Thursday, January 26, 2006

My College Playing Days - Part 2

I have burned out. Not from ultimate, but from school. Three and a half years of all-nighters, late-nighters and weekends spent studying. Now I don’t have anything left to give for the last, crucial half a semester. I’m spent. I watch most all my grades slide at least one full letter. I barely pass my electrical engineering class (an engineering school distribution requirement) to salvage my graduation status.

I miss qualifying for the diving national championships (Division III) by slightly over-rotating my final dive (a back one and a half with one and a half twists - my favorite dive) in our final meet. My total score falls short by less than 4 points out of the 500 point qualifying score. Almost, but not quite.

Then there is ultimate. Gary has figured out the funding system for the school clubs. Wash U may be a school that demands a lot of work, but they do have a lot of money. And they spend it. On their students. Gary heads off to the spring club funding meeting one night. I ask him how much money he is going to request. He says, “I don’t know, I guess I can justify asking for upwards of six thousand dollars.”

“SIX THOUSAND DOLLARS!! Are you nuts?!?”

“No, I and I think we’ll get it.”

Later that night, he comes back to the apartment with a slightly ambiguous expression on his face. “So ... did you get the six thousand?” I jab.


“I knew you were crazy to ask for that much. Who do you think you -“

“I got ten thousand.”


Smirk on his face, “Ten thousand, I’m not kidding. And it was easy.”

“How? Who? What?” I’m not forming any sentences, but I am giddy.

“They go through the clubs alphabetically. Ultimate is near the end of the list. I asked for the six thousand. They asked for a budget and a mission statement. I handed them both, nicely type-written. All the budget figures were ... um ... slightly exaggerated, but not outrageous. Plausible.”

I’m shaking my head beginning to laugh.

“So, after they summarily grant us the full amount, I decide to stick around until the last couple of clubs are done.”

“Why?” I ask, not even really caring, just happy with the result.

“Because they were giving just about everyone, just about everything they asked for. I figured they must have a pretty big pot of money to be spending it so generously all night long.”

I’m nodding, agreeing with his logic.

“So, after the last request is granted and just about everyone else is out the door, I hear the committee discuss what to do with their budget surplus. Me and a few other savvy club reps immediately start requesting more money. I asked for an additional four to make it an even ten thousand. Simple. Granted. Done.” His self-satisfied smile never looked better to me. We both burst out laughing, sharing high fives, and immediately start planning to see how we can spend that much money.

We are only planning on going to three tournaments, all within driving distance. Kansas Fools and College Sectionals in April. Regionals is in Madison, Wisconsin in early May. At least ... we are hoping to qualify for Regionals. Transportation costs won’t be too high. I have my own car, but some of the people on the team will be able to rent a van to travel in now. All the gas will be paid for, all the meals. We book some of the best hotels in Lawrence for Fools. No slumming ten people to a room. For us, two to a room, we each have a bed. Not too shabby.

Fools is a new experience for me. Not only are there a bunch of college teams, but there are also club teams. I didn’t even know that ultimate existed outside of colleges. But then again, four years earlier, I didn’t know that it existed outside of my high school in Connecticut.

Also, the level of competition is much higher than I have seen before. But, we have been practicing. I have been practicing. The team is better than last year. I am a better player than I have ever been. Faster, surer catches, better field sense, better backhand. Not much of a forehand, but I don’t generally try too much with it.

I only have one enduring memory from the play on the fields that weekend. We are playing the dreaded Horrozontals from Kansas. They are ahead of us, but we are making a game of it this time. It is not a matter of them going through the motions, they are actually having to work to score, and to stop us from scoring.

One of the guys on their team has been consistently matching up on me on defense. He seems very sure of himself. I don’t care. I am nearly out of college. I have survived the four most difficult but rewarding years of my life. I am playing a game that I love, with a bunch of cool people, and we are having fun, even if we aren’t the best. I couldn’t care much less what this guy thinks.

But he keeps calling “Pick” and stopping play. Then he catches up with me. Now, I am relatively sure what a pick is, and I have been trying hard to avoid them. But I can’t contest a pick, so I try to shrug it off. After the fourth or fifth one, I start to complain, “Where was the pick?!”

“That guy, over there,” pointing and gasping, he indicates my teammate five yards across the field. “I had to stop because he was heading towards me.”

