Flying through the field
September 29, 2009
Night falls on Busch Field as a line of students forms across the dewy grass. One crouches, tense, trying to discern the target he knows must be hurtling toward him obscured by the humid haze. He spots it and darts forward, leaps and with a casual flick of his wrist, snatches a white disc out of the thick air.
Each Wednesday evening, a similar scene plays out as the Men’s Ultimate Frisbee Club holds one of their many weekly practices. Their unflinching concentration is palpable from the sideline and lends credence to the rumor that these students take their sport very seriously.
After all, with a name like “ultimate,” it’s got to be pretty intense.
“I remember at the activities fair, both of us were sitting at the table, and all the freshmen were coming up,” Zach Jackson ’10, co-captain of the Men’s Ultimate Frisbee Club, said. “What I heard from so many kids was, ‘I hear it’s a lot of fun, but I hear your team is too intense.’”
Sami Aboulhosn ’10, the team’s other co-captain, laughed at the memory.
“We’re like, ‘well … it’s probably true,’” he said.
The intensity, the captains explained, refers to the high level of physical skill, large time commitment and focused mindset that the sport requires.
“As far as being intense, or over-intense, as someone put it, it’s definitely a time commitment,” Jackson said. “But also, at practice, we’re not just there messing around. We’re there working to get better. We go to so many tournaments, and we’re really competitive.”
The Ultimate Frisbee Club at the College of William and Mary has earned a reputation for acute athleticism due to the passion of its participants. The men’s and women’s teams require a devoted attitude; both teams practice for hours several times a week and travel across state lines for tournaments. Training includes running, scrimmaging and skill drills. The real secret to their prowess, though, seems to be their camaraderie, which they cultivate on and off the field.
“I think that the social aspect is a crucial element of our team dynamic,” Aboulhosn said.
Since the Sunken Garden is replete with students informally tossing Frisbees around, some people do not realize that the sport of Ultimate Frisbee has actual rules. The objective of the seven team members on the field at any given point is to get the disc across the end zone by passing it down the field. When a pass is not completed due to interception or poor aim, the opposing team takes possession of the disc.
Ultimate Frisbee is particularly well-suited to the communal experience club sports organizations offer. It is unique among athletic pursuits in that its games are self-regulated; there are no referees to officiate or enforce regulations. Played as seriously as any varsity sport, club Ultimate Frisbee has an important distinction: Its members abide by what they call “the spirit of the game.”
“It’s an official phrase, it’s in the guidebook,” Julia Zamecnik ’11, co-president of the Women’s Ultimate Frisbee Club, said. “I guess it translates to ‘be honest.’ There are no referees so we make our own calls. We have a set of rules, but it’s all based off mutual respect.”
The men’s team follows the same idea of respect.
“Ultimate Frisbee kind of has that hippie vibe,” Jackson said. “At the end of the day, it’s important that you have respect for your opponent and that your opponent still respects you. Play every game like you are among friends.”
Often, opponents actually are friends. Because it is a club sport, college teams’ captains and presidents are responsible for scheduling their own tournaments, and in the process develop friendly relationships atypical of varsity athletics. Playing with the “spirit of the game” ensures that rival teams will respect each other and accept invitations to play at one another’s tournaments.
The College’s Ultimate Frisbee club players demonstrate this spirit in their daily interactions. Team dinners, T-shirt creation sessions and weekend social functions bring teammates together outside of practices and games. Much of this socialization takes place at the unofficial off-campus Frisbee houses.
“We spend almost as much time together in practice as we do outside of practice,” Jackson said, laughing. “I go to practice, and then I eat with the team, and then I go home, and I live with them. Being around it 24-7, it’s all we talk about. It takes over your life.”
Aboulhosn cites the men’s team’s long road trips as important bonding experiences.
“When you spend hours upon hours in a van, sleeping on a hotel floor, you get to know these guys really well,” he said.
Jackson, Aboulhosn and Zamecnik agree that their time on their respective Ultimate Frisbee teams has been a major influence on all aspects of their time at the College, from class scheduling to weekend socializing.
“It’s hard to say, but a few years down the road when I look back to college, I’m pretty sure that the defining part of my college will have been Ultimate,” Jackson said. “How it defines my college experience will be partially playing, but also the people I spent a lot of time with.”
Since it requires as much time and skill as the College’s varsity sports, and its players are so devoted, some students wonder whether Ultimate Frisbee should join the ranks of football, basketball and soccer.
“It might as well be a varsity sport,” Aboulhosn said. “It’s like one, just without the funding.”
According to Zamecnik, the transition to varsity status has been discussed, but without much enthusiasm.
“Nobody wants to because it would take away the spirit of game and the self-regulation, which is kind of core to the culture of Ultimate,” she said.
Ultimate Frisbee team member’s commitment to creating strong bonds is as intense as their level of play, and it makes sense.
After all, according to Jackson, “The people who you spend the most time with are the people who you play with the best.”