Wednesday, December 24, 2008

El Pollo

Boulder is a quiet town, and it likes it that way. Its sense of righteousness and entitlement isn't spoken so much as insinuated, with every shiny toy and privilege marched about proudly for you to see and envy. It's comfortable to live there, the steady altitude keeping the oxygen levels right about where they need to be for you to not want to move.

As an ultimate community, we're more or less obliged to fall in. We're proud to live there, and why not? Our pride has concrete foundations: we have incredible kind, gorgeous mountains and women, and sun 300 days a year. We live in idyll landscapes and carry our lives as such.

So it's easy to see when people wander from the norm, and the status quo gets pinched along the edges. Oftentimes these people get signaled out for the real spirited ribbing, because it's glaringly obvious where they've chosen to step from the path and live life their way.

My friend Adam Simon is such a person. And to be fair, for my four years as his friend and teammate, I spared him no mercy in my gentle heckling and prodding. I would never hold back a line on my tongue; I love him too much.

He makes an easy target, but it's for this fact that I admire him most. He is unflinchingly sincere, and talks his walk with every breath. To be greeted by him at a tourney (and I've seen him do this across the country, with teams from everywhere) is to feel like you're with family that you've not seen in some time. A genuine hug, an inquiry into your life, and then two ready ears taking in your every word. It makes some people uncomfortable, those that only know him as a ultimate player. That is not surprising; in our current culture and pop-adoring climate, where everything is veneer for self-service, it's an awkward moment of unfamiliarity to be in the presence of someone genuinely interested in what you have to say, giving you his full attention.

But Chicken doesn't mind that you might be wary of his embrace. He moves as if knowing that with time and patience, you will see his personality for what it is and thus be able to take his greetings at face value.

Granted, this isn't the Chicken that I first met. It'd be a mistake to think the man he is now was a series of happenstance events. He has a plan and goal and moves towards them. Where most of us keep looking for a role to fill, Chicken created a role in his head and proceeded to become it. And what progress.

Where most of you know him, on the grass in cleats, there can be no debate about his skill. He was a screamy gyroscope of energy when i first met him, prone to meltdowns on the field or sideline, hard on his teammates and even harder on himself. He'd be so eager to produce and contribute on the field that he was often beat, lunging on the mark, getting taken deep, or forcing a throw hastily launched. He had high standards for himself and took his failures personally.

But he never diminished those standards. Rather, he went and did off the field what was necessary so he could live up to them. He went and threw when most of us sat dizzy-headed in front of a television at the Arnett House. He was the one racing Beau and Mangry at the end of practices, throwing in a few sprints at the end of workouts for gratuity. And he never let the ribbing and playful banter get in the way of his improvement.

You hear a lot less of that now around him, I guarantee you. Now the oohs and ahhs from the crowd are echoes to his own teammates' cheers with every clutch play, every big throw, every tenacious D he earns on the field.

His style off the field, an orchidaceous exercise in fashion, can also be open to criticism. But if you know him, you know he picked out today's underwear a week in advance, and that every garment and facial hair is there with a reason and purpose. He is methodical and precise. If fashion really is the attempt to realize art in living forms, he takes his time setting up his canvas to make sure the message he's putting out is as he wants it. You may make fun of him when you see what he has on, but you probably look shlubby by his side.

I know that his quest to continually better himself costs him stress and energy as he started applying to graduate schools. It was long and trying and certainly not easy. But he never gave up, and he continues to march forward, even if it has taken him away from Boulder.

I am sad to see him leave Colorado, even though I no longer live there myself. Us Boulderites, even as we poke him for our amusement, know we need him to keep life fresh, to stand so starkly on his own that we are forced to measure the world, even for a moment, from his eyes. And it's that different perspective, and his desire to always improve who he is, that will be most missed. Coco Chanel said, "in order to be irreplaceable one must always be different."

There is only one Chicken and I am glad to be his friend.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

College programs, hold off on those spring break plans just a sec.

Apparently what you know as Centex is about to experience a fissure. Cultimate will be running a Mentex tourney at the usual fields, around the usual weekend.

BUT. There will be no women's division. Not that weekend at least. The University of Texas women's team is picking up the standard the following weekend and running a women's only Centext at the Whitaker IM fields. I've talked to a few people down there, trying to pin down why the schism happened, but I've gotten a few conflicting answers. I'm going to talk to a few more people and figure out exactly what's happening.

But this is mad-bogus. Is this further fallout from C1? Will this affect joint men's/women's programs who like to hang out during spring break, or the travel plans of teams in general? Will this lessen the draw towards either Centex, and thereby possibly destabilize Centex as the premiere preseason event for the college series? And if so, what tournament might step up in Cultimate's stumble? Who's going to gain?

Weird times, man. It seems like since C1 was announced, ain't shit the same.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

No Sale

Is it safe to assume that Rob's Ultivillage offering this year is going to take a big hit in terms of units sold?

I'm not talking about the ripple effects of the tanking economy spreading into Canada. Nor am I disparaging Rob's product. If trends hold, it'll only be better than his last Disc "X" offering.

Rather, I'm hinting at the giant, previously faithful market that he's lost: the Seattle Club scene. Where in years past, I know many of them have purchased not only one for their house but also copies for family and friends, it strains my imagination to picture Miranda or Wiggins online ordering as many copies of the finals footage as they can to send to loved ones. Without the ego driving the wallet, how many are going to buy anyway?

"Pay attention. This is where we give up thirteen of the next fourteen points!"

Shit, Sockeye's been in finals so often lately some out of the loop might think they bought the wrong DVD when they hit play, get to the "Introducing..." portion where they show prominent players from the semis teams, and no Fish are included. Maybe Rob'll grandfather a few in for old time's sake.

For me, this was the first time in several years I didn't even make it to quarters, but Rob, put me down for two copies!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Sub Zero came into the toughest tournament of the year with high hopes and a feeling of peaking at the right time. It had been a season on the brink, never finishing against the top teams, but consistently beating everyone else who sucked. A solid Regionals was rewarded with a mid-tier seed of #7, while Ring, the most unproven team in the field, grabbed the #4 seed. However, #10 seed Chain Lightning, for the second straight year, stumbled in Regionals against Doublewide despite loads of talent, experience, and solid wins.

Following veteran advice, the Madison contingent of Sub Zero took flights on Tuesday, ensuring practice at the fields on Wednesday and some extra relaxation time in beautiful Siesta Key. It would valuable advice, as the practice in the looming crosswinds was necessary.

As we approached the grocery store to get breakfast and dinner for the following nights, Ben Feldman was warned. "When we get in there and see players from other teams - you act like a stud and walk hard." As soon as Feldner enters the Publix, he begins to act silly and downright weird, throwing cereal boxes at Riley and Foster as Jolian Dahl and Mangry turn the corner. It is all smiles but both teams know they would be playing a pool play game for the top spot in pool B. Thursday was right around the corner and the swimming pool could only distract the first timers for so long, before losing sleep realizing the importance of these games.

Thursday morning came all too quickly and not even eggs, bacon, and coffee could undo Muffin's grumpy demeanor, as Malecek threatened Jimmy Foster's life for the 7th time, before Chris Rupp casually intervened to save his life. Heijmen was destined to rush to the fields as his excitement was overwhelming. Halfway to the fields, Dan looked over, surmising whom to have Feldman moon before staring eye-to-eye with Mr. Slam! "Oh shit!" Feldner screamed, quickly pulling his pants back on. It took only seconds for the aggro-fest to begin as Mr. Slam and Heijmen swerved into traffic, vying for the front position to beat the other to the fields. Callahan Heijmen took the lead, but not before Mr. Stout pulled an early move into the outer lane, seizing the lead and flexing his guns as he zoomed by. Heijmen would tolerate no such lip and thinking fast, pulls over two dividers to grab a hidden power-up and short cut to the back of the fields. Jack Marsh could only smirk and imagine his glory days at Harvard before congratulating Dan on his genius move.

When Sub Zero arrived at the fields super early on Thursday morning, it was clear a cold front was moving in as the wind was building and the air was chilly. The fields were wet with dew, but still harder than usual for the pristine Sarasota Polo Fields. The morning warm-up was crisp, fun and huck happy - but still not at the level of focus and intensity needed for Club Nationals. It became apparent for the second straight year that Sub Zero seemed awkwardly unprepared for the task at hand as PoNY jumped out to a commanding lead, just as Chain had done the previous year. Sub was 28 players deep at Nationals, all hungry to perform, but it was the Offense who was holding them back. PoNY broke first as Zero missed several hucks on the first point, and it wasn't until Heijmen found Brown for the O2 goal that Sub tied the game 1-1. Zebro's Defense was ready to murder, as both Pat C and Mike Arenson made sick layout D's, only to have soft fouls bring the disc back. Maintaing the disc, PoNY scored and broke to lead 1-4, capitalizing on a Lokke drop in the zone (the first of far too many). Jack Marsh skied for a D and pulled down a Kyle Gill forehand to keep Zero in the game 2-4. Sub Zero was not connecting on their deep game, down 3-6 before Todd Owens hucks deep to Andrew Brown 5-7. BVH goes deep and takes it to half, 5-8 PoNY and with momentum to spare.