I’m flustered. I don’t think he can be right, but I’m not completely sure.

“That is such bullshit!” Gary screams from the handler position.

“Hey! Stay out of it, you didn’t see it,” responds Kansas Joel.

Play restarts, but now I am completely fired up. A short cut back down the near side towards the disc. I see it start to swing to the middle handler. Gary is going to get the next continuation pass. I am off. I plant, cut, and put my head down. Next stop ... far corner of the endzone. I can already visualize the soaring forehand that is going to be waiting for me. I am really starting to motor. The field has opened up and I glance back to see the continuation throw heading towards Gary. Time to shift to top gear.


“What the FUCK!!” I can’t contain it any more. As I spin around, Joel is just sliding to a stop five yards away from me. “That is not a pick!” I am pointing at him and advancing. Not exactly intimidating, but I am pissed.

I hear a voice off to the side, “Joel, you can’t keep calling a pick every time that guy toasts you.” It’s one his teammates. Then I notice that multiple guys on their sideline are laughing. Not at me, but at Joel. He is not happy.

“Shut up! It was a pick. Anyway, I’d like to see one of you guys cover him.”

Who? Me? He can’t be whining about covering me. I have figured out that I don’t really even know how to play this game as a sport. There are depths that I hadn’t contemplated before. And this guy is whining about covering me? I’m flattered, but maybe he’s just not very good.

After the game (we lost), Gary remarks, “You sure used up their captain.”

“That guy Joel is their captain?” Me. Incredulous.

“Yeah. One of their captains. But you sure tooled him. Nice job.”

“Thanks,” It means a lot to me. Not much else working out for me these days, but ultimate is getting really fun.

My first ultimate party - Fools 1987. We didn’t stay too long. Enough to drink a fair amount. Enough for me to appreciate the unabashed enthusiasm of the Kansas “Bettys” - a first for me. I hadn’t seen an entirely women’s team before. Let alone multiple women’s teams unleashed on a party. We had a couple of women on the Wash U team, but I didn’t know that there was an entire women’s division to the sport. That added not a little interest for me.

College Sectionals, nearby in Illinois, and I can’t attend. I’ve got to spend all day that Saturday taking my EIT national examination for engineering registration, the first tiny step towards getting an engineering license. I can’t remember what I had to do on that Sunday. Funny, at the time I probably never even considered driving two or three hours for one day of (maybe) two or three games of ultimate. I laugh and shake my head recalling many times of doing far more outrageous things just for a little ultimate. It gets into your blood like an infection and it is very hard to cure.

Wash U managed to qualify for Regionals in Madison and we weren’t even the lowest seed. At least, I don’t think we were. We practice hard, mainly scrimmaging and a few drills. No real conditioning beyond play. We talk a little strategy, along the lines of the vertical stack on offense, forcing on defense, maybe even a little about zones.

We book our rooms at the Hyatt in Madison, make dinner reservations in some nice restaurant, load up our vehicles with road munchies, food and drinks for the fields. Maybe a few beers. Cars full of free gas, we head off north. Thank you Wash U budget committee.

The morning of Regionals is cool and rainy with some wind gusts. The fields are boggy and I can’t grip the disc well. I’m not the only one on our team having trouble with throws. We get beaten handily in our first game. Not that we expected to win, but a little better showing would have been heartening. Well, our next opponent is the University of Chicago. They don’t look any better than us. They lost their first game too. We fight hard, hold a lead near the end. A couple of tough breaks, they rise to the occasion. They win. We lose. Their inflatable Godzilla is dancing on the field. They are ecstatic. I can’t believe we don’t have any more games. Two and out? That stinks.

I must admit, after the years have passed, the dinner that night is more memorable than the actual tournament. Ben declaring as we walk into the Thai restaurant that he doesn’t, “know what Thai food is, but as long as it’s not spicy, that’s fine with me. I can’t handle spice.”

Ben is sitting immediately to my left, Gary is across from me. During the bustle of fifteen people at one long table passing many multiple plates of unidentifiable dishes back and forth, I’m mainly concentrating on grabbing what looks good, what might be good, and a little of that weird looking stuff. Everyone is talking, laughing, recounting the day’s events. Things start to settle down as the serious business of eating commences.

