In one year, Skyd has made a lot of progress in creating a united media front for the sport of Ultimate. I’m still astonished and enthused by the support and accolades we’ve received from the Ultimate community at large and it continues to drive what we do every day at Skyd. I’d like to first thank Tim Tebow. Without him none of this would be possible… But truthfully, there are a ton of individuals I’d like to thank for their amazing effort and dedication in making Skyd happen. The staff, the writers, the photographers – you have built Skyd. There are also a ton of accomplishments I can point out to illustrate just how far we’ve come and what the exciting future holds for Skyd. (There are some awesome Skyd-centric announcements later in this post.)
Skyd has been a community effort. People have stepped up out of the blue and taken major roles in our production. They’ve elevated themselves and in doing so have elevated the game. We’ve received countless submissions from some of the most professional and scholarly minds our sport knows. But equally as important is the community that engages with us. Every comment, share, like, and tweet helps us grow stronger and develop a better vision of our sport. Our mission has been to create a voice for the sport of Ultimate. It seems fitting we let all that we have accomplished together speak for itself. Instead I’d like to focus on something more vital and immediate. I’d like to focus on the notion that Ultimate is in the midst of a renaissance.
The Ultimate Renaissance
Since Skyd launched on November 10th, 2010, there have been a lot of astounding and wonderful developments in our sport. USA Ultimate brought out CBS Sports Network to cover the 2011 College Championships. 15 of college Ultimate’s top players toured the country in July to compete against 15 of the nation’s strongest club teams in front of bleachers upon bleachers of fans. Gator and Doubewide star Brodie Smith has taken his love of the game to the youtubes in the form of tutorials and viral trick shot videos that have reached as deep in sports culture as #1 on ESPN’s SportsCenter countdown. The AUDL is taking an ambitious crack at a professional Ultimate league beginning in April. Businesses and apparel producers are rapidly developing and honing their craft. We’ve witnessed countless Ultimate enthusiasts, players and teams find their voice through online media in the forms of blogs, videos, twitter, Facebook and more. More and more people are refining their understanding of the sport and quickly becoming aware of just what this dog-less sport is all about. Amidst this cocktail of media and action, what’s clear is that there is an expanding Ultimate-consciousness throughout the world. Along with this flurry of energy and excitement moving through the body of Ultimate comes the opportunity to shift our sport into mainstream appreciation. But what form mainstream ultimate takes is the true opportunity.
We all remember it. That first time we picked up and threw a disc. Or maybe the first time we chased one down for a score. Or got skyed. Or won a tournament. There’s something about Ultimate that keeps us coming back. Something that manifests itself in other sports, but particularly well in Ultimate. Maybe it’s the multitude of ways the disc flies or the acrobatics and athleticism the game requires that uniquely captivates us. Maybe its the friendships we’ve developed and the community we find at a tournament or our local league. Maybe its something else.
Many of us have played other sports and have always been acquainted with the mainstream version – Michael Jordan or some other star completely electrifying the way a game is played. Sponsorships. Fans. Salaries. The very notion of professional Ultimate alone is enough to provide basis for the argument of pushing Ultimate into a mainstream appreciation. Yet there is a dark side to mainstream sports, just as there is a dark side to anything when it becomes popular and mass produced. It becomes watered down and generic. It starts to appeal to the majority and lose some of it’s (dare I say) spirit. Yes, there is much to be gained by hurdling towards bigger, louder and more popular Ultimate, but perhaps there is risk of loss as well.
In addition to the spectacle of Ultimate the sport, our community has brought a lot of additional value and absurdity to the game. Started as a counter-culture movement by some dirty hippies that later became movie producers, Ultimate was founded on the tenets of love and respect presented as Spirit of the Game. While SotG today manifests itself in wavering ways, it has become a foundation in spreading the sport to youth and has helped create a system that is maintained at even the highest level of play for over 30 years. That is not to say there should be different uses of SotG for different situations and that SotG is much different than sportsmanship. Still having SotG (or a sense of honor) and what it stands for as the hallmark of Ultimate is a truly unique and fantastic thing. Anyone who doesn’t think that the SotG tenets of fairness, peace and respect are good for competitive people of all walks probably doesn’t get along with too many people.
That fact that Ultimate was birthed outside of the mainstream has led to the development of our warped sense of humor. Teams from recreational leagues to even the highest level of our sport don silly outfits that challenge cultural gender (and sanity) norms, ornament with ridiculous haircuts and beards (and win club championships), name themselves absurd homages to television shows, make obnoxious (and completely cliche) cheers about killing babies and so on. Ultimate stands out a bit from even the other non-mainstream sports like lacrosse or quidditch in a way that’s humorously self-aware and open.
This openness translates well to its tremendous emphasis on equality. USA Ultimate has led the charge in supporting a sport where all players are valued regardless of the gender, religion, color, creed, sexual preference or other differences that are often neglected in mainstream sports. Our emphasis on women’s Ultimate is truly a remarkable thing. While improvements can always be made, the Ultimate community seems to believe in the value of supporting the development of our community as a whole, not just the elite levels, not just the men.
