Jim “Wedge” Sullivan can tell you just about everything there is to know about the Georgetown intramural program. Having worked in intramurals and the athletic department for the past 30 years, Wedge can tell you pretty much anything related to Georgetown sports for that matter.
“Let me give you a little history,” Wedge starts out in his laid-back Southern drawl. Sitting in an office deep inside Yates Field House, the director of Intramurals and Special Programs provides a comprehensive narrative on the development of casual sports at Georgetown since he began here as a graduate assistant in 1980.
“When I was first here,” Wedge continues his story, “Miller Beer sponsored my arm wrestling tournament. Back then it was an 18-year-old drinking age. Miller had student reps, and they brought in the tables and a lot of banners. They had all kinds of prizes – not alcohol – but things like jackets.”
What started as a four-month internship in 1980 turned into a lifelong career – he became an evening manager in 1981 and then the assistant intramural director later that year. After half a decade in intramurals, Wedge worked in the athletic department for 20 years before returning in 2006.
Plenty has changed since his first go-around at Yates. Sponsorship has gone from beer companies to Powerade, and the sports and students competing in them are different.
Wedge will tell you that the changes he has seen mirror the changes at Georgetown. A growing international student population has made soccer the most popular sport, overtaking basketball.
New women’s varsity teams as well as the move to coed Residence Hall floors – most teams are formed on dorm floors – have changed female participation.
At one time in the 1980s, Wedge says, there were 32 all-women football teams. Now, female participation is almost always on coed squads.
The growth of club sports has also affected the makeup of intramural participants and where they can play. Along with the advent of year-round workouts for most varsity teams, there is more competition for field space. The changing architecture of the campus has made the fight for an open field almost as competitive as a championship game.
With MultiSport Facility often in use and Kehoe Field full of bumps and holes, space to play games is tough to find. Wedge has to be creative and often fits the sport to the field. To get more games on one field, for example, they play Chicago-style softball with a 16-inch ball that is harder to hit for distance.
Scheduling and timing are also tricky, especially with different breaks for undergrads and graduate students.
“We won’t schedule when we know there’s going to be conflicting problems,” Wedge says. “The year the basketball team went to the Final Four, I basically cancelled a week of soccer because students were going up to East Rutherford [N.J.] and then they’re running down to Atlanta. I heard some complaining and I tried to explain to those people, `Look, this doesn’t happen too often. Y’all need to understand.'”
The other new factor on campus and in intramurals is the ever-busy student.
“Students today have more on their plate,” Wedge says. “Internships, career choices, studying abroad – the competition to get ahead is unbelievable. You didn’t have nearly that kind of stuff.”
Still, as the saying goes, the more things change the more they stay the same.
Teams form in freshman dorms and friends stick together for four years, often developing rivalries with other classmates. Wedge can tell you about a group led by Dan Porterfield, now the interim athletic director.
“I can remember there was a rivalry between two groups,” Wedge says before pausing, his Alabama twang always rolling slowly off his tongue. “One group [of which] Dan Porterfield was the RA-eighth [floor] Harbin. . They stuck together and they had a rivalry all four years with another group that had several athletes on it.”
Sometimes the rivalries come from the older players wanting to beat up on the freshmen. A survey conducted last year by Assistant Director Tim Smith showed that graduate students want to play against undergrads much more than the other way around. The grad students tend to be more competitive, perhaps because some of the participants played on the varsity level as undergrads.
Wedge can tell you, however, that things don’t always work out that way. In 1981, grad students played in a separate league, but Wedge ran a tournament of champions featuring the winner of each league. In basketball, the freshmen champions upset a law school team that had former Georgetown player and future Head Coach Craig Esherick (GSB ’78, LAW ’82) on it.
In the mid-1980s, Wedge moved from Yates to McDonough to be the director of Support Services.
“It incorporated a lot,” Wedge says. “We had housekeeping and maintenance, we had equipment room, we lined the field, [and] we set up the gym for games. I was the first person downtown [for men’s basketball games] and the last person to leave.”
When former Athletic Director Bernard Muir dissolved the department, Wedge jumped at an opportunity to get back into intramurals. The department was also moved from under the athletic director’s oversight to that of Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson, a positive move in Wedge’s eyes because intramurals is a student service more than anything else.
Though much has changed about Georgetown and intramurals since Wedge’s first stint – like field space and the advent of online schedules – he still focuses on getting as much participation as possible from students.
Smith, who came to Georgetown in October 2007, prides himself on the breadth of students the program draws.
“We’re one of the few departments out there, other than things like dining services, where people come from everywhere – faculty, staff, grad students, law students, undergrads, EFL students, foreign seminar students. They all come through our door and play intramurals.”
In 2009, intramurals had nearly 5,000 total participants in all sports, up 15 percent from the year before. A new Web site, which allows for sign-up and schedules to be hosted online, gives Smith a more accurate count of participants because each individual has to register rather than a captain turning in a laundry list of friends that may never play. The numbers from fall football – just over 1,000 students registered – are right on track with last year’s, indicating more people actually played in the games.
The numbers are a testament to Wedge – both his success as the department’s director and his personality. Over the past four years, Wedge has become a fixture at Yates. Intramural regulars easily recognize him and never pass up a chance to stop and talk.
What’s more, Wedge never disappoints. The colorful director is always armed with a story or quick joke, many of which you wouldn’t repeat to Mom or Dad when you tell them about your latest flag football game.
“It keeps you young, keeps you hip. You know what’s going on,” Wedge says, and then adds with a grin, “We can get down and dirty with them sometimes.”
Wedge can tell you how a college student’s (often irreverent) mind works, and he hurtles the age gap effortlessly with that keen understanding.
“What we don’t want is to alienate the students. I don’t want to get on any adjudicating boards or anything like that because I want these students participating,” Wedge says, careful to avoid any type of conflict between himself – the face of intramurals – and the participants.
Wedge has also built up his staff of student referees and supervisors from 2006 when he often had to don the stripes and blow the whistle at games. He’s particularly proud of his “four-year lettermen,” senior referees that have been with him since he began in 2006.
With all of his experience, Wedge can give you a look into the future of Georgetown athletics.
“I think club sports are going to keep growing. I think the space issue is going to grow,” Wedge says. “There’ll be some new trends in sports I’m sure. . There’s always going to be a demand for intramurals. If anything I think you’ll see [fewer] athletics teams.
“We’ll tinker with how we do things and so forth. It’s the evolution.”
Indeed, Wedge has had a front-row seat for the development of Georgetown as a whole over the past 30 years, and in the process, he and the rest of the intramural department have become mainstays on the Hilltop. “