At one point, I come across something VERY spicy on my plate. Thinking of Ben’s declaration, I realize that I haven’t heard him speaking in the last few moments. I turn to warn him of the lurking possibility of those tiny, but potent, green peppers. He is staring straight ahead, his eyes unfocused, slack expression to the point where his mouth is actually hanging open.

“Jesus .. Ben, you alright?” No answer.

“Ben?” No response. I’m starting to get a little nervous.

“Hey you guys, I think Ben is about to ... I don’t know ... pass out or something. I think he ate one of those hot peppers.”

There is a quickly spreading realization down the table. A hush settles on our group.

“Ben,” I ask, “are you OK?” His head begins slowly turning towards me in odd, jerking increments. I notice that saliva is spilling generously over the precipice of his lower lip. It is cascading out, a steady stream down into his lap.


Without focusing his eyes, without actually moving his tongue, and with minimal lower jaw motion, he breathes, “Maah mouff iii ahh hiahhh.”

“What?” I’m starting to laugh despite my better intentions.

“Maaahh MOUFF iiii ahhhh HIIIAHHH!” His eyes are starting to focus on me. I’m sure he can see the shudders starting to wrack me. I know he can hear everyone else starting to burst.

“His mouth is on fire!” Someone helpfully translates. We all absolutely lose it.

I’ve got a huge grin on my face as I write this, just remembering. I was rocking back and forth in my chair, fighting to breathe past the body encompassing roar at the time. Everyone was in various states of hilarity ... except Ben. He is starting to furiously gesticulate, mouthing weird unintelligible threats at each of us. Spittle is flying. We are not being very sympathetic.

Before any of us can actually die from lack of air, the owner hurries over to our table, glass of milk in hand. Ben eagerly drinks it down. Sadly, that appears to have helped substantially. Oh, well, all good things come to an end.

Funny how so many of my later ultimate memories are results of off field antics and follies. This was just the first of those many, many laughs.

I don’t have any physical keepsake from that Regionals. I didn’t buy a disc and long ago parted with the long sleeved black shirt with white checker board design. I have a picture of me and my sister on the morning before my graduation. In it, I am wearing that shirt. I had bought my first official ultimate tournament disc at that Kansas, a “Fools Fest 1987" disc with a cool half-foreground half-background jester design.

I actually paused just now and wished I still had that disc. I lost it long ago. Not realizing what it would be the harbinger of. I am nostalgic for that distant year of my ultimate awakening.

Friday, January 20, 2006

My College Playing Days - Part 1

There have been times, in the years since college, that I wish that I had only known about ultimate as a serious sport sooner. I long to have the years back when I could have been learning a decent forehand, could have been refining defensive techniques, could have ... should have ... didn’t. That is not the way it was to be for me.

Sure, I had been shown the light during that first weekend of college, back in 1983. Ultimate Frisbee was actually known outside of my little high school in Connecticut. I found out that many other people around the country not only knew about the sport, but were actually far more adept at it than me. Those college initiations can be rough.

My next experience playing Ultimate was towards the end of my freshman year. Apparently, my loony roommate knew the game from his high school years in Houston. There was a campus-wide sign-up for spring intramurals and Ultimate Frisbee was one of the sports. My roommate, Donnie, came in to our room one day and asked me if I had ever played.

“Yeah, some in high school. Why?”

“Well, they are taking sign-ups for spring intramurals and Ultimate Frisbee is one of the sports. It’s one of the few sports that I will deign to play, so what do you say? Let’s cobble together a team and have some fun. Maybe we can meet some chicks.”

This, the meeting of “chicks”, “babes”, “honeys”, was always his number one priority. And he was shockingly good at it.

“Sure,” I said, not knowing exactly what I had signed up for. But I definitely knew that after a year of hellacious studying and squeezing in six-day-a-week diving practices, I was just about going crazy, I thought that it would be a nice break. Besides, we might actually meet some “babes.”

I set about recruiting some of my teammates from my failed intramural soccer team thinking that, hey, at least they will be able to run and will have some field sense. Donnie managed to round up a ragged assortment of guys, girls, and ... others ... from his friends in the fine arts school. Our team was secure with a semi-fluid roster. The team name and logo were decided after a particularly long night of drinking at the campus pub (ah, the days of being grandfathered in as an eighteen year old drinker).

