Ben Strunk helps NC State students build life and leadership skills through his work with intramural and club sports.
Ben Strunk first started playing and officiating intramural sports as an undergraduate at Ohio University. Through that experience, he was able to learn new skills, make lasting memories and meet people who would become lifelong friends. Fifteen years later, as assistant director of sports programs for Wellness and Recreation, he is helping NC State students enjoy the same opportunities.
“My job as an official in undergrad is really what made my college experience meaningful to me,” he recalled. “The group of friends I made coming out of the program, the team I got to work with and the experiences I was able to get out of it was a very meaningful part of my life. I like to think that these experiences we create for students at NC State are also giving meaningful opportunities to them in their lives.”
Strunk and his team at NC State oversee more than 50 total club sports organizations and 40 different leagues, special events and tournaments throughout the school year for intramural sports. Each year, about 2,000 unique students participate in club sports, and 6,500 play intramural sports — the most at any college or university in the state.
“There are very few schools out there able to offer as many intramural and club sports as we do, so we try to maximize on those opportunities as much as possible,” Strunk said.
Strunk noted that intramural and club sports contribute to students’ well-being and overall success as well.
“We have lots of students who grew up playing sports, and this is an opportunity for those who love sports to continue to compete while they’re in college or to play recreationally,” Strunk said. “It’s also an opportunity for students to learn a new sport or skill.”
Making it Official
For Strunk, one of his favorite parts about his job is working with student employees.
“I enjoy the team I get to work with, and I love seeing our students grow, especially in the officiating world,” Strunk said. “We have 150 student employees, but we also have a core group of six or seven program assistants, which is the highest job you can get as a student with us. Seeing that team continue to grow and develop is really rewarding.”
Student participation in intramurals has returned to pre-COVID-19 pandemic numbers, and there is an even wider variety of sports and leagues for students to choose from. The problem is, there are not enough students serving as referees for basketball, soccer, volleyball and other games happening across campus.
Student officials are paid for their work and offered a flexible work schedule. Wellness and Recreation provides full training for students in the program, regardless of playing experience in sports, plus continuing education opportunities throughout their time in the position.
“For those who really take to this kind of work, there are pathways to use the skills they learn later in their careers,” Strunk said. “We’ve had many students who have continued to officiate as a side job after they graduate, and we’ve had others who are now referees for college sports and continue to move up in full-time careers.”
A prime example of the leadership opportunities afforded to students in these positions came last year, when NC State’s Ice Hockey Club hosted a game at Carter-Finley Stadium as part of the NHL Stadium Series. While Strunk and his team provide oversight, resources and support for club sports organizations, he proudly admits that he had no direct role in making it the largest club sports event in North Carolina history.
“The students planned it all on their own, and it was all through their budget,” Strunk said. “They worked with athletics and the NHL to make it all happen. We’re really proud of them and all the hard work they did.”
Treasuring the Experience
Strunk has worked at NC State for nine years now, and he credits the university as being a great place to work.
“NC State has given me opportunities to grow, and I’ve gotten to do a lot of cool things since I’ve been here, inside and outside of sports programs,” he said. “It’s always been a place that’s able to say yes to things, which is really cool.”
One of the most notable initiatives Strunk has been part of outside of his work with Wellness and Recreation was the university’s COVID-19 response. He was among the first employees to volunteer at campus COVID-19 testing stations during the fall 2020 semester, and he took on an even larger role in coordinating volunteers for weekly surveillance testing during the spring 2021 semester. More than 20,000 students, faculty and staff were tested during the university’s return to campus efforts.
In 2021, Strunk received a university Award for Excellence — the highest honor given to non-faculty employees — for his efforts.
“Obviously there were no sports going on, so I was thankful to have an opportunity to do something to help out during that time,” he said. “It was a unique challenge, and I’m happy to say that I was part of the effort to test everybody. I don’t want to do it again, but it was an experience I’ll never forget, and I learned a lot from it.”
Outside of his work at NC State, Strunk prioritizes everyday fun. He officiates football, basketball and baseball games across the Triangle area — continuing the hobby he started as an undergraduate. He also runs a business called Triangle Treasure Hunt with his wife, Whitney. These treasure hunts encourage friends to explore areas in Raleigh, Durham, Cary, Apex and even Wilmington and Asheville.
“It came about in 2018 after we traveled to Italy and did a scavenger hunt in Florence,” Strunk said. “We got very lost and neither of us spoke a lick of Italian, and we came in last by a mile. I still feel like we won, though, because at the end I got down on one knee and put a ring on her finger.”
Strunk encourages members of the Pack to explore their passion for sports and try something new. Learn more about intramural sports and student official positions here, and get to know NC State’s Club Sports organizations here.