This article and 2014 College Tour are presented by Spin Ultimate.
The Golden Gate Bridge. Rail cars. Google, Apple, and other Silicon Valley tech-giants. The 49ers, Giants, Raiders, and Athletics for sports.
All are afterthoughts for me when thinking of San Francisco. Before all of that, I now think of Revolver, Fury, Stanford and the rest of the Bay Area ultimate scene. Much like Seattle has become synonymous with Sockeye and Riot, and Boston with Ironside and Brute Squad, the Bay Area has simply become synonymous with the game itself. It seems so much takes place here, year round even, that is worth checking out. It’s almost like San Francisco has become this Mecca for the sport.
What makes a Mecca? The Mecca is located in Saudi Arabia, and is a very important place for the religion of Islam. It’s where Muhammad was born, the site of his first revelation, contains the religion’s holiest site, is the direction of Muslim prayer, and is where all able Muslims are obliged to go to via pilgrimage. That’s where the saying that refers to any gathering of a large number of people at a specific place originates from.
I don’t think anything about San Francisco is holy per say, that would be ludicrous. But I think right now, any mainstream connection to the sport will start there. And not just that; starts and thrives there beyond the wildest dreams.
This will be my first time traveling to San Francisco, California. Not the first time to the West Coast though, I was here when I was young with my family, up in Seattle. From all accounts, each city has a pointedly different vibe to it. On the East coast I’ve been able to jump from the New York area to any of the surrounding states and cities and feel like it all just belongs, it all just fits; the western side of the country isn’t the same way. Meaning, when I visit San Francisco for the Stanford Invite this weekend, I will be experiencing something completely different. It won’t be like Seattle. Certainly won’t be like Buffalo, or New York City, or Boston.
History tells me San Francisco is so different because it has always been a melting pot of different people and with them, different employment opportunities. Unlike many Midwest and Eastern cities, its boom hasn’t been built on one industry (like steel); it’s been built on many different booms and busts. Even since the end of World War II, a telling time to start for today’s society, the city has had several booms hit the region. With the main economic contribution to a city in constant flux, a city can be reinvigorated constantly and with ease – bringing new innovation, capital, and cultures along with it.
Was this important in developing the ultimate community? Probably not on the macro-level; but on the micro-level, sure. It’s often been said that certain teams are able to bring in players with the promise of tech jobs. But that’s now; something had to happen to make the community grow in the first place, right?
How can the San Francisco area not be considered a modern day ultimate Mecca? Sure, USAU isn’t here. Nor are any of the ultimate media organizations. And this isn’t where the game started. But it’s where the game has been embraced on a large scale. Perhaps the only other city one could make a counter argument for is to the north in Seattle, but the Emerald City Doesn’t play host to a major college tournament each spring.
Adding to all that, the success of ESPN and other organizations are no fluke; they’ve shown that it’s not a necessity to to be centered in the basis of everything (New York City for many) in order to succeed. San Francisco certainly isn’t. Ever tried booking a flight through that airport? Even when not factoring in the delays to get across three time zones, finding out methods to travel to San Francisco was a bear. It’s not a central location at all.
So then why am I calling it a Mecca? Revolver, Fury and Stanford for one thing; each has proved dominant for long periods of time. I’m talking about 2008 until now, when only San Francisco won the Open Club Championships save but two years. Or 2006 until now, when only San Francisco has won the Women’s Club Championships save but one year. Or 2004 until now, when a San Francisco team has been in the top four of Mixed Club Championships (and champion 3 of last 4 years) save but one year. Plus the success of all of the mixed teams out of the city, and the case for an absolutely powerful region emerges. Add into that the success and reach of the youth and masters ultimate scenes as the city as well and tournaments at all levels at all times of the year and we’ve got ourselves a Mecca.
