Saturday, December 03, 2016

The online tempest over the Packers halftime exhibition between Radicals and a ragtag group of college guys (comprised of Hodags plus a few other ballers we're friends with) was surprising and it caught me off guard, but that's really on me. When Avery first told me that the Packers had contacted him and we were thinking of which Hodags we should send to the game, I got caught up in the moment of it, as I would have done during my days in cleats and baby blue. Were I to be one of the players going to throw breaks and score goals on Lambeau's pitch, I would have been ecstatic. Had I read on RSD (or Idris' blog roundup, to date myself) about another team going to play, my excitement wouldn't have been much less diminished.

So when Avery told me, I was fired up. What a sweet experience! For those within, at least - those without saw not what was offered but what wasn't, and the discourse (to use the term extremely loosely) since then has been a battleground centered around who got invited, who didn't, and why.

The commentary in these kinds of conversations about equity will often revolve around systemic racism, systemic sexism, systemic what-have-you. The use of systemic here isn't an indictment (although those that disagree it's a factor personally take it as one), it's a descriptor, and of course gender inequity and current cultural norms are a factor. What systemic here represents is a sum, the addition of myriad tiny decisions that lead to very real outcomes, whether intended or not.

The systemic outcome here is that ten dudes, five of which I coach, will play ten other dudes for ten minutes in front of a crowd of 80,000, and that during the planning stages of this event we did not think to invite Bella or Heist or any other women's team to be a part of those twenty people.

What often gets lost in the online discourse are the little moments and decision that led us to the sum total, and result in all these commentators taking Avery to task and/or assuring us that, in his shoes, they totally would have played it differently.

So how did it happen? Why didn't we think to invite Bella to a fantastic event with massive exposure? I alluded to the answer in my initial tweet about this whole thing as the furor started: it happened little by little, as the distance between the Hodags and Bella grew. We used to have practice side-by-side year round, indoor and out; now we have separate indoor nights and practice on opposite days in the spring. We used to travel to every tournament together; today the existing elite tournament structure has us rarely attending tourneys together during the season. The halcyon days of inter-team romance and hook-ups ensured that the teams were quite literally joined at the hips; there are no Hodag-Bella couples right now. The distance between the two team has never been greater, and we don't talk or think about how the other is doing very regularly. I'm not forging new ground here in typing that, when presented with an opportunity to invite someone, you think first of those you spend time with, and not those you don't. Of course. When you don't interact with people you begin to think of them less and less.

And I should have expected the online reaction, just as most everyone should have expected the invites to fall where they did. The distance between the two furthest Ultimate players is increasing, and the dialogue between those of us who disagree with each other is thinning. That Opi, one of the luminaries of our game right now and someone I admire greatly, would disavow her laudable work with E.R.I.C. on the basis of a five-word FB post from the non-profit's founder, shows me that not even the best among us is immune. It's far easier for us to not interact with "them". Disgust is effortless then.

I'm not here to tell anyone with whom they're allowed to be angry - it's your right, and the online world has gifted us with an unending supply of ways to tell people we disagree with to fuck off. But Big Picture consequences come from the sum of Little Picture decisions, and everyone collectively deciding that those we disagree with aren't worth our time, or are racists, or misogynists, or deplorable, or not as woke as we are - well, that tends to undermine the pride we feel in our Spirit of the Game, in self-officiation, in the notion that we are as open and inclusive as we all agree we are. How can we claim to be a sport that purports to teach how to resolve disputes through civility and conversation when we don't reflect that in our personal lives?

Tomorrow some dudes are going to play Ultimate in front of a large crowd at the halftime of an NFL game, and for those participating, I couldn't be happier or more excited. And because it's such a wonderful opportunity I understand how disappointed Bella feels in not being taken into account. Moving forward, one path might lead back online, where we'll be free to talk past each other and misconstrue arguments to our advantage and villainize each other while doing some feel-good virtue signaling. There is perhaps another path, in remembering that the personal is political. We can reach out to Bella and spend time together. We can organize and volunteer at community service events, together. We can exist in the intimacy of each other's social lives so that we're always reminded of the interconnection of our fates. We can be political by being personal with each other.

I have a little Hispanic daughter, so the issues of racism, sexism and discrimination are very near and personal to me. The demands on my time with her mean that I won't be able to directly take part in whatever Bella and the Hodags do going forward from here, but I know my players, and trust them fully as great, decent and thoughtful people, and can extrapolate that out to our female counterparts, so I have faith that they'll work it out. And as concerned as I am about the aforementioned issues, I am concerned more about our desire to push others away, to live in smaller and smaller bubbles of thought, to dismiss and belittle those we disagree with. We cannot cure any of our social ills if we continue our retreat to the comfort of the familiar.

