Watching a Single Ladies’ performance is pure entertainment; something that you will want to talk about for days. I’m not talking about a Beyoncé concert though.
Northwestern’s Single Ladies are an intramural basketball team, which means they play about once a week during winter quarter. The team has been around since 2008, one year before the players officially gave themselves their current title.
Jens Notstad and some of his friends were the brainchildren behind this goofy organization. Notstad, now 27 and the Catechist for the Church of the Redeemer at Northwestern, said the unofficial “list” of the Single Ladies team goals goes something like this: a) have fun, b) don’t care about winning and c) hate losing.
“I know that ‘getting digits’ is on there, but I don’t know what the rank is for it,” he joked. (After games, members of the team use their rather unorthodox athleticism to try to get phone numbers from female fans).
If it’s not clear by now, the Single Ladies do things a bit differently. For starters, every game, players have to dress in a particular themed costume. There’s “no-skin” week, where each player is expected to be completely covered from head to toe; there’s “wrong-sport” week, where players dress like an athlete of another sport; and there’s beach week, where they all play in swim suits, and instead of a typical pre-game warm up, they casually lie down on their towels in the middle of the court and toss around a Frisbee.
During games, it gets even more comical, especially free throw shooting. Those who know the sport of basketball understand how important free throws are; in fact, at the end of close games, teams will intentionally foul an opposing team’s poor free throw shooter, forcing them to make clutch shots at the line. The Single Ladies apparently haven’t got the memo and instead have started a unique tradition.
“We had a player on our team who wasn’t very good,” Notstad said. “He shot a couple free throws in one of our games. The first free throw just smacked off the top of the backboard and missed by a couple of feet, then his second free throw was just as far off… In honor of him and those free throws, the first free throw of every game has to be missed intentionally badly.”
Notstad recalled a time when someone got the ball at the line, turned his back to the hoop and dribbled backwards like he was posting up an imaginary defender before throwing up a wild shot below the rim. These silly antics lead to differing reactions from the opposing team. Weinberg senior Ben Williams, another member of the Single Ladies, said the other team sometimes likes to get in on the joke. They start taking crazy shots and don’t care much about the score. Only when the other team is having more success goofing off, he said, is when things get a big annoying.
Other times, the opponent doesn’t appreciate the shenanigans.
“It’s frustrating for opposing teams who assume that just because we’re goofing off that we are really bad at basketball,” Notstad said.
In fact, this rag-tag group manages to have some success despite their unorthodox style of play. In Notstad’s second year, the Single Ladies made it all the way to the Round of 16, even upsetting one of the top-ranked teams along the way. Overall, they’ve managed to make the playoffs each year.
At the end of the day though, the Single Ladies are for individuals who just want to enjoy the moment. This soon made Notstad realize that by forming this team, he was also making a larger point about competition at Northwestern.
Many students at this university are used to winning, whether in the classroom or on the playing field. If they didn’t have that drive for success, they probably wouldn’t be here in the first place. Notstad thinks that this creates problems for students who just want to relax, and not have to take everything so seriously.
“Part of our goal as a team was to simultaneously reveal how ridiculous being overly-competitive about something’s can be,” he said, “but at the same time hopefully inviting people in who are lighthearted and [just want] to play a sport.”
Once Williams knew what the Single Ladies were all about, he was on board too.
“It was the perfect place for me, who’s a mediocre basketball player, who wanted to really impact the game, even if I couldn’t do that through my own basketball skills,” he said.
Outsiders have begun to see what all the hype is about, including the referees. Notstad remembers a particular moment last year involving former ‘Cats wide receiver, Demetrius Fields, who played from 2008 to 2012. It was the moment Notstad realized the Single Ladies had made a difference: Fields happened to be the referee for one of their games, and Notstad got the courage to go up to him when it was over.
“I said [to him] ‘I watched you play for four or five years now and it’s been a lot of fun and I want to thank you for that,’ and he actually said the same thing [back] to me. He’s like ‘I want to tell you guys that I’ve watched you for a couple of years, and I love watching you.’”
The final score had nothing to do with it.