It’s another rainy day here in Buffalo, NY. Hard rain, too, with thunder and lightning cracking on all sides, and the amount drivers around roaming around with no lights on, aren’t helping to make it any better.
The rain is fitting today; it’s not exactly a happy day in my book. It’s the first day of the fall semester in graduate school for me; a new school, new major, new apartment, and a new start. Spending the past four years at the same school (with little time spent sober on other campuses enough to remember them and their layout), SUNY-Buffalo – or UB as we knew it – was more than just where I lived, studied and played. It was a home. It had everything a student could want: food that wasn’t that bad, a friend that I saw on any walk through the buildings, and my ultimate team, Green Eggs and Ham. I had friends outside of the team from class or my hometown, but they don’t compare to the guys I ran stairs with what hundreds of times, or the girls from the Lorax (UB’s Women’s team) that I shared messy jumping (not dancing) to ‘You! Me! Dancing!’ with in crowded basements. Not only did I not see a single person I recognized during my two hours on my new campus today, but I didn’t even want to try the food – no matter how much my stomach rumbled for any kind of grub I could get.
I walked around campus while it was truly busy for the first time today, but I knew something was missing. There wasn’t anything to look forward to at the end of the day. While other teams may have used the first week to kick off rookie camp, we typically used the first week to gauge where the returning players were at. Those practices were always some of the best. Playing ultimate with all the guys you love again after spending most of the summer away. No longer is the defeat from last season fresh on your mind, but the possibilities of the year in front of you.
Defeat; ever since our defeat at regionals, in pre-quarters no less, I had been thinking about a way to start writing this. I know I wanted to write it, but just wasn’t sure how. There just didn’t seem to be a good time, until today. How we finished sure was disappointing, but it would’ve been better – like in years past that ended in similar ways – had I been returning to play for a fifth year. I would have been able to use it for motivation, use it for something more for this year. Instead of being able to reflect on the mistakes I made, they now sit in my head like one of those GIF’s on tumblr. Looping over and over again – yet I keep watching it, expecting something to change, or a new reaction out of me; it never comes. Playing didn’t feel the same after that loss, and I really haven’t played since that day this past May. Sure, a bit of summer league (not that it’s on the same level), but no club and certainly no college now that fall has started. Summer league just wasn’t the same, and the thought of club, of playing for another team, still makes me think I’m moving on from Green Eggs and Ham, when that’s the last thing I want. I picked-up with a team at Cooler Classic, and while it was a lot of fun to get into the game again and play at least a bit closer to where I was at last spring, it wasn’t the same either. It wasn’t who I was playing with, it was still all in my head. I couldn’t forget what happened – the disappointment of failure.
Still, I wear my egg with pride, everywhere I go. I can’t not wear it – I think I’m the first person to have it tattooed on them. That’s probably going to get me some flak with the alumni at our annual tournament in a few weekends, not to mention my parents and non-ultimate friends. They might be right. Unlike players from the Hodags or Mamabird, there’s not many accomplishments to the Green Eggs and Ham name. Over four years with the team, I don’t think we won a single tournament (besides sectionals once – but really, who’s counting that?). We never made it past quarterfinals of regionals, after giving up blood and sweat for the chance to get to nationals. Over the four years, that’s what seemed like the most important part of our time as a team though, to try and make nationals. It was a goal we thought was reasonable and achievable, and it consumed almost every one of us. I just never got to reach it, only attending nationals because Bryan Jones and Zack Smith (both former GEH players) thought I could write.
The first thing I ever wrote about ultimate was this piece for Bryan about my journey going from a freshman who practiced with the team but saw next to no playtime to a starting D-line cutter as a sophomore. I cringe when I read it now; it isn’t any good at all. That piece, though, is a call back to a time much different than now. I didn’t end my play at this year’s Cooler Classic by thinking, “Oh man Jimmy, you should really improve your around flick.” I did two years ago though. Things really change when that drive is taken out of you.