For the second straight year, there were more questions than answers for Zero's beginning of Club Nationals. Maybe it was first game jitters, or maybe it was sheer inexperience as the average age of a Zebro is relatively youthful. However, with youth also comes rage, and a sudden change of attitude brought on by a Shane xXxplosion was more than enough to get the team fired up. Kyle Gill continues to dominate in the cross-wind, bombing deep to Grant Lindsley, tightening the game to 6-8. Grey Duck sensation Michael Arenson hadn't seen elite ultimate like this, but was relatively unimpressed by the athletic abilities of the old men surrounding him. Taking things upon his shoulders, Mike proceeds to impress his grandparents by scoring a deep forehand by Shane to make it 7-8, and then catching a snatch layout from Kanner to tie the game 8-8. Mike was so on fire, he caught a D in the lane and set up a Riley huck backhand to a galloping Dan Miller to seize the lead 9-8. Sub Zero can only press the pedal to the floor as Jack hits Jimmy Foster down the line 10-8 and for Q-Tip Miller to put a mid-range flick to Arenson now 11-8. Sam Kanner continues to make an impact, going O2 for a goal from Mark Schmelzle to give Zero a 12-8 lead on 6 straight goals. Riley is able to add one more deep huck to a backpedaling Mike Arenson 13-8 and then pull downwind. The huge blade comes in hard, and dashes just past a PoNY's outstretched hands, leading Sub Zero to holler "He touched it!" The arguing became fierce, especially with one short prick of a New Yorker, but it was expected to come across at least one Dobyns wannabe from NY. PoNY put together a run to 13-9 and then toss their own huge blade pull downwind, this one ricocheting off Rupp's hands and going out the back, prompting PoNY to holler, "He touched it!" And so it began, Sub Zero would be touching teams for the rest of the weekend. However, the score would tighten to 13-11 and a tough cup was giving Sub Zero's patient Offense some issues. Eventually a quick swing to the sideline allowed Kanner to rip a huge backhand down the line to an unsuspecting Jack Marsh, who had to sky BVH before throwing the would be goal. A travel brought the play back, but Kanner loaded up and threw the exact same throw, forcing Jack to sky BVH for the second straight time, this time with less odds to make it 14-11. PatC ends the game in style, taking down a huge bomb and spiking it something ruthless to make it 15-11 Sub.

On the field next door, Bravo was giving Chain Lightning the business - taking a huge lead and dominating to a 15-7 win. Chain was without Dylan Tunnell for the first game and their deep game was not clicking. Sub Zero wasn't exactly happy with the circumstances since Dylan had just shown up, Chain would be relatively fresh from such a brutal beat-down, and now they would be ripe to respond. Chain insisted upon keeping their red jerseys and Ziperstein insisted that Sub Zero remain white. Zero started on Offense, going downwind, and working the disc cautiously until Zip exploded for a ridiculous poach under layout D. Will Lokke's jaw dropped open so large - you would think he was trying to eat a triple-stacker, no doubt what Fat Bill was really thinking about. Sub gets the disc back and Jack Marsh flicks a perfect throw to Grant Lindsley, beating Chain deep and spiking the disc with a finger wag and tongue out 1-0. Chain got pissed and rips a backhand right through the Zone cup, deciding to bomb deep no matter what the circumstances and scoring 1-1. Sam Kanner strutted onto the field and thought, "Anything Chain can do, Sam Kanner does better," ripping it to Heijmen for a score 2-1. The wind was certainly affecting the throws and Chain went as Shane explained, "Knicky-Knack bullshit" all the way down the line before a Dylan high release scores it 2-2. Heijmen continues to keep the Frosty Offense on serve, scoring goals 3 and 4 and making Foster suck on his Kimbo Slice style beard before he would leave the field. Zero is determined to serve it to Chain and Foster, fresh off his beard sucking, gets a layout D, allowing Aaronson to toss a floaty backhand deep upwind to Muffin. Muffnuts skys some fat Chain guy and serves it up to Lokke, before he throws it out-of-bounds about 3 years to a wide open Pat C. Chain picks it up on the cone and while Fatty was hanging his head, Lightning rips it full field for a wide open goal 4-4. Back on Offense, it was Carleton-Connection of Kanner bombing to Grant, allowing Rupp to finish to Jack Marsh 5-4. Frosty was getting angry with all this trading and brought in the blizzard, giving way as Miller made sick layout D after sick layout D. Muffin snapped the mark and Miller double happiness-ed all over Chain's face, freezing the disc before spiking it 6-4. The FROSTD was determined to get revenge and broke again, Schmelzle going O2 from Mike Aaronson 7-4 Sub. Chain again went all knicky-knack down the line, closing it to 7-5. Heijmen takes a shot a little too deep forcing both Jimmy Foster and Chris Rupp to sky for D's. And then Dylan Tunnell started coughing. It was a deep soulful type of chest heaving that would make any woman weak in the knees. His eyes turned blood red and then an inexplicable sort of fire flares shot out his nose. The FrostD sideline began feeling a warming sensation and all of the Zebro momentum began to melt. Soon Dylan was jacking his flick, right down the sideline perfectly placed into the open hands of not fat Hammond 7-6. Dylan turns and stares Heijmen in the eyes and then reaches out and touches his Dark Mark, uttering the words, "That's right! I spit HOT FIRE!" With that statement, Heijmen immediately called timeout to chill the red hot Dylan. As Scrub Zero huddled back into the chilly cross-wind, Dylan was burning villages and pacing on the line - scowling in every direction. Zero was able to punch a goal as Brown hit Geo for a goal 8-6 halftime, but the towering snowman on the near sideline were beginning to show singe marks across their face. However, Chain was holding Tunnell back as Frito makes a terrible deep foul call, exposing Chain's offense to be fatter and slower then previously expected. Chain hucks again as the Bucket was caught with his pants down in the lane (wearing his halloween costume early) and brught the score to 8-7. However, Todd Owens had something to say about the heat-wave and calmly bombed a deep backhand to Grant Lindsley, once again proving to Zip that he has lost a step, 9-7. Then, the Tunnell opened up and let out his rage, bombing right down the middle of the whole field, again perfectly placed 9-8. At this point, Greg Swanson, jealous of all the Georgia attention going to "The Tunnell" decides he needs to make a difference and starts crying on the field. No one is impressed, and Dylan looks downright embarrassed as Frito screams, "Be a man Swanson!" Jack Marsh only smirks and hits Geo for the hold 10-8. Dylan sprints to line and begins doing squat thrusts on the line, foaming at the mouth for the arrival of the disc. As soon as he sky's for the hitch, he bombs a third straight full field perfectly placed bomb for a goal 10-9, only to announce in his most gloating beer pong voice, "Who's on Fiiiiiiirrrrrrrre? That's right, Dylan is on FIRE, because I spit hot fire!" If you know the rules to NBA Jam, there is little to do to stop a man on fire, save foul him. But helpless to stop a fresh Dylan, "The Tunnell" throws his fourth straight bomb upwind, only for Wooten to sky big time 10-10. But seriously, Dylan hucks again to make it 11-11. Then Sub Zero drops a swing pass and suddenly has shit their pants and dropped the lead 11-12. Heijmen can finally stop the bleeding by tossing a cold glass of haterade all over Dyan, before throwing a goal to Kanner to tie the game 12-12. Chain responds by throwing 7 consecutive high release backhands before Dylan finishes to Hammond 12-13. However, the FrostD is now pissed. Foster scored to Kyle Gill 13-13, and Miller sent deep and punched in a break upwind to lead 14-13. The game went 14-14 and Sub Zero was going upwind. The hitch was layout D'd to make it 14-15. Grant Lindsley bombed it deep to Jack Marsh to keep it 15-15, win by 2, game to 21. Chain generates a D with super pressure defense and Dylan lets one rip deep, only for the 3rd trailing Chain player to pick up the trash 15-16. Zero tries a deep huck and Chain rips it deep upwind. As experience shows, the same 3rd Chain trailing player picked up the huge Dylan huck for the game winner 15-17. Zero was devastated, with the lead late and plenty of opportunities to close the game, they choked. It was tough to pick up the pieces, but Sub Zero just needed another blizzard to blow in.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


No other tourney, for better or worse, can so delete everything that came before it. Team disappointed with their season to date? A timely victory or two in Sarasota and the feeling shared between daiquiris by teammates can change from dejection to jubilation. Similarly, a high-flying team with nary a blemish to their record can find themselves in January wondering what went wrong after a disastrous Thursday.

Fates and Vegas betting lines can change instantly on the whim of the Atlantic winds that blow through the polo fields. A steady offense is a must if you want to have a chance against the fast, often-cheating zones and junk sets that all the teams deploy. Who’s your big backhand? Your giant flick? How good’s your weave, your lateral disc movement? Chances are if you made it to the big show you’ve got a nice toolbox to combat opponents; if you don’t, you’ll find out soon enough.

In my previous 8 club natties I’ve wrestled on sand on a Thursday, passed out face-down in the sand on a Friday, cried on the fields on a Saturday, and cleated up on a Sunday. Anything can happen, and as you gather your bearings after escaping from a barnburner and news trickles over from four fields over about a top seed that wasn’t as lucky you realize anything does happen. The first two days are exercises in surprise. But by the time Saturday comes the best teams have calmed and settled and the n00bs are exposed as such.

