The typical season for any Northwest team can usually be traced along the I-5 corridor. The venture from Seattle to Eugene becomes habitual and makes the longer drive to California seem like a grand adventure. However, one year ago, Western Washington Chaos kicked off our most successful season by doing the unthinkable. We drove east.
This new trip led to many other “firsts” in Chaos history, including a finals appearance at the Stanford Invite, being awarded the USAU Coach of the Year, presenting a top five Callahan nominee, and earning our own bid to the big show in Mason, Ohio. However, when players from the 2013-2014 season refer to “the show,” there’s really only one that comes to mind, The Big Sky Gun Show in Missoula, Montana.
There were many reasons why we shouldn’t have gone; classes had only started two weeks beforehand, it was a decent drive while our home tournament was just a month away, few of our returners and none of our coaches could attend. My two brand-new captains and I ignored all of these. We crammed into two 12 passenger vans and one SUV and set off toward Big Sky Country.
I had been lucky enough to spend my early ultimate career traveling throughout the Big Sky section, learning first-hand of elaborate trust falls, long car rides, and what it means to be a real Triple Crown Champion. My Big Sky Religion upbringing introduced to me to a lifestyle of tournaments, parties and friendships that influenced my life in more ways than I (and my parents) could have ever hoped for. Yet, I remained unsure if my college team, full of women brand new to the sport, would embrace the teammates and friends who I now call family. Our 3 AM arrival put my worries to rest. Our hosts in Missoula greeted us with the serenading beats of live bluegrass and a thick scent of bacon. At that moment, I knew the Gun Show would be on the Chaos agenda for years to come.
As we left Missoula that first year, the phrases “best tournament ever” and “I love Montana” were used liberally. The group of girls who had hardly known each other on Friday were now debating whose recap of the Saturday night party was most accurate. Friendships were born, memories were created (and lost) and a team was formed. We couldn’t have asked for a more inspiring catalyst to our unforgettable ’13-’14 season. Our tear-filled “appreciation circle” at Nationals recalled the Gun Show as the seed that blossomed into one of the scrappiest and happiest college teams in the nation.
While I hesitate to call the Gun Show ‘the Potlatch of the college season,” similarities do exist. The Friday and Saturday night parties, dinner for all players, transportation to and from the party, a showcase game, and focus on Spirit of the Game all reek of 60 Acres Park. However, this description would not do the Gun Show justice. The TDs of the tournament go above and beyond in every category to ensure their tournament gives West Coast teams a reason to make the trek. This fall, in its second year, they were on a mission to outdo their first attempt. They succeeded.
Shortly after Potlatch, the dates were announced for the 2014 Big Sky Gun Show. Chaos was the first team to register. Eventually, 23 other teams followed suit and filled the three divisions to capacity. 2014’s new mixed division pulled alumni teams out of the college brackets, allowing college teams to compete with college teams while exponentially increasing the amount of on-field shenanigans. Other new additions included spirit discs, a two-story venue for the Saturday party, and a revamped showcase game.
While much of Saturday night has since become a blur of music and dancing, the “Showdown” game is a memory I’ll carry with me forever. The game exhibited athleticism across multiple generations as the top players from each college team took on the reunited 2008 UPA National Champions, the Mental Toss Flycoons. As I played under the lights in Washington-Grizzly Stadium, marking up on my club teammates, handling with my high school alumni and listening to my college teammates chant my name, I realized that no matter the results of any tournaments this year, I had made it. The 16 year old me, who used to dream of playing with MTF, would be proud to know I shared my first showcase game with the people who have helped mold me into the player and person I am today.
After MTF’s victory over College All-Stars, teams were shuttled to the party via the infamous Ghetto Gypsy. Imagine a city bus where seats are replaced with dance ropes, the weird guy in the back is replaced by a live DJ and the bus driver actually encourages the “twerk-offs” along the walls. The party bus not only warmed up our dance moves, but provided the athletes a safe ride to and from the party all night.
After refusing to unload the Ghetto Gypsy for three laps, Chaos entered the party donning our interpretation of the party theme: jeggings, jorts, and short shorts. The downstairs party (18+) turned into a hot and heavy dance floor grooving to the beats of local music. The upstairs hangout invited old friends and new to bond over boat races and slap bets. All in all, the Gun Show featured two parties in three venues with five musical acts.
While much of Chaos’ success is generated from the drills, throwing, and workouts that all teams do, we are victorious when we play with love and trust. Much of this trust is fostered during our 6 AM weekday practices and endless hours on the track, however, the backbone of our love evolved on the dance floors of Missoula. While we are bound to be knocked down this upcoming season, as our opponents attempt to break through our love, we trust the Ghetto Gypsy will be there to pick us up.
As the college season continues, Chaos will again head south on I-5 for nearly all of our tournaments. However, the players from Western Washington are proud to start the trend of exploring the section that is so often overlooked. For a region that draws attention to developing the sport, it is time we respect the Big Sky and return some of the travel hours they so often spend. If the results of the recent Northwest Regionals indicate anything, it’s that the Big Sky is no longer up-and-coming, the Big Sky is here, and they’re ready to party.