But the mainstream may not work like that. It would be easy for Ultimate to conform. Conform to the notions of commercialism, of losing some of its sometimes rough-around-the-edges charm, of putting some of its players above some of its other players. Is it worth taking on the sponsorship of a product in part responsible for the obesity epidemic in America? I believe there’s some value to being different and that there’s some value to the community and culture we built. It’s clear that some of that quirkiness and often progressive mentality keeps a lot of us playing this sport as opposed to others. While we can easily conform to what make us more appealing to the appetites of the everyday consumer, what we lose by allowing a mainstream force to come in and kill the culture that makes Ultimate so awesome (just so someone that never actually cared about the sport may be more inclined to watch it while slurping down a 50oz bacon-flavored Coke) is significant. Granted, there are great improvements that can still be made. Referees is the obvious one. Maybe there are other rule changes that can make the sport more fun and exciting like a two-point line or multi-disc blerns. I don’t know. I think more discussion and thoughtfulness we bring to the table will keep the wheels of our evolution turning.
Maybe we’re not all that different from other sports. Maybe Ultimate isn’t as special after all and is really no more exciting than baseball. Maybe a conventional, mainstream Ultimate is the inevitable future of our sport too. Look no farther than basketball’s pickup courts and you’ll find a similar stem of spirit, style and love of the game that sometimes inspires athletes to present a unique flair on our televisions. Or maybe in the sometimes goofy culture, the spirit, and the layouts that defy reason (and time) we do have something special that can be maximized.
As soon as in a couple years or maybe still a few decades, Ultimate and its community will stand before the gates of mainstream with an opportunity to enter in almost whatever form we please. Let’s be the sport we believe in. Let’s be the sport we fell in love with. Let’s pave the way for what mainstream sports should be, not what they are.
During this surge of excitement, this renaissance, now is the time to keep promoting the sport and be active on an individual basis. Get your friends hooked by sharing sweet videos about the sport. Write a blog about your team’s experiences at tournaments. Get amped about Ultimate and keep playing. Along with this colorful expansion, I hope that we, the community, the players, the coaches, and the fans take great care and consideration of the sport that we all care so much about. I hope we don’t grow up too fast.
Now here’s a few awesome things that Skyd is doing in year two:
The Skyd Store – click for the official announcement
We’ve been asked often how to contribute to all that we do here at Skyd. For the last year, we’ve run the site primarily out of passion and the support of a few groups and individuals. We’ve built Skyd on a foundation of providing to the Ultimate community and truthfully, we wouldn’t be able to do anything we do if the Ultimate community didn’t already give back so much. Granted, your monetary support means a lot too and helps us to send correspondents to tournaments and make our website better and better. The Skyd Store is how you can contribute to Skyd and keep us going. We didn’t really like the idea of adding a simple donate button to the site where you drop some money in and not really get something tangible that shows you’ve contributed to our continued existence. We wanted to give you something cool back, which is why we created the Skyd Store. If you like what we do here at Skyd, look at the Skyd Store as a donate button – except in this case you’ll get to keep a sweet jersey too as a token of our appreciation.
We’re also really excited about the gear. We’re partnering with some of Ultimate’s top apparel companies and working with some fantastic artists to come up with designs that celebrate Skyd and the sport of Ultimate. All gear will be limited edition and limited quantity to keep things fresh. We’ll be cycling through new designs and items frequently so do check it out and help us to continue doing what we do.
If you scroll down on the homepage you’ll notice a couple new sections. One is our SkydNet blog feature section where we’ll feature one of our awesome bloggers and their latest article. To the right of that box you’ll see our Featured Product from the Skyd Store. That’s where we’ll share new items and sales on the homepage.
Skyd 2012 College Tour Presented by Spin Ultimate
We’re extremely excited to announce our coverage of the 2012 College Season, which will take our team of correspondents to major tournaments throughout the US, culminating at the College Championships. Through streaming coverage, video interviews, bi-weekly podcasts, previews, recaps and more, Skyd hopes to provide the clearest and more comprehensive presentation of College Ultimate. We’re pleased to have partnered with Spin Ultimate to make this happen along with many tournament directors across the country. While in our first year of providing this level of coverage, we believe this is the first step in a building a better media future for our sport.
To make this happen, we need the support of tournament directors, contributors, athletes, coaches and everyone in the Ultimate community. If you want help us come cover your event or if you’re interested in contributing to our coverage, please email Bryan Jones at email@example.com.
You’re going to see a lot more about this in January.
Skyd has been fortunate to work with some amazing contributors this past year. As we’re able to provide more and more content to color the coverage of our sport, locating some of our more editorialized pieces can become difficult to locate. This is why we’re launching a new feature of Skyd called High Release. This itself is an editorialized section of the site that will act as the home for some of the work of our most esteemed contributors. While this won’t in any way change the way content is released or presented on Skyd, we hope that it makes it easier to locate some of our most daring and interesting articles. You can find High Release in the Features menu.
The end of the world?
What will 2012 hold for Skyd? I hope the same things that 2012 holds for Ultimate.
Feature photo of Ring of Fire’s Ken Porter by Brandon Wu (Ultiphotos.com)