The mist hanging like a blanket over the fields in the morning. Strutting at the Publix. The beer garden accelerating Saturday afternoon. Walking along the beach with your frisbeemate or tourney squeeze. Sunday night at the Daquiri Deck. Helping Rob steady his hand for his Ultivillage videos. Mourning and celebrating from morning to night.

As I write this I am chilling at my beach house in full relax. I love this tournament. Love it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

First Hodag practice of the year went down today, in blustery conditions far removed from No Wisconsin climatic perfection. It was cold all day, and the wind immediately tested new recruits' inadaquate throws. It was made immediately clear to all the new Hodags: shit ain't gonna come easy at any time this year. Welcome.

Running through a few drills, beginning our work on resets and marks early, all the new players seemed excited to be there, with their recently cut bretheren practicing on the field adjacent with the Pimpdags. A survivor's sigh on each set of lips.

They were rewarded at the end of the day with a taste of a Hodag tradition to warm each of them, and the first "Hodag Love!" cheer of the year, and for many the first of their careers. They don't even know how much fun they're about to have.

Muffin wrote up a tournament review for No Wisconsequences that I think is one of the top 5 tourney write-ups of the year. An instant classic Muffin.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Call

Yesterday after No Wisconsequences the captains and officers of the Hodags had the unenviable task of helping close down the tournament after a long weekend of playing and evaluating, then hopping into a car for the hour's drive back home, where they reconvened and began selecting the final roster for Wisconsin '09.

Of the 40ish people left after two rounds of preliminary cuts, 16 had to be whittled down. At the end, with only 1-2 spots left for 2-4 players, things get real. It's hard to make a judgment call about who will benefit more from a season scrubbing with the Hodags and who will benefit from a year getting lots of touches on the Pimpdags. But the decisions are made, and in the end, the captains call those who made the team to thank them for their efforts and offer them a spot on the Hodags.

Anxious to see the new team practicing for the first time, I rushed from school to the practice fields with a heavy pack bouncing across my back and thoughts of the coming year flooding my head. But when I arrived at Ubay, aside from a game of pick-up soccer clear across the other side of the field, the fields were empty.

That wasn't entirely true. As I scanned the green I saw, alone and looking chilly, a kid with a disc. He was holding it with his elbow tucked squarely at his hip, and even from our distance the grip looked awkward, and he flung it at the back of a soccer goal, whipping the net upon impact. I watched him as he walked the 15 yards he'd thrown it, picked up the disc, walked back to his spot, and flung it again. And again, and again, each time cocking the disc in his hand like an ancient archebus and firing with a distracted accuracy.

I stood 200 yards away and watched this kid practice his gestational forehand for about 10 minutes and he, oblivious to my eyes, proceeded about his meticulous training. He closed the distance from the net to 3 yards and started practicing form, trying harder and harder to whip the disc. Learning. I approached him then. I recognized him as I began to yell "wanna toss" in his direction.

His name is Min Hu, and he knows nothing about Ultimate. But the kid is fast, Jesus is he fast. In practice he ran past everyone. No one could keep up with his legs or desire. Barely speaking any English, he nevertheless tried to absorb all the information the veterans threw at him, and you could see him working over bits of strategy as best he could and trying to apply them on the field. The captains and officers were salivating to have him on the team until they talked to him and found out he was here only for the fall semester, taking classes in English. He'd return to Korea in December, and not be back to Madison until he'd finished his undergraduate and began his PhD. The captains were devastated to cut him, someone so raw but with a thirst for improvement that made even the hardest working returners feel a bit complacent. And there he was, less than 12 hours after having been cut from the team, a player alone on 10 acres of grass, throwing a shitty disc against a soccer backstop simply because he wants to be better at it.

We didn't throw. We talked for 15 minutes. I told him how much the leadership had appreciated his spirit and effort and how we wish he wasn't leaving. When it was time for me to go, he thanked me and we shook hands, but fuck - I was the one that was grateful. I remembered the jitters I'd get an hour before tryouts my freshman year. I remembered laying out for a goal in finals of Frostbreaker against a young Rhett Russ and UNCW in the spring of 1999, one of 6 points I played all game. I remembered wanting more points, and more confidence, and more speed.

The words of an email I still have, today, taped to the door of my room at my parents' house echo, an email sent by Opie O'Connell on July 10, 1999 asking us to work toward improvement:

Don't ask yourself if you want to be on the team, ask yourself what you are willing to do for the team. Do you want to have a bigger role than last season, or is someone else going to move in on your role?...What will make the Hodags a good team is improvement, TOP TO BOTTOM. If you were the best thrower, be the best cutter. If you were the fastest, be the best cutter. Offensive players, work on defense. Defensive players, work on offense...If you were the best sub, be a starter. If you were the best rookie on the team, be the best player. If you were the best player on the team, be the best in the region...How badly do each of us want this? -ope
And those words resonated with me sure enough. I took them to heart. But today, more than those words of inspiration from my captain when I was just a kid, what I feel are the words scrawled in my poor hand at the bottom of the page, giant letters that were then a message from a kid to himself, but are now a gauntlet thrown down from my youth to my adulthood, a call that only my actions can answer:
Yes, Min Hu. I do.

Pump It Up

We're a week and a half out of Natties. The time to build any kind of physical gains in muscle or endurance is essentially over, but there is time yet to work the head game. A big part of that includes setting the mood on that jittery and exciting drive from Siesta Key to the fields, and in the warm-up time before our first game.

On Bravo, Richter and I made team pump-up CDs for each of of the rental cars. Once at the fields each person is left to their own devices, literally, while we jog and go through our preliminary drills. I know a few of my friends' teams have a team CD that contains a song from each teammate. However you do it on your team, you probably do it; pump-up music is crucial to getting you in that Kill Mode mood. So I'm asking for some input, some opinion. What's on your player these days? What tracks are bumping? I'm got a few in mind so i will link their YouTube pages (I love that YouTube has become what I always hoped MTV would be — instant gratification for my music video–watching itches).

Introduce me to some new songs. Blow me away with an artist I've not heard before. I love all kinds of music as long as it's well done. With that in mind, here are a few songs playing in my ears as I slip into Sarasota green and strap on my cleats:

  • Picture Me Rollin' By 2pac, a classic.
  • Bloc Party's Banquet song is tasty in Original or Remix flavors.
  • The Faint were described as "being a little too emo for you, Hec" but I like Glass Dance just the same.
  • MSTRKRFT's a great group, and their video for the song Easy Love is memorable for obvious reasons. Song's tight too.
  • I can't say enough about how incredibly disgusting Little Brother's lyrics are (in the good way). Dominant group, and the 9th Wonder production on The Getup is straight nasty.
  • Yes, The Knife is a weird group, and their videos feel like a bad acid trip, or a great one. Still, Silent Shout is a great song.
  • Aesop Rock is back on the scene with a new album, and his non-stop rhyming on the title track for None Shall Pass keeps everything thrusting forward. It does it for me.
Alright, there are a few for you to pick over. Feed me some of your sick-nasty head bumpers in the comments section.

Friday, October 17, 2008

I will be practicing at the No Wisconsequences fields this weekend. Anyone want to share their opinions, support, or concerns about this whole thing I'm all ears, as I'm still trying to cement my opinions on this whole Conference 1 offering. I'm not intimidating in person and I welcome any discussion or debate people want to have face-to-face. I will be practicing with Sub-Zero. I'm the one that looks convincingly Mexican, you should find me fairly easily.

I promise I'll be nice to everyone but Match, who thinks I am a big bully for pointing out his egregious bullshits and insecurities, and thus with him I will behave as such.


Skip is in town right now. After a conference call between Cultimate and the UPA yesterday afternoon, they met up with the Hodag officers to discuss the current situation. I'm sure it's not the last of the conversations, as many reservations remain, and more will be hashed out when a few more of the players in this play arrive for No Wisconsequences this weekend (which shows good weather now, brisk in the low 60's with slight cloud cover).

Oh boy, where to begin. OK. Carleton and Wisconsin have become a brotherhood of sorts, and through communication have loosely decided to move together in whatever direction they decide. And it seems like the rest of the teams are in agreement: they have many reservations, want UPA cooperation, and demand a say in the final outcome, but are very intrigued about C1. They like the general premise. They think it's a good thing. They're anxious to experiment. And, despite concerns about having to change the approach to the season, having a schedule known months in advance and having every game matter sounds fun. It's exciting.

Who would have thought that in the 5 years I've been out of college Ultimate the Hodags and CUT would be loving each other like an old couple? Even I was on Carleton's campus a couple of weekends ago raising toasts and reveling with Northfield. I'm developing a mancrush on Grant and Kanner. At a house party in Stadium 205 (if i can remember the number...probably not accurate) Muffin, in full Morfin-mode and wearing a white CUT jersey, was approached by a member of Carleton's basketball team that looked like a strapping athletic buck. A paraphrased summary of the exchange:

"Hey, you play on the Ultimate team. I've been wanting one of those jerseys for a long time, I think they look fly."
"Fuck yeah. Ultimate, bra. You should come play for us."
"I've wanted to, I think it's a sweet game, it's just hard to play basketball and Ultimate."
"Are you athletic? Can you jump high? How fast are you?"
"Yeah, I can jump and run."
"What's your vert?"
"Like forty inches." (Not a made up number)
"Fuck! Dude, try out! Man, I will jerk you off so hard if you play for us. We all will, we will jerk you. Come play dude, jump over me! Jump over ME! We will jerk you so hard!"
Dude walks away slowly.
"Come back! Play for us! I will jerk you off!"
So you see, our relationship has gotten so good that even Muffin is helping CUT with their recruiting.

