Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Yesterday the Hodags swarmed the McClain Center for our final cleated practice before A Florida Warm-Up.I had spent the previous three hours in the library of my high school beginning the 3-part mediation between two rival gangs, represented by students at my high school and another in the city, in an effort between the school, the police department's anti-gang unit, and neighborhood intervention groups, to squash the beef between them. Tempers between the two gangs had flared earlier last year, culminating in the murder of a former student from here as he relaxed during a smoke break outside his workplace. Now, the police were seeing the same level of activity they'd noticed before that murder, and little fights and shit-talking were escalating just as they had then, and the three nights of talks are efforts by a wide range of concerned adults to broker a loose truce before things again get out of hand.

These were the thoughts in my mind as I drove downtown toward practice, and they were locked in step with me during my warm-up jog around the Shell's 200m indoor track.One of the blessings of a positive, high-energy activity like Ultimate (or any sport, for that matter) is its ability to clear your mind of things otherwise too heavy to shake before bed. After two miles of jogging, my mind, like a stiff and sore hamstring, finally released and the endorphins put me back where I wanted to be, excited and anxious as we prepared for the season's first tourney.

The focus was squarely where it needs to be for a team locked indoors during the harshness of winter: throws and touches. We approached the first half of practice they way we will our Friday morning warm-up, building speed, intensity, and demand of skill throughout the drills we executed. Although the winter months can sometimes lead to indoor fatigue, and sloppy and distracted play, the team knows that each minute in McClain is precious, and veterans kept the pace flowing. Although our ability to account for wind indoors, where every throw is unadultered, is next to impossible, by emphasizing crisp throws and sure hands we're able to at least prepare our minds and hands for the speed of the game.

And the best part is that this team has speed in spades. We're fast. That extra gear was on display as we moved to the second half of practice, which consisted of scrimmaging between the offensive squad and our defense. Although we looked a bit rusty at times, everyone approached each point as an opportunity to win their match-up, and our defensive aggression shone through. Colin Camp set the tone early with a full layout D on a huck that reminded me of Charles Woodson's diving effort that cost him his left collarbone in the Super Bowl. Colin paid only with some skin off his knee, and the team responded to his example. Although only a sophomore, Colin is already showing national-level superstar caliber, and it's these little inspiring plays like his that this team rides and requires for momentum.

Faces were exhausted and layers of jerseys soaked in sweat when 12:15am arrived, but everyone felt better about our readiness going into this weekend. We're going to be rusty, and our throws in wind will feel like we're learning to walk all over again, but our team is athletic and more importantly, determined. Can't wait.

For a nice study in contrast, take a look at today's weather in Madison, WI vs. Tampa Bay, FL.