One of the reasons I didn’t play where I wanted to at regionals was because I was afraid of this, afraid of not having a team to call my own, afraid of not having GEH in my life all of the time. I may still be in Buffalo, and able to drive up to any practice or party I can make, but it doesn’t feel the same. My mental drive isn’t there, I don’t have the same goal as the rest of the guys on the field do. They are there fighting to make the team, or to make themselves better as a player, I’m wondering how I’m going to pay rent, and what to cook for dinner. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to do any of that with them, it just means that I’ve finally understood why the alumni that have come back from those practices only come for a few, why they didn’t give 100% the whole time, and why they typically shied away from the after practice shenanigans – it just isn’t the same.
I had to drive through the UB campus today, to return some books to the Erie County Library on my way home from work. That’s where it really stung that I wasn’t going to be a part of the team, as the ride took me not only right past the fields where the team holds the informal rookie practices, but the stadium we practiced in, the arena we ran in – almost every building and field had some connection to the team, or something stupid we did. Like the fake disc golf course we have across the campus, where it’s better to hit someone (a near impossible task depending on time of day) than to have them try and help you out with getting the disc. Surprisingly, I don’t think we’ve ever been told to stop.
Somehow to tie things together, my first class was cancelled. I was one of the handful of students that apparently didn’t get the memo and had shown up to an empty classroom. That my day didn’t end with the typical first day syllabus handout and introduction, or a GEH practice, is only fitting. And I still don’t like it.
On June 14th, I had just been green-lighted to attend the EsriUC, the major GIS software conference of the year. In less than 3 weeks, 15,000 geo-geeks would descend onto the San Diego Convention Center. After securing my flight, lodging and conference agenda, I did what any self-respecting ultimate player would do: check if I needed to bring my cleats. I realized that finding a game that fit my schedule would be difficult. Then a thought occurred to bring ultimate to the EsriUC in a unique way.
I decided to make a bid to create a map by utilizing two passions in my life, geography and ultimate. Professionally, I have been creating maps for the past 15 years within the GIS discipline and was introduced to the official game of ultimate 11 years ago, when I moved to the Tampa Bay area.
With the map, I wanted to showcase as many of the playing and viewing opportunities from amateur through professional that ultimate has to offer for the year 2013, since as players we can play at a weekly pickup, a hat tournament, on a college team or club team and now with one and two professional leagues.
One of the major events at the conference is the Map Gallery, which is the ‘showcase game’ of the conference. However, with late notice, I was worried about entry due to registration already being closed. The solution would be to wait in line the day of and secure a no-show’s panel.
I was pressured with less than three weeks to complete a map. Luckily, the data contributors started sending me data that first day. And as I pondered my cleats, I knew that the United States of Ultimate was going to be a crowd-pleaser. I would enter the map into the Most Unique category, which is the hardest to win but offers the most rewarding experience.
The day of the Map Gallery, I was able to reserve a panel and hung the map just before the 2pm deadline for judging. At 3:30pm the doors opened for everyone and I was overwhelmed by the positive response and large numbers of industry colleagues, who were also ultimate players or curious map aficionados.
Nathaniel and Scott Morehouse, Director of Software Development at Esri, pointing to where he used to play ultimate in college
To my surprise, Scott Morehouse, Director of Software Development at Esri, came by and shared his ultimate experience of playing a co-ed pickup game every Saturday in the ’70s at Killian Court, MIT and recalled when he attended Hampshire College the only intercollegiate sport was ultimate. He added that he liked to play loose and barefoot – an aerobic form of team catch with goals to keep things motivated.
Alas, I didn’t win Most Unique but personally the map was a big winner. I’ll be wearing version 1.0 of the map as a pair of custom shorts. Next year, I’ll bring my cleats and organize a game for Esri users at Balboa Park but before then, if you are interested in enriching the ultimate community with geospatial solutions, contact me and lets work on version 2.0 of the United States of Ultimate.
On Monday, USA Ultimate filed a takedown notice against Pitt’s 2013 College Championships Highlight Reel. The reel featured footage and commentary from ESPN’s coverage of the tournament.
Yesterday, news broke that the Lancaster, PA-based team, the Heva Havas would be required by USA Ultimate to change their club name for the series (A Heva Hava, for the uninitiated, is a cattle farmer that aids in the reproduction of calves). Their jerseys, appropriately, feature a bull mounting a cow.
