Ben Van Heuvelen‘s article, What Do We Stand For has been read over 40 thousand times since it was first published on Skyd only a month ago on March 11th. The piece, which identifies a disparity between professional ultimate leagues and the drives of the current ultimate community drove a stake into ultimate fans, asking them how they wanted to define ultimate. The article elicited a response from NYNY legend Ken Dobyns, 206 comments to date as well as many conversations.
Included in those responses are two letters to the editor that we’re pleased to able to publish below:
Let’s Stand Up by Josh Lowell
There is a season of professional ultimate approaching. If we as ultimate players and fans want to advance the sport, want to change the complexion of competition in this country and want more people to partake in the greatest sport on earth, then we must support this effort.
Sometimes we forget our power in this capitalistic society. Capitalism allows for the freedom of choice. The suppliers respond to demand. The consumers dictate that demand. Everyone knows we cannot leave the already established Ultimate community in the dust. So if we as fans and players of the game make it known that SPOTG is the most important thing about the sport – over wins and losses – then they will respond accordingly. We have the power to decide where this sport goes, so be proactive. Support your team when they play with spirit even if they lose. Feel free to heckle players that lack spirit even if they are bringing in W’s, if that is what you want. Trust me, you will get what you ask for. Denouncing a league that is in existence and will be in existence, whether you play or watch or not, is not going to solve anything.
I am playing in the AUDL on the Cincinnati Revolution. When I read the article “What do we stand for?” it really made me think. It made me realize that advancing the sport to be like every other sport would completely contradict the core of our beloved game. There is something special about Ultimate, about the spirit of the game, about competing for the joy of competition, about respecting your fellow teammates and competitors. If that gets thrown out, then what is the point of advancing the sport? I don’t want to be a part of something that takes this sport and turns it into something it isn’t. I don’t want to turn it into just another sport; just another way for parents of kids to yell at referees and just another reminder for kids to grow up with the notion that winning is the only thing that matters. We must demand that spirit of the game remain an indispensable component of our sport. And the thing is we get to do it! We have the power.
But let’s not pretend like spirit of the game isn’t lacking at the collegiate and club levels already. Let’s not pretend like it is the pro scene that is turning us away from being a bunch of hippies throwing a plastic thing on the quad. Instead, let pro Ultimate serve as a reminder that we are warriors out there at whatever level we play. And we do want to win. But true warriors battle with honor and respect. True warriors lay it all on the line for their team and for themselves. They battle with integrity and heart. The sport is shifting, yes. Let’s bring on that shift, from the spirit of a bunch of laid-back hippies to the spirit of the samurai. Let’s make that be where our sport goes. We can hold onto our roots. But only if we demand that we do.
Josh Lowell has played Ultimate since high school, getting his first taste while playing summer leagues in Atlanta. He has since gone to Nationals four times with Jojah. After graduating from the University of Georgia, Josh moved to Asheville, NC where he plays for the competitive mixed team, Cahoots. He will be joining the Cincinnati Revolution in his first season with the American Ultimate Disc League.
Ultimate Mission Statement by Mark Korber
I read Ben’s piece about ultimate and it’s certainly moving. But it isn’t the whole story. Ben seems to think that what he has found in Ultimate is unique. It isn’t. I don’t play ultimate, so I can’t speak with the same authority he can, but I’ve watched a lot of Ultimate (including one college nationals and three club nationals) and I’ve watched the evolution of sports for more than sixty years, so I get some of this stuff.
Who We Are
Ultimate’s governing body that is passionate about, dedicated to and expert in the game of Ultimate.
Who We Serve
Everyone who loves and respects the game of Ultimate.
Based on a shared love and respect for Ultimate, we preserve its past, foster its future, and champion its best interests for everyone who enjoys the game.
How We Deliver
- Conduct national championships each year
- Write and interpret the Rules of Ultimate
- Regulate and test all equipment for conformance to the Rules of Ultimate
- Celebrate the history of the game
Ben probably would say, “yeah, right. That’s it. That’s what we need.” Well, that’s the United States Golf Association mission statement, with “Ultimate” substituted for “golf.”