Moving on, there are some idiots that are decrying Cultimate's proposal as an end to spirit of the game. Asking if 5 Ultimate sponsoring this and simultaneous putting something about Spirit (capital S) on their website is contradictory. Talking about how how everyone is going to throw elbows in people's mouths. Assuming refs. Talking out of their ass without a peg-leg of information to lean on. Spirit is within. It's how you play, but more importantly how seriously you take yourself and your honor, regardless of whether there's a rule there or not. You respect yourself and your efforts now, you will respect yourself later, be it in Ultimate or elsewhere. If you come prepackaged as an asshole, you'll remain the insufferable douche you've always been. Cultimate isn't about to create a legion of d-bags that aren't already there.

This whole proposal most directly affects teams 25-32, bubble teams that put together a season magical enough to upset some of the 25 proposed C1 teams early on in the year before fading hard and fast when real shit is on the line. And the best of those teams can play into the final tourney. The proposal has the best 13 teams from C1 play in the championship tournament along with the winner of a play-in game between the best two of these bubble squads. The winner takes the 14th slot, the loser becomes the #1 seed in a 64 team C2 bracket tourney held concurrently with the championship at Devens. The winner of that bracket tourney, as well as the play-in game winner, become part of C1 for the following season, and on and on it keeps growing. You can still earn your way in, same as now. Keep winning, and your competition will keep improving. Sleeping your way to the top still not an option, but you may want to confirm that with Skip.

The teams considering the C1 option also agree that they want a seat at the table: representation and a voice on the Cultimate Board of Directors that will guide the championship league and play. One of the biggest complaints about the UPA is the lack of communication between their board and the players regarding proposals and progress, a big reason why the idea of C1 had a foothold to begin with. In talking with a board member recently, they told me that I didn't get it, how much the UPA does, and how they're talking about innovation, and that there are heated exchanges with people trying to change the sport. Well, that's the thing, no one got it because they're so closed off to communication with the general masses that we're left to make our own assumptions about what is and isn't getting done.

And it's clear from how seriously the proposed C1 teams are taking this proposal that they've filled in a lot of the blanks themselves, and found that they were troubled by how many blanks existed in the first place. And Cultimate is providing a lot of the same answers that have been talked about in dens and living rooms by these players for years. A lot of the snubbed teams are complaining that they want "their shot" at the big teams. That they're entitled to play against the best of the best. But several of the captains on these C1 teams raised a point that seemed to resonate across the group: Are they? Are the teams that play ultimate casually entitled to playing those teams that offer a substantial portion of their college experience and lives to being the best they can be at this sport?

This I think gets to the crux of what this is all about, what I was thinking in the back of my head when I wrote my Splinter Cell post. "Elite" now seems to be a dirty, pretentious word in the Ultimate community as well as the political one. But the fact is there are some teams that don't put in a quarter of the work the Hodags do. That's not an exaggeration, and I'm not arguing that they need to work as hard as Wisconsin or Carleton. They're not trying to let Ultimate rule their lives like that. But there are some teams that do, and have been rewarded with dominance in the sport as a result. No, not all the teams that do this are currently included in C1, and this will need to be addressed. But all the teams in C1 do live this life. They care about being the best. They are willing to make concessions above and beyond what most of the haters on RSD are willing to do. They are looking to play against other teams giving (and giving up) as much as they are. They are not interested in proving themselves against ragtag groups that occasionally get enough players to scrimmage at practice. They want to measure themselves against equivalent foes who have earned the right, through their hard work and dedication.

And as the conversations continue, more of those 25 teams are warming up to the idea. A season where every game matters. Opponents as vested in being the best as you are. Schedules set months ahead of time. Reduced uniform and travel costs. A push toward the summit. It sounds enticing, but most importantly, it sounds like a lot of fun.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

[Some corrections in the Comments]
Yes, lots on our plate these days. Club Nationals, a looming college season, but I want to talk about something else. The 2009 World Games are just around the corner and if the U.S. national team wants to improve the selection process from 2005 the time to start thinking about that is now (or, weeks & months ago really, but now will suffice). Of course it's possible that the Powers That Be have thought about this already, but They've been kinda busy of late so I do not know.


In 2001, through the efforts of Japan's Furio Morooka, ultimate and disc golf were invited to take place in the World Games, held in Akita, Japan. Six countries sent 10 players apiece to play 6-on-6 co-ed (3/3). As you might guess, games were brutal; conditioning was crucial to any team's success. The U.S. team won a silver medal, losing to Canada in the final.

In 2005, the World Games organizers were gracious enough to boost ultimate's rosters to 11 players each and games were 7-on-7. Injuries were particularly harsh on Canada, who saw Oscar Pottinger go down with an ankle injury. The U.S. beat Australia in a closely fought final (I believe the first time any Australian team made it to the final of an international competition. Good on ya). There are accounts of Team Canada being so completely spent -- especially in light of losing Oscar -- that they sat on the line for the last few pulls of the bronze medal match. (Read about Team USA and the WG tourney here.)

If trends continue we can hope for at least 12 roster spots for each of six teams in 2009. But if WFDF, the UPA, or the CUPA have any clout that could get bumped up to 14 (the minimum I would argue for). I know it basically boils down to housing athletes and how many beds each sport -- and each discipline -- get, but IOC officials saw good things in the ultimate matches. Decry "Spirit of the Game" if you want to, but at the 2005 World Games the U.S.–Canada roller hockey game wound up in a brawl, whereas the U.S.–Canada ultimate game ended in a happy little circle.

The 2009 World Games return to Asia, taking place in the Republic of China Taiwan Chinese Taipei. The six nations are chosen based on the previous year's WUGC performance, which means WG'09 will see these teams: Canada, U.S.A., Japan, Australia, Great Britain, and Chinese Taipei (as host country).

Team USA Selection Process

In 2001 and 2005 the national teams were selected by application: players submitted themselves for consideration, had references, and answered questions about their playing styles. Yet the surface of choice for any field-sport competition is grass, not paper. So this time around we'd be fools to take any other path. U.S. Junior National teams began real-life tryouts in 2004; it's time the adults follow suit.

Therefore attention needs to be paid to individuals at the upcoming Club Nationals. Since it's probably too late to initiate the WG'09 selection we should try to tape as many games as possible. (If I had my way players would submit their names before Club Sectionals and selection committee members would have opportunities to see these players play in person up through and including Sarasota.) In an ideal world members of the selection committee would also be on-hand for Nationals, but that seems unlikely at this point unless they've already begun the process.

But let's assume not much attention has been paid to this issue. After all, WUGC just happened and people are pre-occupied with the Club Series and the hotly debated college season. Witnessing how players interact with their own teammates and their opponents would be crucial to the decision-making process, but just as important would be a tryout camp in early 2009. To maximize its usefulness it would probably have to be a 3-day weekend. Since some of the selection committee, Powers That Be, and maybe even tryouts would likely be busy on MLK weekend I think I'd pick Presidents' Day. It would have to be warm and you might as well have some players not travel very far, so I would run it in Southern California or Atlanta.

This would be a great spectacle. The largest, sickest hat tournament of all time. Sure, there would be drills and timed sprints and sit-down conversations, but the gist of the weekend is the ~100 best ultimate players in the U.S. playing on the same field, vying for one of 12-18 spots (including alternates). Let's roll.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A lot of people are talking noise on RSD right now, with more knee-jerk reactions than a Deep Tendon Reflex test. I was expecting this the last few weeks, but still got caught a bit off guard by the wave of reaction. The Hodags are again converging tonight, after a marathon officers meeting last night that lasted upwards of 5 hours. Some brief observations...