We would be the “Happy Mutants.” Our uniforms were white T-shirts with a yellow smiley face sporting only one eye, dead center. Obviously, we were not taking this too seriously. But, after all, this was Ultimate Frisbee. How could anyone take it that seriously?

During those few intramural Ultimate games, I witnessed many of the emotions that would sweep through me in the years to come. I remember standing, staring at a particularly graceful pull as it settled over the far endzone. I recall much laughing and silliness. I remember moments of frustration and anger at perceived indiscretions and slights. I joyfully reflect on fleeting images of transcendence and accomplishment. All of this within the confines of, maybe, eight minimally competitive, very unskilled intramural games in a college much better known for its scholars than its athletes. And yet ... Reliving it now, I realize that these emotions and experiences were not qualitatively different than those I would have later. Perhaps only quantitatively different. The games may have meant little, but the fun and the effort were not so vastly diminished by the lack of import.

Where we placed in the final league standings ... I actually don’t remember. Not last. Certainly not first. We had fun. I had shown myself to be a pretty good player on a not-so-good team. I enjoyed myself.

After Donnie transferred out at the end of the first year (more hot women back at the University of Texas), there was no incentive to hold the Happy Mutants together anymore. Studies were burying me deeper. Diving continued to eat up any possible off time I might have. I had no energy to consider some odd fringe sport in my sophomore year. Seven classes one semester, six the next. My roommate figured that I spent roughly 76 to 80 hours a week either in class or studying. Ultimate didn’t stand a chance.

My junior year, I wanted to move off campus. My second year roommate would have been a good match, but he was way too busy trying to get his multiple math/systems science/electrical engineering/computer science degrees. He had no time to breathe let alone consider the possibility of hunting down an apartment in the local area. I scouted around for possible other roommates, but the pickings became very thin. My closest friend, Adrian, was so wrapped up in his fraternity that he couldn’t possibly move out of The House. My girlfriend (and oddly, her mother) were both keenly lobbying me to move in with her. But apparently, some deep seated instinct in me foresaw the coming debacle, and I opted out of that arrangement.

Now, who am I left with?

There is this guy Gary that I hang out with occasionally. He and I are on the same intramural soccer team - The Swamp Flies. We manage to get along most of the time. He is kind of annoying, sometimes, but he sure has cool frisbee throws. And he did manage to keep me sane through our shared calculus and computer science classes. He was funny, but he was a little too much like me. His girlfriend, Suzy, was my lab partner in physics my freshman year. Apparently, we decided that one decent game of Ultimate was enough to base a semester of cooperation on. It didn’t hurt that I always thought she was kind of cute. As long as she didn’t decide to break me in half like a twig.

Against the general consensus of everyone that knew both Gary and me - which was that we would be tearing each other’s eyeballs out in less than six months - we figured that this might work out. Two short, curly headed, slightly hyper, smart asses with acerbic wit and a stubborn streaks a mile wide - you might as well cage two shrews together. We signed a lease for an off campus apartment for our junior year. It would be Gary, Suzy, me, and Odd Brian - the computer geek. This would work. It had to. I had no real alternatives.

Junior year of college. Gary and I are living together ... without bloodshed ... despite the best predictions of the most knowledgeable. Once again, in the spring time, when the engineering problem sets diminish slightly, the swimming and diving team is quietly closing out their season ... Gary mentions that he has started up the official school Ultimate Frisbee Club. From scratch.

“What?!?” I ask. Not exactly sure if I should believe him.

“Well, I got a group of players together last semester. You might remember refusing my invitations to practice with us?” Actually, I did. “Well, I wrote a charter, and we are now an official club sport of Washington University.”

“Congratulations! I guess,” I say, not realizing how difficult this whole operation has probably been.

“You want to play with us this Spring?” Gary asks me.

This Spring? I think to myself. I have multiple term papers due. Uncountable number of engineering problem sets between now and then, plus, I am still going to be diving until early March.

“Um ... maybe.” I say. “How can I possibly fit this in?” I ask myself.

Often, Gary tries to cajole me out to practices. Once or twice, I acquiesce. I discover, in those few junior year practices, that I am faster than most of the people on the Wash U team, but less skilled. The only things I have going for me are my ability to jump relatively high for my height - a product of those years of diving, I guess - and my speed. I have only one reliable throw, a backhand. And it is an air-bounce backhand - always.

