A couple of months ago, I was playing in a fall league game and another player came up to me to talk about Nationals. He plays on a well-known Seattle league team and has played Ghetto Birds in the past.
“I was really rooting for you guys at Nationals,” he said. “It was exciting to see you make it that far. I have played against you guys so many times in some close games. It felt like I could be there.”
I realized right then what our season was really about. We are a team of educators, students, coaches, lawyers, doctors, moms, dads, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives and a baby named Charlie. We are a team that feels like family, just like ones you have been on before. We run a lot and we hate losing. These Ghetto Birds essentials are what we will rely on as we join the Triple Crown Tour. After a few non-sanctioned tournaments, including Golden Keg in Ireland and two strong showings at both Kleinmann and Northwest Cup, we found ourselves 8th on USAUs ranking before sectionals. With three bids to Nationals, our motto became #WhyNotUs.
Shortly after qualifying, USA Ultimate informed us that Ghetto Birds moniker didn’t meet their team name requirements. Though now publicly deemed “Seattle Mixed”, the forced re-branding only strengthened our resolve and the #WhyNotUs Ghetto attitude. After all, this team has a history.
Ghetto Birds started in 2006 when Cameron Bailey, along and Phil and Emily Paul from Central Washington University, played ultimate at a camp they were all working at. Phil said, “We didn’t know any of the rules. No stall count, no back of end zones, no sidelines. We didn’t know how to flick. All we could do was throw backhand and run.”
Fast forward to 2014. At the beginning of this club season, the core of Ghetto Birds sat down together and decided they wanted to stir up the Northwest region, with their sights on Nationals. They knew they needed to bring in more experienced players, despite the fact that this could seriously change the Ghetto Bird style. Players who were used to playing as much as everyone else, including some of our core, were finding themselves on the sidelines. This transition from unlimited playing time to subbing to win would prove to be quite possibly the toughest part of our season.
Ghetto Birds player Henry Phan had some advice for another player who was struggling to mesh with the team’s flow. “At some point you have to change your mindset to fit into this system in order to succeed.” Phan’s words rang true for the whole team and we worked all season to meet somewhere in the middle.
Our practices were often far from the fun-loving team many people saw and played against throughout our season. We are a team of emotional players, often playing instinctively and emotionally rather than with our heads. During our practices, our offensive and defensive lines would talk smack to each other to ultimately pump each other up. We had long days where we focused on strategies like swinging the disc back to the middle of the field, playing aggressive defense and timing our cuts. While these fundamentals are common at most high level club practices, they were met unenthusiastically at ours. Players lost interested if there was too much talk. For a few practices, Mark Burton stopped our play after scoring to ask if scoring was the best decision. He did not stick with this strategy for long because it proved unproductive, as questioning the decision-making was met with a “but it worked” answer. In most of our games at Nationals, we played smart. We switched it up in our semifinal game to our unpredictable style to get us to finals.
The other half of our unpredictability was based on making our first Nationals appearance. Topher Davis commented on our unique playing style. “Seattle Mixed played with a high-energy, high-risk offensive strategy, with a couple top players that made spectacular throws and catches. The game style worked in the semifinal and made for one of the most exciting mixed games I’ve seen.” For most of our tournament, it was how Topher explained it: we used big plays to take down teams. Every morning of the tournament, we got to the fields hours before play, in part to make sure we were all prepared. Though for a lot of us, we just wanted to soak up our first Nationals experience.
Then came Saturday night. Savage Ultimate offered to make us jerseys after we learned USAU had deemed our jerseys inappropriate and would not allow us to wear them the next day. We accepted the offer, and Savage worked tirelessly through the night to make us uniforms that we proudly wore in finals.
The stories that surround the rest of the night are a mix of truth and hearsay. Making the final came as a surprise to us and we wanted to celebrate our Cinderella story. I think the excitement of the entire season built up and allowed some of our team to celebrate in a way that turned out less than safe. It was a very scary experience, and our team does not want one night to cloud all that we accomplished. Saturday night allowed us to come together as the family we were and support each other. It reminded us that before any win, loss or medal that we were there for each other and that’s what was most important.
We had an amazing season to say the least and we want to thank the 1.78% of you who thought we would be in the finals. We also would like to thank the Seattle frisbee community who supported us along the way, including the Administrators, who cheered us on even after our pre-quarters battle, D’oh! Abides for their support, sportsmanship and friendly competition, and Seattle Underground, who live-tweeted our semi-final game. From our team family to yours, thank you. Nothing will compare to the season we had this year and we all know that. Ghetto Birds are unpredictable, even to ourselves. I think I speak for all of Ghetto Birds in that we hope our story inspires your team to want to ask, “Why not us?”