  • For all the chatter on RSD, and all the people shitting on the idea, it's worth noting the absence of input from members of the twenty-five teams being asked to join. No doubt, they're within their wagon circle discussing the same points Wisconsin's leadership is considering.
  • Whoever posited that those same teams are talking amongst themselves right now is right. We made calls to our friends on those other teams, and emails have already begun making the rounds. For those talking about the possibility of half the teams going and half staying with the UPA series, they're off base. This will either work because all the teams are on board, or none of them are.
  • For those people who are decrying this idea, but bitch and moan about having to explain why dogs are not involved in our sport, they're talking out of both sides of their mouth. While I understand the general ultimate culture is mostly socialist and grass-roots, and thus want to keep this "about the people", Cultimate has to date proven themselves to be excellent marketers and promoters of top-quality tournaments. Their tourneys are seamless, their graphics slick, and their promotion strong. Much more focused than the UPA's approach.
  • The UPA, in their Revolution, outlined tiered college competition for the upcoming years already, but those on the outside of C1 are complaining most about not being able to play the top teams. Guess what? It's coming anyway. Cultimate's announcement only moved up the date substantially.
  • That being said, concerns remain. Verifying eligibility is the main concern, in my opinion. Making sure outside teams can play into the winner's bracket is another. Outside teams should at least be given the chance to try to prove themselves, in the way non-conference football teams still have an outside shot at playing in a BCS bowl. However,
  • Teams and regions have complained about bid allocation processes since there was a bid allocation process. Some teams get left out. Others get a chance. It's not equal for everyone because not all teams are equal. The majority of teams out there will, playing any of those 25 teams 10 times, lose all 10 games. The main gripes are coming from those teams that can, at times, beat several of those teams. Yet last year, even with the noise Arizona made at the beginning of the season, they got blown out in quarter-finals. If the purpose of the UPA series is not to find the best 16 teams, but to crown the best team in the country, I feel confident saying that the C1 will do that just as well. As they say in the game, "haters gon' hate, ballers gon' ball."
  • Still, there needs to be a fair way to make sure any good teams outside of these twenty-five have a shot at playing in the final tourney, and have a shot at playing into the league for future years. No one should be left out based on reputation alone.
  • Another thing there are relatively few detail about are these officials (observers? active observers? refservers?) and any rules changes that might come from that. Any changes to how things will be played need to be stated fairly early in the process.
These are just my initial thoughts. As I glance back to RSD I see that Toad has woken up, and soon things are going to reach a fever pitch. Skip gets into town tonight for the weekend's poorly named (in light of today) No Wisconsequences, and the Hodags will continue their dialog with other potential C1 teams as we move forward with the best interests of our program and Ultimate in mind.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The weather cooperated like a federal informant this weekend. Unbelievable all weekend long. Having lived my fair share of Wisconsin Octobers, I literally shudder to think of No Wisconsequences next weekend. In a Northwoods fall, climate like that rarely sticks around for two straight weekends of partying. On the radio this morning they designated today "the last day of summer", and already next weekend's forecast is showing a 25 degree drop in temperature. College teams, bundle up!

I saw some incredible things this weekend. I saw Skeetpocalypse shit away what certainly would have been the upset of the tournament when, winning on Saturday against Chicago Machine 13-10, they gave up 4 straight points to lose. I thought fate was on their side their final opportunity when a player of theirs had an unbelievable layout running forward to stab a hammer blading way short of target. Jawdropping. Two throws later, turn on a dump pass. Two minutes later, Machine scores, and has a collective bowel movement in relief. What a choke. Skeetpocalyse, for shame. You looked so mentally soft at the end.

Machine was having trouble adjusting to the loss of Tim Halt as their offensive gear-turner. They had a hell of a rough Saturday, losing in semis to Madison, before bolstering their confidence with a glance at recent history and knocking Madison off in the game to go Sunday.

Sub Zero brought the gum and the pain all weekend. Without much care for where we're seeded, we're poised to bring our best games to Sarasota and I'm looking forward to all the matchups we get.

More heartbreak for Madison Club, who didn't seem like the same focused team on Sunday as Saturday. After putting together an impressive performance, they could not win the one that counted, and the one I'm sure they knew they'd have to win. With a lot of new faces and the looks of a program establishing itself beyond the boundaries of the Hodags, they should build next year and improve their cohesion. It's a shame the flyest looking jerseys in the club game won't be representing in Florida.

I didn't watch much of the other two divisions, either mixed or women's, but after not being written about in the club season preview Pop is going to explode onto the scene in Florida, probably making quarters. They have many many fast, athletic, and good-looking women. Womens' teams, you've been warned. Mens' teams, you've been advised.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Let's get something out of the way: this is not about a hybrid referee/observer acting as the sole party making calls on the field. This is about striking a balance between two competing systems of officiating. So a quick recap...

Gripes with Observed ultimate (and especially ultimate without officials of any kind) from the pro-ref crowd:

  1. Players, in the heat of the moment, are disinclined and perhaps unable to make objective calls
  2. The nature of self-officiated ultimate -- with its occasional chat, aside, or debate team practice on contested calls -- drags out the game and renders it unwatchable. It's bad sports entertainment
  3. Refs add authenticity & legitimacy thereby immediately inviting lucrative broadcasting contracts
Rebuttals from the UPA/pro-Observer crowd:
  1. Our players have the discipline and respect for themselves and their opponents to call a fair game. (This argument was eloquently spelled out on this blog by a Former College Champ. Well worth the read.)
  2. Hmmm, yes, well ... #2 has some merit. Observers are directed to ask players for reasonably quick decisions; Observers are also trained to determine the correct call and announce it summarily upon request
  3. I call bullshit. No evidence points to this. People still see a Frisbee -- sorry, a disc -- and think of hippies and beach games. The sport's proponents need to buckle down on this conception.
As for me, I do like the Observer system and think, when perfected, it will keep most people happy. But recently I started thinking about a hybrid officiating system, a system where both players and neutral parties are empowered to make calls.

So here's the thought experiment. Neutral parties, called Observers and wearing something tasteful, number about five on the playing field, plus 14 players. Boom! 19 officials. When a player is fouled the infracted player or a nearby Observer are both able to make the call. If an Observer is not in position or does not see the play, the foul's outcome follows the current rules set-up. This prevents cheap fouls, the get-away-with-whatever-you-can tactic in ... well, in every sport I've played except ultimate.

In/out calls, travels, and up/down are all active Observer calls.

Let's say a receiver goes up for a disc and is blatantly fouled. Both the fouled player and the nearby Observer call "Foul!" Boom! Immediate judgment, play on. If the Observer makes a call and the 'fouled' player makes no call: no foul, play on.

Thus we have a system where players are still empowered to make calls, but Observers are also making active calls. When they agree, great: instantly play on. The result will be a game executed under the same principles as a self-officiated game, but with the necessary checks & balances to satisfy pro-ref blood-lust. Players won't call bad games because they won't get away with it. Refs won't ruin games because they won't be the sole authority.

I daresay this system would even lead to games where the Observers are largely unheard-from, except on in/out, travels, up/down, since players know that a bad call would be corrected (in the form of silence from the Observers).

I have probably missed some salient points, and there are likely flaws in this proposed system. But I think it addresses the concerns of the ref movement while keeping intact much of what players like about self-officiating.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Kill Mode

At a recent meeting with the Hodags' current captains and officers, held to decide what role, if any, several alumni would have in the development of the team this year, we shot the shit for a while before getting down to the nitty.

Talk inevitably turned to the current crop of Hodag hopefuls, and their various merits. Aside from whether they could throw and how well, or their field awareness and prior experience, aside from all other tangible qualities the tryouts possessed, in the end the category most talked about was whether or not said hopeful possessed Kill Mode.

Kill Mode. Never clearly defined, over those tacos and beers, but agreed upon as a trait that could almost singlehandedly get you on the team. To claim that someone did not have kill mode was to cast a vote of no confidence against them in those moments when you need them most, to emasculate them and deny they posses the agency to step up and produce when the chips are down. To say they did not have KM was the beginning of an argument for cutting them. It was straight damning.

Maybe we first need to understand Kill Mode a little more before I go on. I'm not going to define it; kill mode is different things for different people. But while agreement on what it is is hard to come by, everybody knows when they've seen it. A refusal to be denied. Bids without regard for the landing. A spark that lights up the D's powderkeg. KM is how you know, soon as this guy goes in, he's going to do everything he can to accomplish his goal, that anyone could judge him at point's end and declare confidently, "he did everything within his limits, and when the moment was most crucial went beyond them." Kill Mode is a a refusal to lose, to give up on oneself, a knot in the mind that can only be undone by the accomplishment of the goal, or death.

It's been the big buzz phrase with the Hodags for the last several seasons and speaking to several of last year's outgoing class, they could clearly state moments when they felt the team collectively make the switch. As we reminisced on these moments and talked about people who it was agreed did not have KM, I wondered, is Kill Mode something innate or something acquired?

Can Kill Mode be taught? If so, some of these young whipper-snappers vying for a spot on the team deserve another look. Seeing it in action might spark it within them, and create the type of fearless defensive machines that the Hodags are looking for. But maybe it's not that it's taught so much as discovered and unleashed, a matter of finding the right end to pull on so the whole trap is undone and the beast is loosed.

So with two weeks left to go before the final roster is announced, captains and officers pay attention to the mechanics and throws, but they're looking for a little more. They're looking for signs of a dormant animal, a tinge of glow stalking the sidelines, an energy begging for a reason to bubble out of them, trapped rage like a knife fight in a closet. The Hodags want Kill Mode.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The questions are eerily similar every time.

"How do you throw it so far? Do you use a different grip? Can you teach me how to do it?" From young to old, freshman to super senior, handler to cutter, everyone is looking for the easy answer. The thirst for ultimate knowledge is generally unquenchable – but finding answers is not always as easy. Often it takes adaptation and experimentation strolling hand-in-hand, slowly ascertaining small truths. But this quest for understanding can really only be realized through the journey itself. There is no one miracle tip – rather a streamline of intricacies that, when choreographed together, create poetry from motion.

But how should one approach this journey to self-discovery? Perhaps through observing and emulating – perhaps through learning and creating – or (if you are indeed asking me), through the hips. The hips? Absolutely.

The strongest major muscle group of the human body is the legs (quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes) and coincidentally, the hips connect that concentrated power to your core. Meaning, when the body needs to create a powerful force, the energy comes from the legs, is transferred through the hips, through the core, and then - if timed correctly - through the arms depending on the desired movement. This was one sport specific concept I'd have loved to have understood years before the dawning realization reached me as a fledging, furiously cocky junior in high school.