Earlier this year, Pits and Pendulums, a Mixed team from Charleston, South Carolina, was also forced to change its name, becoming “Pluff Mud Panic” (apparently USA Ultimate has a problem with thinly-veiled references to sexual intercourse).
In February, I wrote about ultimate losing its “Mojo” in the form it is represented in the MLU and AUDL. USA Ultimate, it appears, is not far behind. In socio-economics, the term race to the bottom refers to a mad dash towards deregulation and lower wages in free trade systems. In 2013, I think we can coin a new term: ultimate is now suffering from a race toward legitimacy. In the last few years, as the chance to market ultimate as a “legimate” product has loomed closer and closer, organizing bodies appear to be falling over themselves in a race to remove anything that could potentially damage the sport’s image — but at what cost? How long can these organizations clamp down on self-expression before the players and teams start to rebel — and is it worth it?
There are still teams out there that are pushing the lines as far as legitimacy goes, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see USA Ultimate continue to whitewash any rogue elements as the premise of national broadcast coverage from Frisco looms nearer. So stay frosty, club teams, because there are surely more crackdowns in the works.
And if I have to defend a silly logo of two bovines fornicating to make it stop, then so be it. I’m throwing down my gauntlet. Free Heva Havas.
Feature photo of the Heva Havas at the Chesapeake Open by Pete Guion
While growing up, my parents helped me mature in a lot of ways, but they never indicated how impossibly hard it would be to set up your priorities. Obviously, there are the necessities like pay your bills on time, take care of yourself, and call your mother once a week to let her know you are okay. Then there are the secondary concerns which you can’t really rank; each has a significance that mixes around from time to time. Right now I’m in what Socrates might say is a “dill of a pickle” when it comes to a decision on my priorities. One of my friends is getting married in Poland, which happens to be at the exact same weekend as club regionals.
This decision is an unbelievably hard one to make. In all logical sense, there is absolutely no reason for me not to go to Poland. I have more than enough money to get there, I love to travel to new places, some of my best friends will be there, and it is a rare opportunity I will likely not be afforded again. On the flip side I am the captain of a club team, this will be my fifth club regionals, and likely my 80th or so lifetime Frisbee tournament in which the odds of us going to nationals are seemingly small. By sheer reason alone, it seems Poland is the only clear choice, yet my hesitancy leads me in another direction.
Obviously, Poland would be amazing for a plethora of reasons, but ultimate’s gravitas cannot be understated. If we look at this in a utilitarian sense, I have put a vast amount of time this year into getting better; hours of working out, practicing, and an incalculable amount just thinking about the sport. For me, regionals is the pinnacle of our season, it is what we are working towards from the beginning and it is the one tournament that could keep me out of Europe. If I were to go to Poland, it feels as if I were just throwing away a complete season of work to miss the biggest tournament of the year. Most importantly, I don’t want to let my teammates down who have put as much time into the season as I have.
The “what ifs” are what is really driving me crazy. What if we make nationals? What if Poland is the greatest trip of my life? What if we do terrible at regionals and finish dead last? What if Poland is not what it’s cracked up to be? It seems that no matter what decision I make will be a gigantic regret, and there is just no way to around it. Eventually, I have to make a decision one way or the other, and this is what ultimate players have been doing for years.
You will always see those shirts that say “ultimate is life;” but in reality ultimate is just a part of it. What do we do when life and ultimate intercede? How do we compensate one way or the other? I have made sacrifices on both sides; I’ve missed tournaments for weddings and weddings for tournaments. It is a similar decision all of us have made and we’ve had to live with it. The decision will be a pyrrhic victory; meaning no matter what I will not be satisfied knowing I missed out on something tremendous.
At this juncture, I have gone against all reason and decided to play regionals, but it was not one made with great confidence. I still may change my mind and end up going overseas, but at this point in time I am set up for the tournament. If I were just to tell any sane person that I could either go to Poland or play eight games of ultimate in what will likely be crap weather, they would think I was insane for even considering the options. But that’s what ultimate is, a big chunk of my life that I cannot just exorcize. Ultimate may not be life, but it certainly has a lot of influence in it.
There is the third option: The regional coordinator helps a brotha out and moves the tournament…
Feature photo by Jeff Bell – UltiPhotos.com