Wednesday, February 18, 2009
It's now been a complete decade that I have defined myself as an ultimate player first and student/teacher/writer/freestyler/etc. further down. A quick glance at most of the pictures I'm tagged in on Facebook will show me either playing Ultimate, or laughing and enjoying my life with teammates and opponents who do. Yet once again, like last year, I find myself at a crossroads: play this coming season, or put competitive ultimate on hold indefinitely. It moves beyond a decision to play a silly game; when I wrestle with what to do the problem becomes an existential one.
The thing about competitive Ultimate - the beautiful and damning thing - is that it's so consuming. You can't do it successfully if you give an equivocating commitment, that road is littered with the mangled corpses of wasted seasons, where neither team nor player got much of anything out of it. Plus, I'm not one to do something like this half-assed.
So again the dilemma, to play or not to play. Last year, as I considered taking some time off, the allure of playing a swan-song season with old college teammates before their dispersal proved too difficult to pass up. If you know Andrew Brown intimately, you'd understand, and admit I made the right decision. But as I've mentioned before, Sub Zero's Madison substrate is dissolving, and even Madison Club will suffer the loss of a few of their prime players. Staying at home and helping build this team would be a labor of love that would require a role and level of leadership from me that I'm not entirely sure I can give or afford, and I'm mindful of that.
But how fun our sport, how great this community! If you're in college right now, maybe you can't quite appreciate its true pleasure. In college you've got a reset button every 16 weeks that brings with it a whole new crop of potential friends and activities, but in the working world, new people in your life are hard to come by and breaking into a social circle is a conscious and concerned effort. If you don't get along with your coworkers, your life will center around a very small nucleus of people. And that's not a bad thing, by any means.
But to play on a competitive club team is to have an entire family you can lean on in your life, and if you live far from your real family their support can't be overstated. When I moved to Boulder I had recently broken up with the girl I was supposedly moving for. I felt disoriented, at best (teammates can enumerate stories of my despondence from that year's Solstice). But I arrived to Bravo, and with my membership into that club came a home, job, friends, and future love interests all prepackaged for me to open at my discretion. It made the move effortless, and it made my move away heartbreaking.
And so my dilemma. Fuck if playing competitive club Ultimate isn't expensive, and tiring, and time consuming. It's a resource sinkhole. But all the intangible things it gives in return! When I coached at Fairview High, and the B team here, and this year with the n00bs on the Hodags, I always reiterated a mantra that I firmly believe, and that lies at the heart of my decision to play each year: this sport will take a lot of your time and dedication, but it will give back to you everything you put into it and more, in immediately tangible ways and in some you won't appreciate until years after you've bronzed your cleats.
Because for those in this bubble community, they give everything to the others inside. But for the uninitiated, that have never played, it's impossible to explain the gravitational weight of this sport and your team. Those on the outside are forever trying to clear the condensation of their normal life off the glass so they can peer into the world we have built and inhabit.
They will occasionally catch a glimpse, a foggy notion of why we play. You return from a tourney breathless with stories for your friends. You'll passionately explain to your boss why you absolutely cannot make that meeting at the end of October. Or you'll visit the hometown, and come home from an alumni game with sloppy shirt and grin, and your parents will see it in your eyes. For a moment, for me at least, you'll look happy. Content. Satisfied. And in that moment, fleeting as it is, both you and your parents believe it.