I had played competitive sports my entire life, and wanted to dominate any sport I could sign up for as a youth (save the intensely boring game of baseball – which was a wonder anyone could stay awake long enough to play). My childhood coaches, sports camp directors, and mentors all seemed to understand the concept of utilizing power from your hips, but despite their complex descriptions and illustrations, understanding was always just out of reach. In each sport they referred to hip power with a different example; calling it the triple threat position in basketball, the breakdown stance in football, the driving shot of a single leg takedown in wrestling, the explosive arcing path of a corner kick in soccer, the top spin of a forehand winner in tennis, or the crack of a home run in baseball. Whatever the sport, what do all of these sport specific movements have in common? The explosive power always generates in the hips and, when performed correctly, can translate vectors of force coming from various appendages into one perfect fluid motion. It is truly training the muscles to fire in the correct sequence, while overcoming the body's natural resistance to learning those firing patterns.

It will take time and practice, trial and error, but the first moment you generate that power and feel the difference, new doors to performance will be opened, as if leveling up and finding all new attacks. However, the hips and core strength are two tricky animals to tether. Getting those muscles to fire in the correct sequence is difficut. But don't be discouraged – it takes practice, hours, days, weeks, and months of clumsy, stupid, awkward practice to finally hone into a movement worth memorizing.

But where should this expedition begin? Where all journeys of great importance begin – at the fountain of motivation. Wanting to perfect anything will take the time and dedication. The desire must be strong enough to endure the days when it would be easier to not practice, to not a make that sacrifice. Because it will take a sacrifice – whether that is chaffed and bleeding knuckles, a sore back, or the abstinence from homework or television – it will take time and it won't come easy.

Once the proper motivation is in place, formal mechanics and fruitful visualization will need to follow. The best way to present this idea articulately would be with a handful of analogies and stories, that when spliced together, can create the narrative.

A few general ideas will be necessary before we crack the whip, so to say. Imagine a young and inexperienced high school ultimate player – easy. Upon first picking up this piece of plastic, the only way to toss it is with a feeble and uncoordinated backhand wobble – no spin, no hizer, just jerky arm-propelled movement. There is no fluidity to the movement, no speed of release, no tight grip on the edge, no well-placed pivot to balance the movement. The attempt is ill-conceived and maneuvered without confidence. But as the player practices more and more – the disc begins to flatten, the number of Z's slowly increases, and soon the speed of the release increases as well. It took practice, but even now the player is only half-way there.

The easy lessons are replaced with more difficult concepts to grasp; degrees of torso rotation, exact finger placements of force on the rim, angles of release, and intention of S curve. As the player wants to develop his ability he must move into realms of advanced study, using forces and muscle memory to expand his range and power. But the backhand was the easy part: grip it like a handshake, and rip it. Grip it harder, throw it farther. But that elusive forehand has such different mechanics, how could you possibly understand advanced theory without anyone showing you properly? You experiment and adapt. You take lessons from other sports and walks of life Рand apply their principles. The clich̩ holds: practice makes perfect.

Now when trying to teach this same high school player how to throw a forehand – it takes much longer because the principles are far less intuitive. There are several joints now propelling the force in a snappy action, quite different from the big backhand wind-up. The analogy which best suits the mechanics of a forehand is the crashing car scenario. A car is driving fast and there is in incredible amount of force being built up. However, the unbuckled passengers can not yet really appreciate this strong acceleration, until another force acts upon it. When the car hits a solid object and suddenly stops, all of the acceleration now lands upon the passengers, thrown forward through the windshield – going from 0 to 100 in the split second it takes the car to stop. Now imagine the disc is the passengers and your arm is the crashing car. The elbow and arm swing forward aggressively and only when the wrist snaps to stop and recoil does the disc speed out of your hand. This is the first step – understanding where the force of the movement is actually coming from. The second step is maximizing this force expenditure. This is where predetermined athletic ability, flexibility, coordination, agility, and muscle strength begin to blend into a cohesive movement – the 90 yard forehand sniper bomb.

The closest examples to a forehand sonic boom are the cracking of a whip or the hurling of a baseball pitch (close seconds would be a baseball swing, judo throw, or golf drive). These movements take energy from one part of the body and transfer it into an athletic movement that creates a huge implosion of force.

When a whip is snapped, the energy from the initial thrust moves easily along the whip, but when the wrist stops and snaps, the crack is generated from all the force traveling the entire length of the whip. When a pitcher hurls a baseball, notice the wind-up of his leg, the turning of his hips, the torque on his shoulder, elbow, and wrist. The pitcher has taken force from his legs and the ground, and then twisted his body, only for his arm to follow through on the motion, whipping the baseball using energy from his legs, hips, and core. The same goes for a baseball swing or a golf drive – the legs push into the ground, creating force, the hips turn to change the direction of the force, and the core clenches – transferring this force to the arms and hands – gripping very tightly to not lose any of the transferred energy, and when contact is made – BOOM. The same power of the hips is found in football on a tackle and even in wrestling on a head throw. If these conclusions are so obvious in other sports – why hasn't it translated to hucking in ultimate? Because no one has taken the time to break it down proper.

We will start with the secret of the shoulder jerk and then move into the realms of unknown – the hip & shoulder jerk – articulated as the super sniper bomb. The shoulder jerk begins with a powerful stance, shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent, head and shoulders up, and two hands on the disc. Anyone who has to travel to throw obviously has not done their homework and clearly has not realized the benefits of a firm pivot. That pivot foot is the focal point of the force, pushing from the legs, transferring through the core, and synchronizing with a shoulder jerk to send the disc sailing. Now, the shoulder jerk involves generating force from the upper body, swinging one shoulder to create momentum, and blasting the second shoulder through, as the torso violently twists. The elbow and wrist stay locked in close to the body, but noticeably behind the shoulder attending to the violent twist. Are you still following? First, the left shoulder swings to left, creating a slight shimmy, the weight shifts from left to right and back again, but this time, the left shoulder fires forward, as if cocking a gun or pulling back a bowstring. When the left shoulder pushes forward, it is go time – turn the hips and crank on the torso, jerking the right shoulder as far forward as possible – then as long as the wrist and elbow are locked in place – all of that energy from the shoulders and core is translated perfectly into a lightning fast release, wrenching the elbow like slingshot. Theoretically it sounds easy, but the synchronization of the movement and timing of events is the most crucial part. If the timing is incorrect, the result will be likewise.

Two other considerations to the shoulder jerk, a slight step forward also brings extra momentum and the friction of the release point needs to be clean. Meaning, the "power point" of the release would be better suited if the last point of contact with the disc is smooth and crisp (like say athletic tape), rather than sweaty and sticky (like say the skin on your hand). That makes sense right? Generate force and momentum from powerful parts of your body like your legs, chest, and core, and transfer it through the arm and into the disc by the grip of the hand. The aim and curvature of the disc are also important, as the release angle of the disc should come off so IO, and with so many Z's, that it flattens and then comes back OI, usually biting just to left, right over the defenders head, setting up an easy read and total bitching. The exact grip placement of the fingers is quite crucial, first knuckle of the middle finger. Every little intricacy matters because every ounce of energy lost in the transfer – is one less Z on the disc. Lots of players have picked up the shoulder jerk and at most elite levels – this will get you a solid 50+ yards, even without a step.

But now we will move into realms of ultimate knowledge never revealed in any ultimate book. For the originals of the mythical forehand super sniper bomb are only cited in the deepest legends of Hodag Lost Dark Arts. I give full credit to Tyson Park – who ripped a 85 yard forehand in 2003 National Finals – walking the disc to the line, yelling at Joey Dombrow, and pointing deep – there was nothing either Wiggins could do: the biggest throw coupled with the fastest player is an unbeatable combination. Tyson, a proficient golfer, clearly understood, even with his small frame that turning the hips and stepping forward can create power unknown to most ultimate players. This feat has only been outdone once – in 2007 Nationals Semifinals Wisconsin vs. Stanford. After an injury time-out (Mabrowald sick layout D) the disc laid at least 10 yards deep in the Hodag end zone. Malecek put the disc into play there, and similar to Tyson, yelled for Shane Hohenstein to take off deep, already 40 yards away. The marker Cahill waited patiently at the end zone line, too slow to realize the disc was in play, and Muffin proceeded to sonic boom sniper bomb it 90 yards for the 1 pass goal – outdoing his mentor and completing the biggest throw ever.

To reiterate – the extra power comes from perfect coordination of a shoulder jerk, coupled with a strong forward step initiated by tapping into that hip power.

Now, why would I reveal all of the deepest never explored secrets of ultimate prowess? Because there are many factors that go into the delivery – predetermined genetic athletic ability, flexibility, coordination, agility, and muscle strength. For the 90 yard forehand sniper bomb to go off without a hitch – you might need to be able to bench 300 lbs – because the pectoral shoulder jerk is going to need some oomph on it. Your grip will need to squeeze so hard, that your fingers will be at risk for dislocation. So if you were not blessed with superior athletic ability, never quite developed that hand-eye coordination, or never hit the weights hard enough to recognize an increase in muscle strength – this Dark Art will still remain unknown to you.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

He was playing hard – harder than usual.

