October 29, 2009
They bring their cleats to practice each weekday afternoon, ready to play lock-down defense and score on offense. The intensity level picks up on weekends, when they travel to play rivals from other schools.
But there are no referees in this game, as players call their own fouls. And there is no membership in the NCAA, although sometimes it feels like a varsity sport.
Welcome to the world of Ultimate Frisbee, in which players mix their guiding principle—"spirit of the game"—with a healthy dose of intensity to produce fast-paced, sportsmanlike competition.
The Ultimate Frisbee club at Franklin & Marshall has become a fixture on the edge of campus each afternoon, next to the tennis courts in Buchanan Park. The men's and women's teams always welcome new players, and no past experience is necessary.
This fall marks the 10th anniversary of the Franklin & Marshall tournament, which was postponed due to the rain on Homecoming weekend (a makeup date is still being finalized). This semester is the more laid-back portion of the schedule, before the teams prepare to compete in the Ultimate Players Association College Series, the sport's version of the NCAA championship.
"In the fall, our goals are to teach people how to throw, how to play defense and how to play offense," says Sam Kates '10, president of the men's team, Deep Blue.
The Ultimate players are a close bunch, on and off the field. "We have a great team dynamic, and our practices are totally player-driven," says Julia Mitchell '10, president of the women's team, Code Blue. "We're really close because we spend so much time together."
Ben Scharadin '10, a captain for Deep Blue, agrees. "You end up having the same schedule, living with the same people, eating lunch with the same people," he says. "I studied abroad in New Zealand, and it was the same there. It's unique to the sport, not just at F&M. To play Ultimate, you need a certain personality. You'll continue to play with your friends after you graduate."
More women have taken up the sport in recent years. Jennifer Everhart '11, a captain for Code Blue, has noticed the trend. "You can definitely see it's picking up in popularity," she says. "There are a couple of women in my class, but we had 11 new women last year, and nine this year."
In the spring of 2008, both the men's and women's teams qualified for the national finals in Versailles, Ohio. Other memorable moments include the Bucknell game, when the underdog Deep Blue team took its opponent to "universe point" (a 12-12 tie) before falling. And then there was the frigid, 30-degree game on Long Island. And the freak snowstorm during a coed tournament at Dickinson.
Through it all, the players exude the "spirit of the game," the written code of Ultimate. It encourages highly competitive play, but never at the expense of mutual respect.
In a distinctive tradition, teams present spirit awards at tournaments. The awards could be anything—stuffed animals, pitchforks or a likeness of Mickey Mouse.
"One award was a rubber playground ball with Thomas the Tank Engine on it," Mitchell says. "These things are sacred."