Irish Immigrant Shares His Story and Love for Intramurals

Alex Burke, a first-year software engineering major, is a young man with a story that stretches five thousand miles across the globe. This story is his family’s immigration story, and it is simple to follow. It also shines light on an underrepresented topic surrounding the Cal Poly intramural sports culture.

Since Burke was a part of his family’s immigration story, he believes he has valuable words to share that not only advocate for tolerance, but are relatable to anyone who also has roots beyond our American borders.

Burke emigrated from Clifden, Ireland to Chicago with his family in May of 2008. He and his family were in search of an escape from their “impoverished homeland.” Burke, who was eight years old at the time, did not know what to expect from life in America, especially from a city like Chicago that’s so vast, urban, and different than the rural farmlands he knew in Clifden.

“It was pretty tough for me, being such a young kid and knowing everything, or what I thought was everything, in Ireland. When I got to America, I realized that there was so much more and everything was so much bigger,” Burke said.

By the time he was 11 years old, Burke joined his parents, two brothers, and sister in a migration to Los Altos, California. It was there in Los Altos that Burke finally settled in for a period as long as when he lived in Clifden, attending Loyola Elementary School and Bellarmine High School. It was also there in Los Altos that he heard of all the prestigious universities in California–and California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo was one of them.

“The science behind computers and technology has always fascinated me, especially when I arrived in Los Altos and was only a 15 minute drive away from Apple headquarters in Cupertino. I also heard that Cal Poly was nationally known for its engineering and architecture programs. All that combined with the fact that Cal Poly was only 200 miles from my home made it seem like a pretty obvious decision to attend,” Burke said.

“Everyone could tell that he had a passion for software engineering. Not only is he exposed to great education, but he isn’t far from home as well, which makes me feel easier about his college experience,” Burke’s mother, Heidi, said.

Burke is one of over a hundred Cal Poly students to participate in ASI intramural sports this quarter. He thinks highly of the program, believing it’s possible to use it as a way to allow those born and bred in America to understand his story.  

“Intramurals have been super influential in terms of fitting in with other people. It has allowed me to make great friends that I otherwise would not have made if I hadn’t participated,” Burke said.

Burke also feels that the particular sport he plays adds more enjoyment to his overall intramural experience. This quarter, he joined the Division III co-ed Ultimate frisbee team MCUUFA managed by Captain Mitchell Carroll.

“Ultimate Frisbee specifically has been a special extra-curricular because it’s not as customary or popular as football, basketball, or soccer are at Cal Poly. Also, I’m playing in a co-ed league, so my competitiveness as been driven differently than I feel it would have been if I played football or basketball,” Burke said.

Alex shares these sentiments about Ultimate Frisbee, also referred to simply as Ultimate, with other Cal Poly students and even recreational competitors outside of Cal Poly.

Engineering freshman Marcus Able, is one of Burke’s teammates.

“I like Ultimate because it can be taken seriously and lightly. It is more slow-paced than other sports, so it really allows the players and anyone spectating to grasp its uniqueness,” said first-year engineering major Marcus Able.

Brady Teufel, a Cal Poly Journalism professor, was a weekend recreational Ultimate player this quarter and also had words to share about the sport.

“It’s unique because unlike ball sports where the trajectory of the ball is linear, the trajectory of the frisbee is bend, float, and bang on the wind, resulting in some mysterious flight patterns and zanny chase-downs.” said Teufel.

Burke is grateful that every teammate of his has been accepting of his Irish background. His teammates actually embraced his background by integrating aspects of Irish culture into their games. An example of this integration includes calling Alex’s name in a playful and respectful Irish accent to let him know whenever the frisbee is thrown his way.

“Out on the field, everything changes. Everyone accepts me for who I am as an athlete, as a student, and as a person,.” Burke said.

MCUUFA finished their 2019 Spring regular season as the third seed of their division with a 2-3 mark. They were bounced out the playoffs after a 10-4 loss to Captain Jonah Basl’s Eric Zhong’s Team in the first round. Click here to learn more this quarter’s Ultimate frisbee season.

“Sure the season ended earlier than I intended, but I certainly had a blast,” Burke said.

Burke makes it evident that he is always open to sharing his story with those interested enough to listen and learn from it. He hopes that stories like his own will teach and welcome diversity on the Cal Poly campus for years to come.