This game was important, as it was already semifinals, yet the competitor in him was forcing the issue. He wanted a D, not just any old block, but a play that would spark the team, fire up his teammates. A brief stoppage yielded an opportunity to scan the field and yell to his teammates, “We get this D!”

And the opportunity was waiting, just beyond his instincts. “Just throw it, throw that under,” he mentally thrust at the other team. He was hungry to make a play. And finally, the other team obliged to give a chance, sending a disc into a closing window. He could tell it was coming before the cutter even knew – he could sense the space, the timing, the force, and all were pointing to the same place on the field. The defender was always first to know, for he was anticipating the cutter’s every mental synapse. “He wants the under, he wants the under,” he repeated ad infinitum in his head.

As the thrower pivoted for his release, it was go time. It was time to make a play, to disregard his body and the unforgiving fields; it was time to get sick nasty. Already visualizing the tantalizing layout D, he dug in to accelerate faster, put his head down into drive phase, and planted 260 lbs. of strength into the ground on that first explosive step. If he pushed hard enough, if he wanted it bad enough, the opportunity would not skirt by. But the cutter was choosing his angle well, shielding with his body as his cut flared to the sideline. The defender was ready for this and as he planted, he chose a new angle, one that would provide a necessary shortcut to the open side, an angle to disappear behind the cutter before reappearing in a sudden blur of athletic prowess. As he turned and planted, pushing all of his soul into the play, it suddenly went terribly wrong. All of that force, all of the desire to make a play, turned against him.

His cleat tied too tight, his heel cup too unstable, the ground too hard, and the bones in his foot too weak. That horrible sound reverberated up his leg, up his spine, and then into his mind’s eye and it was the first indication that the D would have to wait. Despite the defender’s sheer willpower to succeed and tenacity to compete, his steps were taken from him. The “pop” was omnipotent and he fell to the ground immediately, as if downed by a sniper in an open meadow. The movement was so sudden that no one seemed to notice, or else thought he slipped in the lane. For two whole seconds of blinding realization, he waited and held his breath.

“It will be fine, it will be okay,” he gritted to himself, struggling to find his footing. But this white lie was not going to go unnoticed.

“Just get up, there is still time,” but his empty words missed their mark, and he couldn’t fool his mind, which was grinding to a halt, clearing engulfed in fear. It took two attempts, as the word stalled in his throat. Finally, in what seemed like an eternity of laying on the field, he bleakly announced, “Injury,” for fear the further play would disable his teammates. Moments later, the mark and thrower acknowledged a stoppage and paused to take a look. He rolled off his stomach and curled into a protective sitting position, as if patiently waiting on the playground for recess to begin. The marker flung him a skeptical look, as if to say, “Why the hell are you just sitting there?”

He could offer no answer. The pain felt varied and unnatural, like it hadn’t really happened if he just didn’t move it. But he would have to attempt to stand and despite how he masked it behind his pursed lips and furrowed brow, the pain would get him. He attempted to force weight on it again, renewed with the sense of uncertainty. This time the pain was real, relentless, and overpowering. It was done, it was over. With a flood of despair, he motioned to the sideline, which brought the nearest teammates to his side.

“Are you okay?” with a look of deepest concern all over his face. The words again caught in his throat, and unable to speak, as if his dry-mouth rendered him muffled and inaudible, he motioned again. But the question remained, and soon he was forced to shake his head ever so slightly from side-to-side while biting his lip hard. The disappointment on his face and imploring gaze towards his closest teammate was notice enough that needed teammates to come to his aid. Their looks of distress meant little to him now, and with the greatest effort he could muster, he mumbled almost faintly, “Help me up.” It wasn’t far to the sideline now, but everything was blurring. Soon there was a pair of hands upon him, grabbing his arms, pulling him to his one foot. Their support was well intentioned, but awfully inadequate. It took less than a step for his full weight to fall upon their shoulders, and he was being carried off.

A smattering of applause was also well intentioned, but likewise, fell awfully inadequate. As he was taken to the middle sideline, his vision burst back into focus. His substitute was entering the game, and the only hands to him moments later, would be the fill-in sideline mother, gravely troubled by his every need. But he wanted no help; he wanted to lie down and die; to feel nothing; to wake up from this dream and escape his current nightmare. He couldn’t tell what hit him first, the physical pain, or the emotional meltdown. His season was over. It took only minutes to reach that conclusion, but it was inevitable. The tiny “pop” seemed to reverberate through his body and head, all over again. His eyes were closed tight as he lay on his back, elevating his leg, but it appeared that his eyelids were now only semi-permeable, for the tears began slipping through. They ran past all of his defenses. He stalled the overwhelming feeling of loss as best he could, but these tears were far too inevitable. He couldn’t stop.

He balled his hands into fists and squeezed hard, willing the pain somewhere else and feeling his blood pulse. But the sounds around him suddenly thrust an imaginary environment inside his head; he could see his teammates, working on the field, trying to make a play, and overcome with the thought of a lost teammate. Without warning, as if jumping into a cold swimming pool, he forced himself back into reality. With a great effort, he opened his eyes to the blinding day, and watched as player after player zoomed by. He hadn’t told a soul yet, barely answered a question, although many had been asked. He knew what it felt like to break a bone. The first bone he ever broke was in third grade, and it took 3 days for him to admit to his parents that it hurt too much. This break was different. It wasn’t like he collided with pavement or any other solid object; instead it was random, ironic, and mocking. Finally he acknowledged the questioners, but not before screaming an uncountable number of choice swear words into the air. He looked her in the eyes and plainly stated, “It’s broken.” As if admitting those words to another person would peel away the pain. The fill-in mother’s initial look of shock vanished, replaced with trepidation, “Let’s get some ice and elevate this,” but she wouldn’t take his words for truth just yet.

He repeated, “It’s broken. My foot is broken. I felt it.” And with another great effort, he slipped off his cleat and attempted to move his toes. He might have just tried to touch the sun it was so impossible and his toes disregarded the command. With forced determination, rising from a source of anger he tried again, “Flex!” The shooting pain rendered his imperative pointless immediately. He clutched his foot and fell back to field, eyes welling again. The next few minutes passed without incident, as he was allowed to wallow and wait, but it did not matter. He needed no condolences at the moment, he knew his fate. There was nothing to do, but wait anyway, why rush to the trainer to discover a truth he already knew? As if denial would help, he pushed himself into a sitting position to watch the game. He might have been staring at a blank wall, for nothing registered. His mind was now oddly blank as he pondered the obstacles mounting his path. After seconds of contemplation, he pushed them away; he was traveling with teammates, with friends, and they would assist him. Suddenly, as revelation after revelation hit him across the face, he concluded several facts quickly.

He could not reenter this game, he couldn’t even walk. As if God himself had blasted off his foot, he was being forced to sit and wait. It took many deep breaths before he could even see the trainer, and sure as the sun, he knew what the prognosis would be. This was a setback, a test, an obstacle to overcome, but it was more than that. It was a sign that changed needed to happen, too ironic to show itself plainly. It wasn’t losing part of the season anymore; it was losing the heart of the season, the final months. He was gulping and grasping for air now, needing a lifeline as his team faded down the stretch.

His mind seemed to go into standby for several hours, days, perhaps weeks. It was like his world had evaporated right in front of him, and he was helpless to do anything. He was injured, in the worst way, and was powerless to right the situation. It would take time, infinitely frustrating seconds, minutes, and hours. The x-ray only confirmed his suspicions; it was a Jones fracture and would need to be non-weight bearing for several weeks.The groan escaped his lips before comprehension dawned. This will be brutal. It will not be fun; it will not be over quickly.

The boot and crutches were his constant companions now, evermore reminding him of his predicament. In his mind’s eye he could see the x-ray, see where his bone was almost broken clean through, and see where his foot had been broken 5 years earlier by a teammate. This time is was different. There was no 4th year captain to kindly break the news that his season was over, but that he was still allowed to come to practice and even Nationals if he wanted. It was a crushing blow then, and his grades suffered that semester as he stopped going to both class and practice. But that didn’t matter now – nothing seemed to matter. This season, which took his time, his money, his energy, his emotions, had been unwillingly snatched away from him again. It wasn’t like a broken finger, a fractured face, or a bleeding rib, all which had been played through, this, was a cracked foot, and something he would need in the future. There would be no more running workouts, no lifting before practice, no practice. Opportunities slipped through his fingers as his limited mobility thrust him into the world of surviving handicapped. His mind longingly remembered the days when he could have gone running, when he could have lifted or tossed, and then chose not to. He surely had better ways to spend his time that day. But now, when he couldn’t run, when he couldn’t as much as walk, he wanted nothing more in the world than to run, to feel the chill night air as he pounded on the track. Instead, it would be several weeks of hand bruises, armpit shoulder abrasions, and an exhausted left leg.

