The 10 steps in my Ultimate journey (or how I fell in love with Ultimate)
How it all began:
My love affair with Ultimate Frisbee began in the fall of 2000, and it has been a passionate, fiery, roller coaster kind of ride that I would not have traded for anything else. This is how it all began.
As an above average varsity tennis player and amateur playground baller in high school, I entered college without a sport to play. My tennis skills honed against the wall of my garage didn’t measure up to those of private school kids trained by tennis pros. And my playground bball skills earned on the blacktop of NYC didn’t translate onto the hardwood floors of the gymnasium. I was good enough to play with them, but not good enough to make the teams.
I had to find something else to do.
The school offered intramural basketball and soccer leagues but they played once a week and only lasted a month or two. I wanted something more steady, something I could really get into. For the first time I considered picking up Ultimate Frisbee. A sport I knew a little about but had not actually played.
My first exposure of Ultimate Frisbee
Back in middle school I did see some students playing Ultimate, but never thought they played it as a serious sport. It seemed more like a group of friends who wanted something to do besides basketball, which is the default sport in NYC. Ultimate was also a sport that girls could participate in and play with the guys. Since I spent most of my afternoons behind the chain linked fences of the basketball courts, I never gave Ultimate Frisbee much of a thought. Honestly, who wants to play a sport with girls?
My first time playing with a Frisbee
I don’t remember how it got there, but I did have in my possession, a Frisbee. It wasn’t the official discraft 175 gram tournament disc, but it was close enough. It was bright red and had some swirly designs on top. I guess my parents must have gotten it back in the day when we used to go to the park to fly kites on nice Sunday afternoons.
Out of curiosity and boredom, I brought it out one day and decided to toss it around with my friends on the street. I didn’t know the first thing about correct throwing techniques, so we just tried to figure it out the best we could. Luckily I had some athletic genes in me and in the span of a few days I managed to figure out how to throw a backhand and a forehand. My friends however, quickly lost interest in the flying disc and reverted back to basketball, and the Frisbee returned to the shelf in the basement.
But little did I know, those seemingly trivial skills I learned in those few days will one day come in very handy…
My first experience with Ultimate Frisbee
So back to my freshman year in college…
The Friday after classes had begun, the Frisbee club of the school hosted a social event down on Poker flats, a huge field behind some senior housing. I had no idea what to expect as I walked towards the field. Is it gonna be a bunch of hippies smoking weed and listening to the Grateful dead? Or was it gonna be a bunch of geeks talking in computer language? Nothing in all my previous experiences with a Frisbee prepared me for what I was about to see.
There were about a hundred or so people, all spread out over this beautiful, lush lawn surrounded by a ring of trees. The sun was shining bright, the Frisbees were flying high, and the alcohol was free flowing. Yes, the Frisbee club was getting wasted off beer and Jose Cuervo.
My first taste of tequila
I thought sweet! It’s my first Friday at school, and I’m gonna get my drink on. I spotted a few people I recognized from my dorm and joined them for some casual Frisbee tossing. I learned two key pieces of information at any Frisbee event, 1. the kegs were over by the houses, and 2. the upperclassmen were making their rounds with the Jose Cuervo bottles, giving freshmen shots.
I stepped away and got myself a beer and some Tostitos. I figured that since I hadn’t had much of a lunch, I shouldn’t be drinking on an empty stomach, never considering how the acidity of the salsa would combine with the hard liquor. (We’ll come back to that point later.) I quickly rejoined my friends and continued to toss the Frisbee. Since I already knew how to throw the plastic disc, I was feeling pretty good about myself and the whole situation. I’m sure the beer helped too.
My first time hugging the porcelain queen
Pretty soon the upperclassmen came with their bottles of Tequila, and we freshmen took our “mandatory” chugs. I knew I could handle some alcohol, but this was my first time with Tequila. Feeling overconfident of my tolerance, so I took a chug from the bottle. Ugh! This stuff is nasty! But hey, this is college, and I’m trying something new right? Emboldened by the tequila, I proceeded to take extra big chugs from the circulating bottles of Cuervo.
Lots of Tequila, mixed with beer, mixed with a stomach filled with chips and salsa, well, you get the idea. I’m not sure exactly how I got back to the bathroom in my dorm, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t leave it for a good 3 hours. I consider it a trial that everyone has to go through in college, the Tequila puking trial.
So on that day, all the myths and preconceived notions I had of Ultimate Frisbee were all gone. I found that most of the people who play Ultimate are just like me. They enjoy athletic activity but weren’t good enough or motivated enough to be on a college varsity team. There were the stoners and the geeks for sure, but they were also really cool people you can talk to about anything. And best of all, they all loved to drink.
My first team
In high school our tennis team wasn’t really a team. Our coach was the photography teacher who had no knowledge of tennis and just wanted to make an extra buck. We would practice at most twice a week. Even me being a captain was more for the college apps than for any desire to lead.
Besides the drinking and social events, the Ultimate club (WUFO) was first and foremost a frisbee team. We practice everyday after class at 4pm on Poker flats. The practices lasted between 2-3 hours and concluded in a team dinner at Mission dining hall, where we chatted and got to know each other. Besides practices we also threw parties together, went on trips together, and just spent a lot of time, together. This was the first time I actually felt like I was part of a real team.
My first tournaments
Weekend tournaments are a big part of Ultimate, both at the college and club levels. Tournaments added an element of traveling, and adventure to the whole Ultimate experience. There were good tournaments, and there were great tournaments, they usually did not disappoint.
On any tournament weekend, we would pack into the few cars we had on Friday afternoon, and caravan over to the tournament site, usually another college campus, and settle in to wherever we were crashing that weekend. You were lucky to get a couch, and even luckier to share a bed with someone else you met at the party. There would usually be some social event on Friday night for the teams that arrived, usually pretty low key with a couple of kegs. We would have some fun, but turn in early for the big games on Saturday.
