From the outset, University founder Fr. Edward Sorin emphasized recreational activity when establishing Notre Dame in 1842. In 1847 he turned his attention to constructing “the last word in recreational facilities”, complementing an environment conducive to hunting, fishing, swimming, and skating. The extensive grounds fielded games of football in its then earliest form, cricket and other games to “invigorate the body and recreate the mind.”
Recreation during the early years enabled students to develop close bonds with the priests, and especially the Irish brothers, who spoke the language more fluently. Readily accessible to students, the brothers acted not only as coordinators and officials, but served the role of counselor. A student run athletic association was replaced in 1898 by the Faculty Board of Control. The first recognized club sports on campus were Cricket, founded in 1862; gymnastics, recognized in 1864; and rowing, dating to1867.
Organized baseball first appeared on campus in 1865. The 1866-1868 rosters were headlined by one Adrian C. “Cap” Anson, who would eventually star for twenty-one years for the Chicago White Stockings. Anson is regarded as the first Major League superstar, and was an original member of the Hall of Fame.
Rudimentary football was first played on campus in the late 1860’s, more closely resembling rugby, with the first record of a game found in the October 24, 1885 edition of Scholastic. From these early recreational players, as was true with baseball, Notre Dame would field its first intercollegiate varsity teams. Earlest games pitted the Blacks against the Browns, or the Specials against the Anti-Specials. By 1890, however, Interhall play was a campus staple. Goalposts were first erected on Brownson Field in 1906, and Corby Hall was recognized as the first campus dynasty.
The first recorded interhall basketball game, Carroll 11, Brownson 7, was played in 1897; the first track meet held in 1899; and water polo was first played in the new natatorium in 1901. As the 20th century dawned, a new gymnasium replaced one lost in a devastating fire. Later, both interhall and club sports were actively promoted by Knute Rockne, also known for his accomplishments outside the realm of RecSports. Notre Dame established the Department of Physical Education in 1921, and placed recreational activity under its direction. This would remain in effect until 1966.
Athletic competition sprang up in dozens of sports over the decades, one notable club being boxing. Rockne started a team in 1923, with the first of the legendary Bengal Bouts staged in 1930. Women’s boxing with its Baraka Bouts first entered the ring in 2003.
In 1968, the Department of Interhall/Intramural Athletics became the Department of Non-Varsity Athletics (NVA). The new nomenclature was to reflect the growth of recreational activity outside intramural and club participation. In 1983, Recreational Services was added to NVA, was designed to provide venues and encouragement to the growing women’s population on campus. RecServices offered 22 programs its first year.
1991 marked Notre Dame’s sesquicentennial, and the introduction of NVA’s successor, the Office of Receational Sports (RecSports), renamed in part to remove any negative connotations of the prior name. Notre Dame fully embraced the concept of wellness, or “whole health”, terms just then coming into vogue. Nationally, the field of recreational sports was changing dramatically both in philosophical and professional development. Notre Dame’s RecSports Mission Statement was developed and introduced in 2005: To serve the Notre Dame community by enhancing the mind, body, and spirit through recreational sports. Emphasis was now widespread to include fitness and wellness programming, and offerings to the entire campus community and their families.
RecSports in all its iterations boasts a proud heritage of service to the Notre Dame family. Today, the number of programs offered is 482. The future is promising as new programming, facilities and professional staff will enhance customer service while meeting ever evolving interests with current programming.