His time was spent in deep reflection, assessing the damage and the future options. As if ironic karma had found him hiding, it sneered in his face, “Everything happens for a reason.” So, he was supposed to break his foot? It has taken longer than a month to understand, but the answer remains simply, “Yes.” A serious injury can be one of the biggest emotional and mental setbacks around – just ask Vince Young’s mom if you don’t think it is psychologically taxing. It was incredibly frustrating, to sit and wait on an indeterminable timeline, for nothing – for his season was surely over. He wondered out loud, how to overcome this dilemma? It has taken patience, time, and acceptance. It has taken good friends and long nights. However, this broken bone has caused him to discover, devise, and develop into something new. It provided a fresh path and different outcomes – albeit not athletic alternatives, but alternatives none the less. He could still help the team, even if he wasn’t playing. He could observe, yell from the sideline, be supportive, and watch from an outside perspective. And at the next tournament, it was like someone had removed a barrier that caused closed-mindedness. He saw the game from a different point of view, an enlightening, exciting, wholly different point of view. With nothing invested personally, with no attachment to the team as a player, he could see the big picture. And without even comprehending, he knew this break had been no random occurrence. It had been a blessing in disguise, a chance to take a step back, rest his weary body, torn and worn from 5 straight years of full time college and club ultimate, and just watch.

He watched hungrily and took in bits and pieces, things he would have never noticed in the past. The answer was waiting for him as soon as he repeated his question. What can I do? And then, as if the steps in front of him shone his path lighting up, he finally knew why he had broken his foot – because it was time to coach…

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A short while ago, a friend (and respected rival) spent the night at my house, and over a couple Pacificos and a shot of tequila we started discussing the "future of the sport."

"What place do you think tournament parties have in the future of college ultimate," he asked me.

"What tournament parties?"

When I started playing, every college tournament had a party. At 2000 college natties, Wisconsin ended the night naked in a pool with ladies from various teams. The following year saw the Doubletree Hotel in Boston host a wedding reception in one hall and the natties party in the other, ending with Bruss apologetically being carted away by the cops, Fortunat behind bars when he tried to bail out some Oregon guys from jail and discovered he had a warrant out for his own arrest, and a few very satisfied bridesmaids.

At Terminus the Hodags would often dominate pool play, dominate the party, then make a quick and deserved exit in quarterfinals Sunday morning, usually with several players groaning in blankets from the sideline. I was at a tourney party at a hotel sharing space with a Bar Mitzvah when some Metro East team performed back-to-back landsharks and land-porpoises(do this year's freshmen even know what that is?). As I mingled near the lobby, police shuttering the doors and herding everyone to their rooms, a group of 12 year old girls commiserated on a couch.

"I saw it! It was this big!" Giggles.

"Ewwwww!" It wasn't hard to guess what they were talking about.

Now, college natties doesn't even have a tourney party, having supplanted it with the All-Star game that, with my participation in it this year, must have lost some stock. Some people stay and mingle, waiting for the Callahan ceremony. Most do not; there's no free booze any more. The liability is too great, the stakes too high.

Unlike other major sports, there is no distinction currently between teams that are playing socially and those playing with title aspirations. Thus the Hodags romp through their section wearing outlandish costumes and child-sized football helmets and still shut out most teams they play. Little Jimmy SmallU pays their UPA dues so they can go to sectionals, play three games, and get waxed by teams that actually practice. In return they get a magazine that's two months outdated and increasingly irrelevant in the surge of blogs about the sport, thanks for your dues and you're welcome. Most probably don't give a shit who wins nationals; their play is an extension of hanging out on campus, relaxing and throwing the fris' around.

Thing is, for all the gigantic growth the college division has had in the 10 seasons that have passed since I played my first, most of the growth has come in the form of teams run by Jimmy SmallU and Sarah Liberal-Arts, tiny teams consisting of people that got exposure to Ultimate through the UPA's extensive juniors efforts but having no real desire to commit the whole of their college experience to this sport. They like to play, but they also like to do other things, too (near blasphemy for players from 'programs'). But with the diminishing parties at tournaments, one of their main draws, what is the UPA providing for them?

A splinter cell is coming. Tiered playing levels are an inevitability, and if they're not - for the future of the UPA - they had better be. You can't offer the same product to two wholly different groups and expect them both to be satisfied. And there are people and groups that would more than love to capitalize on that discrepancy, looking for ways to fill the niche. You need to market to both groups with different strategies or risk alienating everyone by trying to water down to the middle.

I wonder, how long before college ultimate supports a full season, with games that carry meaning and consequence, leading up to a championship between everyone who has struggled for an entire school year to be the best? And when will the the bawdy hedonism of yesteryear's ultimate parties find a comfortable in-season home for those teams that pick up a disc primarily so they can drink from it and be merry?

Of course, tournaments like Potlatch, Mars and Poultry Days will always be about the social aspect of our sport, about building community and fucking good players in their tents and getting housed on box wine and Sparks (but even now, it seems like these bastions of play-to-party have gotten out of hand, with rampant vandalism and reduced sizes due to fights and defecation on public land). But the phylogenetic tree is branching, and serious college athletes are heading down a very different path from the pure social lepidoptera, each group wanting very different things. If their divergent needs aren't met however, the only group facing extinction will be the UPA.

Let's hope they evolve.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A new feature to the blog debating issues of the day. Like Tucker Carlson vs. Paul Begala, but without all the douchiness. Various names for this recurring feature were thrown about, but Contested Picks, dubbed by one C. Matthews, was the clear winner.

Match Play

In today's player-funded traveling, heading off across the country to for a weekend packed with matches makes the most economic sense. It's best to maximize your dollar and get as much playing as you can. But the attrition of seven full games over two days is heavy, and teams naturally have adapted to surviving this ecology. Yet I see a future where teams abound, travel fees are non-existent, and the sport settles into a format that will showcase its speed, strength, and athleticism for player and spectator alike. The future of Ultimate competition is match play, a singular evening game under lights against two ready rivals.

Free from the constraints of a physically punishing weekend of play, teams will be able to scale their rosters back significantly, winnowing the chaff that settles into the bottom of even the most elite teams. Smaller rosters will elevate the ceiling in the game between the best teams, and schools will be able to pull from talented farm teams as well as differentiate between those that want to play Ultimate for the competition and those that play for its social benefits, increasing the number of teams and assuring there is a level of play that's just right for everyone, the Goldilocks Principle.

With only one game to worry about, a premium will be placed on explosive athleticism rather than a slower-paced marathon mentality. Without having to save yourself for future games, the pared-down rosters will brim with Beau-esque cutters commanding Parker-quality throws.

The logistical advantages for televising a single game compared to a weekend tournament are obvious. With schedules known in advance and only one field to set up, camera crews can plan their coverage accordingly, picking the most consequential or storied match-ups, the games people want to see. And rather than wondering what will happen if two teams meet, we can discuss it with certainty, making writing about the sport so easy even Match Diesel might get some things right.

Another benefit of match play comes from the logistics of cancellations due to weather. The damage to fields will be mitigated with only one field in use, and in the extreme case of a cancellation, only two teams are affected, rather than 20-30. Destroying field space becomes a smaller issue, as does the danger of heat exhaustion.

With only one game to focus on, every match carries significance, every match-up matters. Smaller rosters lead to great familiarization between the top players, and offenses and defenses will have to elevate with more comprehensive scouting reports.

There's much to do yet, and more evolution before we reach this level, but as Ultimate gains players and popularity, the future of match play in our sport is not a question of if, but when.

Tournament Play

Since the nation-wide expansion of Ultimate in the 1970s & '80s, our sport's venue for competition has largely been one of convenience. There simply aren't enough teams of comparable caliber within driving distance to merit match-play, and even if we move towards that format, tournaments will always have a place in the sport. The weekend-long tournament offers a temporary (if artificial) community of teams isolated to one field site, and the economies of scale lend themselves to this concentration of resources.

Hector argues that known variables like specific match-ups will allow better preparation, media, and televising, but the world is rife with sports that use tournaments as their competitions. Golf, soccer, and tennis are all extremely successful spectator and broadcast sports that feature multiple venues during the tournament and an unknown match-up in the final round. Yet this has not precluded media coverage, ticket sales, or Nielsen ratings bonanzas. NCAA basketball, perhaps the single best-known sports tournament in the U.S., capitalizes on these unknown variables as publicity ploys. Everyone watches because anything can happen.

This festival atmosphere also leads to an exciting spectator experience. As in golf, you do have to pick your athletes to watch, which sometimes means painful choices, but I think fans would rather have a choice at all than be bound to watch one game only.

For the near term, tournaments also offer the best venue for sponsorship. With our nonexistent attendance and respectable participation numbers, we should be looking to increase, not decrease, the exposure a sponsor receives. Bigger events, with more teams from more parts of the country, still beckon bigger sponsorship. Until a majority of the audience is comprised of non-players we'll want to maximize participation.

The most likely scenario I see unfolding is a match-play regular season followed by a culminating tournament. Several high-school leagues use this model and it works well. Teams know that their individual games count but they are working towards a championship. A single game can be taken care of in one night, which is easy, but I would hope that championship events will still arrive in tournament format. Besting multiple teams in variable conditions is a better test of who is champion. Baseball, basketball, and hockey use multi-game formats to determine championships; Ultimate hasn't been different and it won't be down the line.

And even if the day comes when competition is dominated by match-play, tournaments aren't going anywhere. I look forward to a future where the next generation attends Potlatch and Poultry Days, celebrating the often and newly lamented social aspect of the sport. As we accelerate towards showcasing the sport's athleticism and finesse — necessary and welcome steps I will embrace — no one will forget the joy of summer tournaments, where revelry replaces stat-keeping and tents replace Holiday Inns.