I'm immensely proud of Avery and love him like a brother and like a son, and see no fault in how he handled all of this as it was placed on his lap. I'm excited to watch the Periscoped halftime show tomorrow and watch my friends play on a field they've seen on TV their whole lives, and to listen to their stories when they return. And I'm looking forward to what the two teams do going forward, and trust they'll build deeper connections between themselves.

I am excited for the future.


Friday, October 16, 2015


The ultimate community is pretty cool.  At tournaments, I regularly meet new people and rekindle long-lost friendships from teams and years past.  While names sometimes escape me, the familiar faces and shared experiences do not.  It's one of my favorite parts of ultimate - mingling with teammates and friends from cities long removed when we meet on the cross-roads of the triple crown tour, fun tournaments or just plain summer/winter league.

As someone who is entrenched in the ultimate scene, I find myself transitioning into my fourth such community.  Madison is my first, Minneapolis for a minute, Boston had a nice run and now Texas I call home.  The part I find interesting is how these groups are so distinctly different and unique from each other.  The major differences are obvious - like winter league replacing summer league and the regional bias of each area.  But the subtle differences are the ones I focus on - like the college pipelines and reset systems of each offense.  Each niche has it's own style, leadership agenda and culture - all similar in some ways, but distinct in their own.  Some teams rely on the track - some teams rely on field time together and some teams rely on partying Friday nights.

This will be my 15th year of throwing plastic around, but I'm keenly more aware that the more ultimate I see, the more I notice what each group is missing from the others.  Most habits are hard to break and this will be my fourth tour of adjusting to the status quo and trying to fit in.  Most communities acknowledge that despite my best efforts, I don't always mesh into the way things run around here.  For me to buy in, I need to understand why.  Not just - this is always how we do it, but the more pressing question - why do we do it this way?  Until this question is sufficiently answered and embedded into my thinking - I naturally resist it - like a haphazard method for solving a jig-saw puzzle.  If I can't see the logic and purpose behind it - I wonder why the hell do it like that at all.  This is not to say that I categorically resist new ways of getting things done, but that I need to see the implied benefits of doing things this way.  The most common answer for why do it like this?  Tradition - that's how the college or club teams in the area prior to us did it - and that's how we will continue to do it.  Needless to say, I'm searching for "best practices" not outdated prehistoric nonsense someone came up with on a napkin 25 years ago.  But usually after enough persuasion and coercion, I come around to doing it the same as everybody else in the neighborhood.  Mostly because, that's the bus we are all riding, so I might as well get on board, even if this bus hits lots of bumps and can't make sharp left turns.  Usually, I find that each system has it's pros and cons and that if everyone buys in - most any system can run efficiently.  

But what am I really talking about here?  The horizontal, the vertical, split stack, side stack or just the reset system?  The manner in which offenses swirl?  The angles of attack downfield? Or maybe the cohesion of everyone working together seamlessly for the best outcome.  But who is overseeing the process?  The captains, the coaches, the leaders calling the sets and plays on the line?  Who is really in control of what?  Hundreds of decisions are made each point and it only takes a single error from one person to make a big mess.  

I think I've taken for granted how much individual sacrifice it takes to be in a winning team.  The play you want to make versus the "best" play for the team at the moment.  Moving the disc early for no gain versus holding the disc for an option that can break the defense wide open.  It's a delicate balance and feelings get hurt.  If trust is not quickly developed, it might never come to fruition.  Trust - both on and off the field.  Can I make this throw as you plant to cut?  Or will I be fooled by the double-move as well?  Can I lead a receiver to space, if he is expecting it at his chest?  And once the questioning begins, there is no stopping it.  Instincts are bludgeoned and hesitation takes over.  Now I begin to doubt the simplest of decisions and soon I begin to press - searching for signals and making decisions based on feeling.  

Every team is different, from the players to the culture to the leadership to the systems to the warm-ups and cool-downs.  Do you adapt quickly or go rogue?  Do you trust the players and captains in power?  They have to live with their decisions, but so do you.  And when things go sour down the stretch, frustration mounts and disgust boils over.  Suddenly, I'm just along for the ride on this bus, hitting bumps and making three right turns to go left.  

Wednesday, January 07, 2015



I regard myself as perpetually lucky.  Starting with #13, I consider myself superstitious to a fault.  In any competition, I believe I will win.  I've always thought this way.

