just over ninety people.
Playing team sports is important to me because I feel they can truly help to build a stronger sense of community, allowing people to expand their social circles and professional networks. I also believe that sports provide the opportunity to focus on being healthy and achieve greater work/life balance - work hard, play hard.
How do these sporting activities help to bring a sense of community, connection and involvement within the Park?
The goal for the slo-pitch league was to be as inclusive as possible; meaning the level of play was recreational. The league’s inaugural announcement was sent out to a broad audience and almost all equipment was provided to the teams. Many teams were comprised of individuals who had not played since elementary or high school but they courageously joined large teams with colleagues they knew, colleagues they were meeting for the first time, and complete strangers who may work in other departments or even for other organizations/institutions. As one of those individuals who was quite nervous at bat for their first game - as I had not played in many years - the encouragement from teammates really helped to boost confidence and make the game enjoyable. Some of the most hesitant and least experienced individuals were truly some of our most dedicated, showing up first to play in the rain when their team was scheduled to compete. Throughout the season, players were asked to share their feedback in regards to what they felt was going well and if they had ideas for improvements that could be made, contributing to how their slo-pitch community was being shaped. This sense of community and dedication even expanded outside of the diamond, as some teams held potlucks and became involved in charitable events run by individuals on other teams, whom they met through the league.
Beach volleyball is a sport that has been part of the R+T Park for many years. The league is comprised of sixteen teams and is over-capacity due to high demand. The overall level of competition within the beach volleyball league has elevated over the years due to players often returning for multiple seasons but the level of fun and connection between returning teams has certainly risen along with the level of skill. Due to connections made during the summer beach volleyball season, teams have even been formed for indoor fall/winter leagues outside of the park, expanding the sense of community to lasting throughout the year.
Intramurals are a great opportunity for those who want to try beach volleyball, build on existing skills, meet new people or simply enjoy the warmer weather while it lasts. Teams are not set, allowing for people to meet new faces and make new connections.
Overall, these sports activities help to humanize the institutions and companies that comprise the park: companies are no longer just names on buildings, but faces with great personalities.
Many thanks to the University of Waterloo for their financial assistance, as they allowed for all slo-pitch and beach volleyball players to join teams free of charge. Without their support, we would neither have met our inclusivity goal, nor been able to add a true sense of community to the park.
Do you bring your passion for recreational involvement back to the office? Does it help to enrich your professional life as well?
Increased comradery is absolutely imperative, as you feel more connected to those with which you have more in common. Expanding conversations from only being focused upon work to also being focused upon a fun, common activity is a great way to add balance. Meeting peers and learning about what other departments and organizations/institutions focus upon also allows for greater ease in finding information quickly, expanding professional networks and may even generate ideas for new partnerships.
Do you have a story from the playing field you can share?
Due to the location of the park, and the baseball diamond in particular, wildlife such as geese and ground hogs will often visit. For example, we actually lost a softball to a ground hog hole, as the occupant never did give it back. My favourite story though is from mid-August, when a red-tailed hawk flew over the ball diamond and landed on the roof of a nearby building. It would screech every few minutes and we like to think it was cheering for us. At one point during play, a ball was hit into the outfield and just as it stopped rolling, down swooped the hawk. It landed on the ball, hopping up and down on it, working it over with its talons and picking at the seams with its beak. Eventually, it seemingly looked at us in confusion for a few minutes, before flying off. One of the players wanted to recruit it onto the team, and luckily, the position of mascot was available – if only it had an agent.
So how are your teams faring this year? Are you winning?
Were there rankings for the team that cheers most, I like to think it would be a tough battle between a few teams in both the beach volleyball and slo-pitch leagues, as we often cheer for teammates as well as opponents when they make a great play. Overall, the goal for both leagues, especially during intramural play, is simply to have fun while being encouraging and trying hard. Athletic participation within the park is really continuing to expand quickly and it’s due to the great atmosphere generated by those who participate.
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