Games on Saturday always started way too early. We’d get up with the sun and grab a quick bite to eat before getting to the fields. The teams get their field assignments and look ahead to a full day of Ultimate. Saturdays typically featured 4 games, sometimes 5. By the end of the day, you’d be lucky to not be some type of pain. But it was mostly good pain. We were still young, and our bodies can handle it.
My first tournament parties
Saturday night was when the real party happened. It would usually take place in a big frat house or similar type venue, but never a commercial place due to the unimaginable amount of damage 300+ drunken Ultimate players can cause. The dozen or so kegs would be lined up against the wall ready to serve the thirsty horde. And thirsty they were after a full day of running. They were like a zombie mob attacking a pack of defenseless kittens.
With all that alcohol flowing through the veins of hormone driven college students, it is an understatement to say that a lot of wild happened at those parties. Nudity, debauchery, substances, making out, streaking, landsharks, drunkenness, boat races, hookups, sex, drunken accidents, and team chants could be seen at every tournament party, and not necessarily in that order.
I was still relatively conservative back then. I’d drink my head off but I didn’t participate in other, more questionable acts. Although I did enjoy the brownies…
My first club team
Because of club politics and other interests, I decided to stop playing Ultimate Frisbee during my Junior year of school. As is typically the case, much of my decision had to do with a girl. Although she never stopped me from playing, I just found spending time with her… more rewarding. Romance had led many a great figure astray from their noble paths. Caesar lost his way when he met Cleopatra, Napoleon became weak after taking on a new mistress, and I was equally vulnerable to the temptations of the opposite sex.
4 years went by, I’ve graduated from school, and find myself on the other side of the world in the beautiful nation of the Philippines. How did I get here? That’s a LONG story for another time. What you should know is, I again, was looking for something to do.
I had heard of a Ultimate Frisbee community in the city of Manila, but I thought it was probably just some foreigners tossing the fris before going to a pub. I gave playing Ultimate a thought but never pursued it. Fortunately, a student of mine (I became a teacher) told me of his friend who plays for a local team which practices in a park near our school. With his encouragement, I decided to give Ultimate a second chance. I ended up joining the team. My first club team.
What I discovered after that was shocking.
I had been living in Manila for two years and never once did I see anyone playing Frisbee. And yet there was a huge Ultimate Frisbee community hiding right under my nose!
My first club league
Not only did Manila have a thriving Ultimate Frisbee scene, the quality of play was extraordinarily high. Most of the players are local Filipinos, and some of them are among the best players I’ve ever seen. I had unwittingly stumbled into an entire underground culture in Manila that was fast on its way towards popular recognition.
When I first joined the league, there were about 16 different registered teams, all in one city. There were 3 leagues a year, and teams would meet every Saturday at the polo fields of a nearby country club and play up to 4 tough games. The last weekend of the league is the playoffs, where the top 8 teams battle it out for the title of league champions.
The leagues were very organized and professional, much better than the tournaments I used to go to during college. The fields were completely flat. The sidelines were lined with chalk. There was a grandstand and tents where people could rest and hangout. Water and ice were always provided. And there was a food tent in case you were hungry. All this, for about $10 a league.
Oh how I miss playing in Manila…
My first coaching assignment
After my first league, due to the disbanding of my team, I joined up with one of my former teammates who coached a high school team. Ultimate was still very new to these high school students/alums. Most of them were beginners while some others have played for a year or two. I found myself in the position of being the “most experienced”, which was a bit strange considering how little I had played.
With my relative wealth of experience I began to run the practices of the team. Since most of the kids were students, they had the summers off and could practice everyday. And since I was at the time unemployed, I could be there to coach everyday, which worked out perfectly. And so we practiced 6 sometimes 7 days a week for up to 4 hours a day, running the drills and plays I created for a team with little experience, some skill, and tons of athleticism.
Eventually the next league came around and it was time to put all of our hard work to the test. And to their great surprise, and a bigger surprise to myself, we kicked ass! Our two teams (we split up into A & B) had a combined record of 11-1 through the first round of games and both managed to advance up to a higher pool (there were 3 at the time). Not only did my system prove to be successful, I had also given Xavier ultimate club legitimacy as a club to be reckoned with.
My next Ultimate first
I have come a long way since first picking up a disc in middle school. I’ve played in college, I’ve played club, I’ve traveled to many tournaments all over the east coast, I’ve played internationally, and I’ve also been a coach. However there is one thing I still haven’t experienced. And that is winning a tournament.
I had been close. I was as close as anyone can possibly get…
The disc was in the air, it had been over thrown, they had made a crucial mistake. It was hanging right there for me to catch, and I went for it. This was universal point in the championship game. We had battled hard all day and won some tough victories to get here. Now we were here, the light is dimming, we were so close and we could taste victory. And this was the opportunity I had been waiting for.
I jumped up and caught the disc, my mark was behind me, I was 5 yards away from the endzone, 5 yards away from what we had worked so hard for. I had the disc in hand, and a teammate was wide open in the endzone. Instinct kicked in, I didn’t even have to think and tossed it to him in the endzone, we both threw up our arms in celebration, finally! We had done it!
Yes, the little ass clown on the other team called a foul. I’m not gonna go into the details but EVERYONE who saw that point knew that it wasn’t a foul. It was so obvious that his teammate even apologized to us after the game, a game that we ultimately lost.
That was a bitter defeat. One I hope to gloss over with my first Ultimate tournament win. Then my Ultimate journey would be complete. And I can finally get working on killing those damn zombies in these games!