Towards the end of my junior year, Gary convinces me to go to a tournament, an Ultimate Frisbee tournament, somewhere in Springfield Missouri for something called College Sectionals. None of this means anything to me except that I understand that we will be playing frisbee against other colleges. What a novel idea!

We go. We lose. Not every game, but most games. I don’t remember the scores. I just realize that there are some people playing at other schools that are much better than any players I have seen before. Gary seems disappointed, but he actually played very well. He is much more accomplished in multiple throws than most anyone else there, but he doesn’t have anyone to throw to consistently. Athletically, we can’t match up against the other top schools - Missouri and the Kansas Horrozontals. Kansas in particular seems unbeatable.

On the drive back, I am excited. I may not be as good an ultimate player as I thought I was, but the flip side of that means that there is much more to learn and heights to climb. Ultimate as a fun competitive outlet - what a novel idea for me.

Friday, January 13, 2006

More Than a Few Can Play That Game

It was a couple of days before classes started in my freshman year at Washington University when I noticed that there was a congenial mixer scheduled ... the engineering school’s Freshman Welcome Party and Picnic. Now, I imagine some of you are wondering, “Is he joking?” No, and the sad part of it is, I was eager to go. I’m a thousand miles from home, I know absolutely no one - with the exception of my roommate who I had only met the day before and whose suggestion that we, “finish a bottle or two of saki to christen our first night at college” I had misguidedly listened to.

So, I cart my aching head and queasy stomach to the fields on the other side of campus. I wander around, taking in all the geeks and outwardly normal appearing people that I am going to be studying with for the next four years. Sweat is already beading up on me in the heat of the St. Louis August day as I stroll past sign-up tables for chess club, math team, engineering council, and various engineering student groups. Then I notice a disc flying through the air. There’s a group of people throwing in the field behind the barbeques and T-shirt hawkers. I find myself drifting over there lured by the subtle beauty of an arcing disc against a cloudless sky.

There are about ten people running around throwing a single disc in an open area. It takes about fifteen seconds for my brain to register the fact, “they are playing ultimate.” My immediate follow-up is, “that’s our game.” I am still a little incredulous as I stumble down the small swale and through the trees until I am at the edges of the field.

“This can’t be. Who else could possibly know about this game?” I thought this was a secret ritual of a kind. Who else would play this outside of gym? How many gym teachers even knew enough about it to teach it to their students?

As a point is scored, someone on the field spots me and asks, “You wanna play?”
“Umm ... yeah ... sure.”
“Good, you’re on shirts.”
I jog down to the line where the receiving team is gathering. “Hey my name is John I’m from Tennesee. This is Mark he’s from ... uh ... Colorado?”
“Yeah, Colorado.”
“”This is Suzy she’s from Massachusets.”
“And you’re ...?
“I’m Bill ... from Connecticut.”
Did all these people from all over the country really know about ultimate frisbee?
“Well Bill,” says John, the apparent captain-by-default of our little band,”have you played ultimate frisbee before?”
“Yeah, a little.”
“Good. You have a forehand?”
“Uh ... kind of ... not really.”
“That’s ok, just a friendly game anyway. Get out there and run around.”

The first few points flow through me and around me in a kind of happy haze. At first, I’m just excited that other people ... people that I am going to be in school with, seem to know about this great game. Then, as the initial thrill wears off, I start to realize that there is a wide discrepancy among the players present. And, alarmingly, I’m not at the top. Sure, I’m faster than most everyone out there, but more than a few of these people have decent - or even phenomenal - forehands. They can throw it 25 ... even 30 yards. There’s even this one guy throwing the disc in this weird, overhand motion sending the disc blading and zipping to the opposite side of the field - UP SIDE DOWN! Who are these people? Who is that guy with that crazy throw that only a few people can catch?

Within an hour, the game begins to break up. Perhaps sixteen or seventeen people have cycled through the teams. Most apparently have had at least a little prior exposure to the game, some have not but were drawn by the spontaneous cheers and moans of momentary victories or defeats. My sneakers are completely grass-stained. My shorts and t-shirt are soaked with sweat and stained with dirt here and there. A couple of scrapes and raspberries adorn my knees and legs.