So on my birthday this year, I decided to sneak in a lift.  I usually do my best not to make a big deal out of special occasions - shying away from attention.  But as I swiped my card into the fitness center, the 19 year old attendant, who rarely ever looks up, suddenly snarks, "Happy Birthday."

It caught me by surprise, as I had know idea my information was even visible before the gate sprang open.  I smiled and mumbled "Thanks," feeling bashful like he caught me doing something wrong.  Immediately I had a bad feeling.  I tried to shake it off and went HAM on my routine, crushing my last sets of hang cleans at 190x5 and 200x5, with half the gym watching.  I grabbed some beer with a buddy and headed home, only to realize something was wrong.  My foot kinda hurt.  Nothing serious, just a very small ache, exactly where I had broken my foot 3x before.  This had me in a tussle for about a week, before I was able to regain confidence in the 4 inch drywall screw holding my 5th metatarsal in place.

But that was only the half of the problem.  As my foot discomfort faded, I realized I had a more urgent problem in my hand.  Injuries accrue every season, but my middle finger wasn't feeling right.  From a dull ache to a shooting pain, the discomfort was increasing with my workload.  I started icing on the way to work, but found it much more difficult to ice while typing.  Soon, I couldn't throw a flick without pain.  Suddenly, everything I had worked so hard to gain was gone.  It was like starting over - nothing tangible to show despite all the work.  I finally realized that my game was entirely dependent on my big throws.  I was lost in the world.  Frustration and disappointment overwhelmed me in the coming weeks.  I couldn't contribute in my normal capacity.  Suddenly, I was mortal.

Before long, I was throwing just backhands.  Breaks, unders and swings, but all backhands.  Occasionally, I would summon the courage to shoot a midrange huck, but it wasn't the same.  The deep cuts stopped materializing; regardless, it was just pump fakes now anyway.  The situation culminated Sunday of Regionals.  My playing time faded and I watched helplessly was Ironside fell to Goat in finals and edged Pony in the backdoor.  I had nothing to contribute that day and it ate me up inside.

It made me realize that I had to change and adapt if I wanted to factor in down the stretch.  I became a game manager instead of a franchise quarterback.  So, I made strides in other departments, like cutting deep and fighting for resets just to throw the swing pass.  I turned up my defensive pressure, locked down on my man and stopped poaching entirely.  Ironside struggled to convert breaks in semifinals of Nationals against Sockeye and we lost on universe point.  I played hard that game, but couldn't make any difference.

When the off-season began, I focused on leg strength and hand rest.  I took roughly 7 months off before slowly increased my throwing regimen.  The cause of this injury?  Trying to throw 80 yard hammers on the turf with my college kids.  For some reason, I wanted 80 yards in all every capacity - flick, backhand, hammer.  If memory serves me, I maxed out at 72 yards in the moment of injury, partially tearing the collateral ligament of my right middle finger.

Despite the disappointing finish to the season, I learned that I needed to develop other parts of my game if I wanted to become a complete player.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

~July 2013

Almost everyday after work, I grab my wireless headphones and begin my trek to the gym.  Up the hill, I blast my best pump-up songs and explode through my lifting sessions with bass-pounding enthusiasm.  Then, I made the mistake of wearing them during a murderball throwing session in a moderate rain and ever since, the volume "up" button has stopped working.  To my horror, I realized that once I volumed "down" -- there was no going back up.  For weeks, my workouts dragged, especially when I needed Lil Wayne's Beast Mode the most.  But today, as I was contemplating how much weight to add to the bar, a miracle occurred.

My headphones sprang back to life, volume increasing a notch every second as the beat took hold of me.  It was a sign from above -- better put on the big plates.  I had no excuse anymore, I had to go hard.  With the bass reverberating through my soul, I stared into the mirror - readying myself for action.  I have a tried-and-true habit of imagining a rival competitor, just before the moment of truth.  Without fail, my instincts kick in and adrenaline surges - this is the person who wants a piece of me.  This is the person who wants to take me down and beat me to the punch.  As I open my eyes and snap back to reality, the emotional response has taken hold and is screaming KILLMODE.  Half the battle is done, as my body is now primed for athletic explosion.  The reps and sets merge into sweat and grunts, my best effort, all thanks to my wireless headphones. 

But as the years wear on -- this rival competitor morphs from opponent season to season -- from the most important game to the individual match-up.  I've literally been training against the mental image of my strongest competition since elementary school.  It comes naturally to me - especially when I'm weary of the task/lift before me and need some motivation.  Just the thought of losing to Brodie pushed my dead lift over 385. 