What does that tell you? It tells you that this Ultimate experience Ben cherishes isn’t unique. Many many more people are passionate about golf, the spirit of golf, than about Ultimate. Many of those golfers have the same passion, only more of it, and they have the same belief that teaching the game and its rules can have a positive impact on people way beyond the athletics of the event.
When golfers began turning pro, I’m sure some USGA members wanted to kill it. Professionalism and the spirit of golf couldn’t be reconciled, blah, blah, blah. Sooner or later, the USGA figured out that it needed to work hard to remain relevant for ALL of golf, including the professional game. The mission of those who love Ultimate should be to make and keep USAU relevant, like the USGA.
Okay, here’s the real USAU mission statement:
Mission: USA Ultimate, guided by the Spirit of the Game, provides quality opportunities for its members to achieve their full human and athletic potential.
Vision: USA Ultimate will strive to be the worlds best sports organization.
- Responsibility – Fulfilling all functions, tasks, duties and assignments with trust and credibility on behalf of USA Ultimate by honoring promises and pledges.
- Integrity – Being true to self and the mission of USA Ultimate, while discerning right from wrong and acting on it.
- Dedication – Dedication to carrying out the mission and goals of USA Ultimate with the highest degree of sacrifice and discipline.
- Honesty – Being truthful and upright with people and issues in furthering the mission of USA Ultimate.
- Accountability – Providing answers and reasons to others for actions and behaviors intended to support the mission of USA Ultimate.
- Respect – Recognizing the absolute dignity in every human being, with a sense of compassion, caring and concern for the well-being of other people.
How’s that? Sorry, I lied again. That’s the USA Wrestling Association’s mission statement. In case Ben hasn’t noticed, wrestling is disappearing from college campuses and recently was dropped from the 2020 Olympics. Oh, and USA Wrestling, if it even existed at the time, certainly lost all relevance in the professional wrestling world long ago. Wrestlers are no less passionate about their game than Ultimate players.
The reality is that passionate Ultimate players, like Ben, have only two choices. Drive USA Ultimate to be sure it becomes the USGA of Ultimate, or let it go and risk it becoming USA Wrestling of Ultimate.
And, of course, the third choice (because professional ultimate will never become like professional wrestling), is that professional Ultimate just fails and Ultimate just stumbles along as it has for decades, this cute little side show that a few people love dearly. That’s the curling experience, and here’s the mission statement, sort of, for the Canadian Curling Association:
Objects of the Association
(excerpt from the CCA Constitution and By-Law)
- to be recognized as the national sport governing body for curling in Canada;
- to exclusively promote amateur athletics, specific to curling, in Canada on a nation-wide basis. This will include the development and marketing of the sport of curling at both the Member Association and the club level;
- to establish and enforce the rules of the sport of curling in Canada as well as a process by which differences and disputes can be settled;
- to cultivate fraternal relations with other curling associations (national and international);
- to respect and preserve the traditions of curling;
- to promote, arrange, conduct and control Canadian Curling Championships;
- to liaise with the Curling Hall of Fame and Museum of Canada Inc. which was established to recognize achievements of athletes and builders in the sport of curling in Canada.
- to play the game for the game’s sake without thought of material reward.
Hello? Change the words a little bit and that’ll work for Ultimate, too. Like people everywhere, Ultimate players believe their experience is unique. It isn’t. They can talk all they want, but there are only two choices: help shape the future or get out of the way.
There’s no going back.
Mark Korber is a practicing lawyer and father of three in Hartford, Connecticut. He is a former Connecticut Constitution season ticket holder. He once had a decent backhand, and could read the disc and catch it pretty well; he never had a flick, a hammer or a blade. He does, however, know a lot about troubled professional sports endeavors, having been a Buffalo Bills fan for over 50 years.