I am staring at the guy with the “weird upside-down throw.” He looks familiar, but I am sure I have never seen him before. He’s about 5 foot 6. Dark curly hair. Kind of skinny, but not completely without some muscle tone. Then it hits me, “That’s me.” Or rather, someone that looks a lot like me. Only with better throws.

As I drift near him, he says, “Hey, I’m Gary. This is Suzy.”
“Yeah, we were on the same team.”
“Oh, that’s right. The losing team.”
“Let’s not start that ...” Suzy bristles.
“Whatever, didn’t mean anything anyway,” Gary partially demurs.
I venture, “Hey, where did you learn that weird upside-down throw?”
“The hammer? At WPI.”
“Worcester Polytech. In Massachusetts. I went there for science the past couple of years.”
“Are you a freshman or a transfer?”
“Freshman, I went to high school in Worcester. Just took the science and math classes at WPI.”
“Oh.” I was feeling way in over my head in more ways than one. It was a feeling I was to become extremely familiar with in the coming months.
“So, you’ve obviously played ultimate frisbee before, huh?” I hazard.
“Yeah, I’ve been playing a little over two years, Suzy’s played for, what ... year ... year and a half?”
“About that,” she agrees. Suzy is a sturdy, outdoorsy girl, a little taller than me, with dark blonde hair and strong, open features. I have already heard her off-beat laugh and a couple of roars of frustration during the game. She’s friendly and easy to be around. I like her.

I’m not too sure about this guy Gary, that appears to be her friend, or boyfriend. Sure, he looks a lot like me. And, yes, he is relatively witty, but there’s something about that look, that slightly intellectual superior attitude that I don’t really like ... apparently.

The whirlwind of college life quickly enveloped me. Registration for classes. Learning the layout of the campus. Struggling to establish a social life in the jumbled pecking order of strangers among strangers. Then, ominously and overwhelmingly, the magnitude of classwork and homework steadily building.

Somewhere, in the dizzying first few weeks of school, someone convinced me that I should try-out for the swimming and diving team.

I knew the soccer team was out. I was a competent player in high school. I could hedge off most wingers as a fullback and I could kick the ball surprisingly hard for a small guy. But I couldn’t score. I could never pull the trigger on the shot at the right time. I had spent the first two years in highschool as a striker/winger, and I could run fast enough and get open quickly enough to justify the position. But, once I had the ball I felt more comfortable passing it quickly and sprinting down field. If, by some mischance, I got possession of the ball near the opposing goal, as everyone else screamed, “SHOOT!” I would try to footwork the ball just one more time, or try for a little better shot ... and I would almost always, inevitably, lose it. Or kick it over the goal. Or just past the post. I had a dozen ways to just miss scoring. I was the king of “almost.”

My junior year in high school, my very astute coach noticed that I always drifted back too far on defense, even overlapping the mids. He, apparently, noticed that I was tenacious trying to get the ball, but didn’t seem much to want it once I had it. He put me back at fullback. All 5 foot 4 inches and one hundred thirty pounds of me at the time. I loved it. And I was pretty good. Not All-state good. Not even scholarship good. But good enough that our goal keeper liked having me back there and many opposing players got frustrated in not getting a decent shot off in a game. Soccer was my game. It was The Game. At least in high school. I had played for over eight years. I was a pretty good player. But Wash U’s team had just lost in the Division III championship the year before. I was a little intimidated.

I went out to the fields the first week of school - an undrafted (this was Division III) but also an unscouted walk-on. I watched a couple of practices. The coach was screaming at his players. They didn’t seem to be having a lot of fun. It was late August, so I knew that the season was a little ways away. I knew that the first few weeks ... hell weeks ... of sports are never fun unless you are on the top of the heap. But, I just didn’t have it in me. My serious soccer days were done. Hell, my serious sports days were done. The games were over, Real Life was verging. Might as well turn the page and move on to the next chapter.

I chose to be on the diving team because I needed a physical outlet and I figured the time away from studies would help my sanity. Also, the team was open to just about anyone that could handle the workouts. And they desperately needed divers. Good fit.

Friday, January 06, 2006

My First Exposure to Ultimate

Way back in the year nineteen hundred and eighty-two, in the tiny state of Connecticut, in high school gym class, I was first exposed to a unique and compelling little game. I was a junior in high school, gym was a pleasant diversion from relatively intense studies. I was a competent athlete earning multiple letters in soccer, baseball, and diving. Sports were easy and fun, but I knew that my college future was centered on academics and not athletics.

