HYDE PARK — On a campus teeming with Nobel prize winners, the Maroon Cup has become one of the most sought-after awards among undergraduates at the University of Chicago.
A two-foot-high golden chalice, the Maroon Cup is given yearly to the student house that receives the highest amount of intramural points throughout the school year.
U. of C. assistant athletic director Brian Bock says the cup is now better known than the fact that the first Heisman Trophy was won by Maroons halfback Jay Berwanger in 1935.
"I'd be hard-pressed to say some students at the University of Chicago even know we have the first-ever Heisman winner," said Bock, 36, a Hyde Park resident who's worked at the school for 10 years and now oversees intramurals and sport clubs. "A lot of those people are aware that we have the Maroon Cup."
Nathan Hauke, a U. of C. junior who double-majors in math and computer science, might as well add intramural sports to his résumé.
The 20-year-old from Vermont participated in 36 intramural sports last school year. In the spring quarter alone, he spent 15 hours per week playing team games like wallyball, soccer, ultimate Frisbee and inner tube water polo.
"I spend more time on classes because that's most important ... but as far as raw time spent, it is close," said Hauke, who's part of 13 intramural sports this quarter.
Hauke's efforts helped his residential home — Maclean House — win the Maroon Cup for the 2011-2012 school year. After Hauke and his Maclean teammates were presented with the trophy last week at the school's Ratner Athletics Center, they marched home with rattlers, pom poms, megaphones and other noise makers.
The cup will remain at Maclean House for the rest of the school year. Hauke strongly predicted a repeat championship, but there will be challengers from the 15 key houses involved, including Wick, Tufts and Wallace.
Matt Walsh, a 21-year-old senior at Wallace House, said he's been dreaming of prevailing this year after his team finished third last year. While he doesn't know his future career plans — he has two offers in the private sector, but is considering working on a dual master's degree within the Peace Corps — he is only half-joking when discussing potential Maroon Cup victory parties.
"This is my last chance," said Walsh, an economics and political science double-major from Atlanta. "It would be huge if we won. We would get dinner and sing tales of our glory like the Vikings of old. It would be beautiful."
Sophomore Ellen Mulvihill said the cup, which was un-retired in 2008 after a few stagnant years, proves U. of C. students care about more than just academics.
"We're famous for the 'Where fun goes to die' slogan," said Mulvihill, a 19-year-old Tufts House chemistry and physics double-major who broke her ankle playing intramural wiffleball last school year. "This shows we have interests outside of school."
Bock said good-natured rivalries between houses have existed for many years on campus, and bringing back the Maroon Cup was a way to "play off those natural relationships." And he said it's not just the participants who care, noting many of the I.M. championship matches draw upward of 60 fans.
"While our fan attendance pales in comparison to that of our 'flagship' sports, such as basketball and football, we do, indeed, outdraw some varsity teams on occasion," Bock said.