So today, as I stared into the mirror, I realized two extraordinary things.  For one, when comparing myself to the best in the game, I don't need to look far.  The 4 USA World's teams went undefeated in dominant fashion just last week -- so the competition is there to behold.  As I started thinking of the national team, seeking a rival, it became clear.  The players who motivate me the most -- are the ones on my very team.

I say nonchalantly that I played with my captains Matt Rebholz and Jimmy Foster at Wisconsin all the time.  But to be honest, we never played together because they played offense and I played defense.  The real answer was -- that I matched up against them every single practice for 4-5 years with the Hodags, but we rarely actually played "together."  It was a completely different way to think of "teammates."

Suddenly, I knew who I was imaging as my rival competitor.  It was Stubbs - someone I see in practice, at workouts, in the gym, all the time for the last four years.  I wasn't imagining Sockeye, Chain Lightning, Revolver or Doublewide - I was imaging Ironside's offense as my competition - because for the majority of the season -- those are the players I'm battling day-in-day-out.  

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

From Dan Heijmen ('03-'07, Callahan '07). He wanted me to pass this along to the CUT world at large.

From the first day of my first tryout I heard about CUT. It was the Fall of 2002 and the Hodags had come off their most successful season in their history: losing in National Finals to Stanford (a bitter pill) but more importantly, beating CUT in Regional Finals for the first time in over a decade. The Hodags went on to back up that win in National Semis, beating Carleton again and cementing Wisconsin as a national power.

This would have never happened without CUT.

If you’re a Hodag, there is no bigger game than Regional Finals, and no bigger rival than Carleton. At Wisconsin, scrimmages are held where both teams are told to play like CUT, and the week leading up to Regionals is a mix of anxiety, intensity and sleepless nights. The faces of their studs pop up in your head during workouts and practices - obviously - but also when you least expect it:  daydreaming in class or when you’re trying to fall asleep.

You dream about getting that block or throwing that goal that will claim this year for the Hodags. Or worse, the nightmare of getting D’d, or giving up a break that loses the game. You know that CUT will demand your best, but that it might not be good enough to win.

In my 5 years playing for the Hodags I had a losing record against CUT at Regionals . My first year was a typical epic. Guys like Chase, Masulis, Phil, and Jimmy Chu from CUT going up against Tyler, Paradise, Brown, Tyson and Hector for Wisconsin. In all my years of sport I had never participated in such an incredible atmosphere of pure competition. And when it was over and we had lost, I watched as Tyler and Chase looked each other in the eye and embraced. They had each given their all against the man they’d been preparing for and training against all year. They had earned each other’s respect and admiration. They had pushed the other to new heights and brought their teammates along for the ride. Both teams gave their all, and CUT came out on top. We went on to win Nationals that year, but we had still lost to CUT.

As a Junior, playing in Carleton Stadium I suffered a compound fracture going up for a disc against a CUT opponent. I was rushed to Northfield Hospital and was in surgery while my team played and lost for the 3rd year in a row. CUT rushed the field and celebrated (or so I was told) another Central Region Crown while I was hooked up to a morphine drip and barely knew where I was. But when I woke up, who did I see come through the door but Chris Rupp, one of CUT’s captains. He wasn’t with his teammates, celebrating a Regional Championship, a trip to nationals, and a victory over his fiercest rival in his home stadium. He was at the hospital, visiting a guy he barely knew. At the time, I knew Chris only as an opponent. He was my year and the guy I measured myself against. I imagined the work he put in on the track or in the weight room and used it as my motivation during our latest, awful, gut-churning workout. That he came to see me said everything about his character and reflected everything that was good about CUT and our rivalry with them.

He kept the visit brief, saying how sorry he was and that he hoped I would heal up in time for Nationals, 5 weeks away. His visit meant the world to me, and deepened my respect for him and his team. But more than anything, it made me want to beat him even more. I wanted to show him my best. I respect the hell out of Chris Rupp and I wanted to prove that to  him by playing my balls off at Nationals.

We matched up in Pre-Quarters that year, knowing that because of the draw and tournament format, that there would be only 1 bid to Nationals from the Central Region the following season. Both teams fought hard, with alumni screaming on and tempers flaring up. I caught a 50/50 disc in the endzone with my good hand and spiked it down with my cast, the bones in my forearm being held together by 2 plates and 12 screws. My teammates swarmed me, ranting and rabid with joy. This was why I played. To compete against the best, and to lose myself in pure competition against a worthy opponent.