Then I played this game in gym. Frisbee football, but no tackling. Pretty cool. I could throw a frisbee (backhand) reasonably well, I could run fast, and cut quickly, I could even jump a little. This game seemed to be tailor-made for me. “Too bad,” I thought, “It’s not a real sport.” I was under the impression that my gym teacher had made it up or found it in some dusty PE tome on how to pass the time.

In the second or third class of “Ultimate Frisbee” I had already sustained my first major injury - a concussion while going up for a catch against a much taller defender (my best friend). Both the injury and the size differential was to be a common theme for decades to come, although I had no idea at the time.

I talked about this “Ultimate” game with my friends in school. They agreed that it was pretty cool, “Maybe we should start playing on our own,” one of my friends suggested. We were a group of semi-jocks at the top of our class. Although among us there were multiple captains of the schools sports, they were the “secondary sports” - track, cross-country, swimming, tennis. We were all concentrating more on the upcoming SATs than on sports, but we realized it might be a fun way to blow off steam. We started playing during lunch at school. When we didn’t get enough people, we played a game we called “R-rated frisbee.” One or two people throwing high floaters to a scrambling pack of aggressive receivers. No rules besides: whoever caught the throw had waggle and bragging rights ... until the next throw. Great preparation for boxing out, learning timing, and reading the flight of the disc. Also, not a bad way to quickly learn the ebb and flow of winning and losing with dignity or baseness

We thought we were doing something new, something innovative. An older acquaintance that had graduated a couple years before us (for historian’s record, his name was Peter Craig) mentioned that this “Ultimate Frisbee” game was being played at the University of Connecticut. It barely registered with me except to spur us to one last push for glory.

During our throwing sessions before and after school, it became apparent that there was one group that could possibly challenge us for the “Ultimate Frisbee Champions of the Universe” title. They were the “burn-out” pot smokers that skipped classes and spent their afternoons in the pursuit of the zen throwing sessions and the cool tricks with a disc. I had watched them throw and noticed that some of them threw the “regular” (backhand) throw and also this weird cross-body “forehand” type throw. We started practicing it, but only a couple of us would try to use it in a tight spot. I was not one of them.

My senior year, 1983, there was a school-wide intramural competition in various sports. To my surprise, Ultimate Frisbee was on the program. My group of friends eagerly organized our team of nerdly-jocks, confident that we could take on all comers. We trounced the competition until the finals. Our opponents would be the “burn-outs”. We actually - miraculously - got permission to play the final game in the high school stadium, with a small crowd of maybe 100 non-Ultimate players in attendance. Little did I know that it would be the best venue and largest crowd that I would experience until another 10 years had elapsed.

Our team went down early, their skill with the disc was trumping our enthusiasm and aggressiveness. We were daunted but not defeated. The second half of the game witnessed our superior conditioning and athleticism slowly gaining on them. I believe we won by a few points. I distinctly remember running up and down the field thinking, “they can’t guard me any more.” The thrill of victory was ours. I still have that blue ribbon with “Conard High School Intramurals” emblazoned on the front and the little white card, hand lettered on the back with “Ultimate Frisbee Champions.” I will always cherish it as a talisman of my life that was to come.

We played through that summer after high school more as a way of having fun and saying good-bye to our youthful years. We knew that college would demand so much from us that we would not be able to play games and have fun. No more games at the colleges we were going to: MIT, Harvard, Syracuse, Dartmouth, Bucknell, and for me Washington University in St. Louis. We were soon to start “growing up.” At the end of our last summer of youth, there was one final, spectacular game played on the golf course across from Chris Berry’s house. They had closed the course: “One month of renovations and repairs.” We played Ultimate in the middle of the fairway of the fourth hole ... in a warm, torrential down-pour for about 3 hours. When we were finished, the demolition crew didn’t have much additional work to do. I am not sure I have ever had as much fun playing. I have a distinct snapshot in my mind of young Bob Berry making a 4 foot high diving block to save the winning point for us. I remember thinking, “No game will ever be this fun again.”

I may have been wrong ... but I am not completely sure of that.