For another comparison, think of New York City. Many consider that, and Madison Square Garden, as the Mecca of the basketball world. Why? There is certain lore to playing in MSG for one thing. It still hosts major basketball games at all levels on an annual basis – I can think of several high school ‘challenges’ I’ve seen on ESPN, and of course college and NBA games as well. Another reason? Many say you can’t go far without finding a basketball court in the city, or even the official NYC Parks website. They even call the city the basketball capital of the world. The teams in town may not be the best of the best, but they once were helping give strength to the nickname. It’s also a holdover from the boxing days, Wikipedia tells me.
Doesn’t San Francisco meet some of those ‘requirements’ right now? I think so.
Lore? Check. Nowhere else in the nation is once going to have a chance to play against so many college, club and world champions as in San Francisco. Games everywhere? I would think that’d also be a check in the box. Some may be practices. But between the colleges in the area, the grade schools, and recreation leagues you’ve got a good chance of running into one on any given day. Check that, you have a good chance of running into one of the 40 grade school teams (split between middle and high school) in the area; including the long term programs of Berkeley, Alameda, San Mateo and Santa Cruz. Leading up to the state championships in early May, the calendar for youth players in the area includes leagues, beach tournaments, an after school program, and of course practices. Grade schools have truly embraced the idea of the sport. And a quick look at the Bay Area Disc Association shows that in any given season, there is at least three leagues running, and the most is five during the winter; they’re also spread out across the greater area. That’s a lot of ultimate, all of the time. In Buffalo, NY currently, we’re doing all we can to have a solid four team winter and summer league – a noticeable shift by the Bay for more than just me I’m sure.
In the end I’m left questioning what to expect from this visit. I’m not expecting a massive shift in the way I see life as result of some spiritual revelation. I’m not expecting to walk in on any number of Fury or Revolver players. Just expecting an exciting tournament in a place everyone should visit.
Enter Stanford Invite 2014 this weekend in California. Making a strong showing? The rain, which could move the fields and change the schedule. Should it not derail things, here’s a few teams to keep an eye on throughout the weekend:
Starting with Carleton College – CUT. At Warm Up, they won only three games; including losses to regional rival Wisconsin, Pittsburgh and upstart Florida State. All three are teams at this tournament, and they meet Pittsburgh yet again in Pool A play this Saturday. For the veterans of CUT, and those who follow from home, it will be a strange Invite. Since the 2007 edition of this tournament, this is the lowest that Carleton has ever been seeded before play begins. In those years, the team has won the tournament a few times, and made it to at least quarterfinals all but one year. All signs point to Carleton having another one of those off years. The games against Pittsburgh, North Carolina and tournament-host Stanford should be very telling. The games should also be important in improving both the ranking and bid-watch status for the team. With February now over, the focus shifts from evaluating a teams talent, to where they could fall at the end of the month.
Speaking of tournament-host Stanford, it seems their path to the College Championships has only gotten harder in recent seasons. Three regional rivals are attending this tournament in California, UC-Davis and San Diego, while others like Arizona, Las Positas and Arizona State have been to high-quality tournaments all season long. While at their only tournament so far this season, the Santa Barbara Invite, their 0-3 pool play record, and two wins out of three in consolation Sunday play, had many casting doubts on Stanford’s role in the region this season. Would they be on the outside looking in as another team snatches a bid to Cincinnati this spring? Just as Carleton has a chance to improve upon earlier losses, and position themselves strongly in the rankings and for potential bids, Stanford can do the same in Pool A. They’ll also be able to watch the three regional teams square off against tough opponents each day, helping to judge the depth of the Southwest.
Lastly, it’s important to consider the New England region this weekend. With each of Harvard and Tufts sitting third in their pools (C & D respectively), they have the potential to do some damage against teams that sit above them in both the Skyd Power Rankings all while potentially another bid for the region. Texas and Oregon headline their pools, with two Southeast teams in Central Florida and Florida State right below that. The two Southwest teams in Cal-Davis and California at the bottom of the pools’ seeding means one thing; this won’t be an easy weekend for the New England teams. I guess trading in the snowy weather for some disc games in the 60 degree sun of San Francisco is paid off with these tough pools. Still, holding seed at least and breaking into pre-quarters could bring a favorable match up late in the day for both Harvard and Tufts.