After that college season was over I decided - with a few other Wisconsin guys - to try out for Sub Zero, our chilly neighbors to the North. There was some definite tension in the air when I first got out of the car and put my cleats on. What was it going to be like to catch passes from CUTboys, instead of trying to D them? What about high-fiving after our scrimmage team scored?

The tension lasted for about 3 minutes. These were good players: fast, smart and hardworking. They were easy to play with and they were fun to play with. The guys on CUT moved the ball quickly and yelled a ton from the sideline. Sure, they were weird liberal arts kids and probably played a ton of Magic the Gathering, but that didn’t change the fact that they could ball. I credit my first season on Sub Zero with instilling in me the awareness that a strong, supportive and intelligent sideline was paramount towards building a winning program.

The Hodags were good at being loud. We were good at being crazy. We were good and jamming our bodies in a mob and screaming absurdities until we lost our voices. We were good at freaking out at all the right times. At that point, we weren’t great about constructive sideline communication. On Sub Zero, my CUT teammates made me a better player when I was on the field. They told me where the disc was on defense and when I was hot. They cheered for me when I denied my man an under and fired me up when my legs started to go. The feedback and insight I got when I came off the field helped me develop into a cerebral player, someone focused on the details while always remembering the big picture: every time you step on the field, get better.

The CUT influence on the Hodags cannot be overstated. Of course they pushed us to be our best. They forced us around the track for another 200 and told us we had another rep in us when it seemed we were spent. But we also borrowed and stole from them, unabashedly. They had good ideas, and we took them. And guess what, it worked.

The joke with CUT was that the team you saw during the regular season was not the team that showed up at Regionals. They’d come to Stanford or Centex in white, v-neck t-shirts they decorated themselves and go 4-2 or 3-3. Pretty underwhelming for a team with their talent. Their rookies would get a bunch of run and in general they seemed vaguely apathetic about winning. I think I’ve only lost once to Carleton in a non-Regional game. They had a plan, a trajectory for the season that said, early tournaments don’t matter, let’s improve and keep our eye on the prize.

At Regionals, everything was different. They had slick-looking jerseys and made their annual sacrifice to the Midwest weather gods. The rain fell and the wind blew hard, but CUT was fast; their throws were crisp and they were ready to win.

Winning Nationals will always be the highlight of my Ultimate career, but I’ve never been as happy on an Ultimate Field as when we finally beat CUT at Regionals. The weather was so horrible that the University of Iowa closed their fields. We played the game, Regional Finals, essentially squatting at a city park where the dandelions came halfway up our shin. The game could’ve been on the moon, it didn’t matter. To make the stakes even higher, our win over them at the previous year's prequarters meant that only one team was going to Natties. 2 teams enter, 1 team leaves.

The game had everything. Lead changes, amazing grabs, great blocks, upwind goals and a fair dose of controversy. The sidelines were packed and alumni were racing onto the field after scores as though they were playing in the game. When the dust settled, we had won by 3, scoring an upwind break to take the game 15-12. I was elated. I found my best friend and co-captain Tom Burkly and hugged him as though he just returned from war. “ I can’t believe we did it. “ he said, “I can’t believe we finally beat them.”

It was hard to imagine what the CUT players felt. We shook hands and hugged after the game, but something that year was different. We had ended their season. In other years, when we had lost, we still had nationals. We had beaten Iowa or someone else to make it to she show. Sure the loss hurt, but we had more to play. I realized that Nationals wouldn’t be the same without CUT there. It would be watered down, less intense and less vibrant without those crazy CUTboys.

I watched as the CUT players, friends, families embraced each other much the same way that we were. Obviously, there were more smiles on our sideline than theirs, but there was something almost uncanny in the similarity of each teams’ reaction. There was a realization that maybe this was it. This was the game, this was the opponent. This was why we played.

Many Hodags and CUTboys have chosen to mark their bodies with their team logo. Many haven’t. I got one and I see it every day. But even if I didn’t have it I would still remember. I remember my teammates. I remember the workouts and practices, the tournaments and games, the wins and losses. I remember what it feels like to be pushed to be your best, and I remember our rivals.

The CUT community lost 3 brothers on Friday and it sucks. It hurts and it doesn’t make sense. I didn’t know the players personally and haven’t overlapped with any college players for some time now. But I can picture them in my head. I can see their faces in teammates past and present. I imagine that they brought the same fire, smarts and relentless energy that’s become a defining characteristic of every CUTboy I’ve played with and against.

We, Wisconsin, mourn your loss. But we celebrate our rivalry and remember it every day.

Hodag Love to Cutboys everywhere.