July 28, 2008

The Ultimate summer sport

Making the grab

If either Boy in Black or Shaggy Hair Boy were asked to list the five items they absolutely can't leave home without, I have no doubt what the first item on the list would be: a disc. (Or what people my age call a frisbee.) In fact, on the trip we took last week, all of us crammed into a very small car, Boy in Black still packed a whole bag of discs. I don't think he'd even go to the grocery store without a disc. You never know when someone might want to throw around in the parking lot.

As far at my kids are concerned, all daylight hours should be spend a) "throwing around" to improve your skills or b) playing a game of Ultimate. For those of you who don't know the game of Ultimate, it's played on a field with roughly the same dimensions as a football field, with seven players on each team. The game looks a bit like soccer, except instead of kicking a ball from player to player, they throw the disc. And they can't move with the disc in their hand. It's a fast-moving, exciting game, with people running and diving to catch the disc.

When my kids were little, I didn't encourage them to play organized sports. I never cared for the way that adults would be in charge of the games, with grown-ups officiating and setting the rules, with parents pressuring kids to do well, with coaches encouraging macho behavior. Oh, I know not all teams do that kind of thing — I've had students who have had terrific experiences on sports teams — but I've always preferred disorganized sports like neighborhood pickup games or individual sports like snowboarding.

But Ultimate is a bit different. It's a self-officiated sport. The fourteen players on the field have to trust each other to make calls. There is no hierarchy, and no one is in charge, except the players themselves. I like that. It's a cheap game too — all you need is a stretch of lawn, a bunch of people, and a disc. Even a top-of-the-line "official" game disk costs only $10 and can be used for years. No other equipment is required, although it's nice if you can afford a pair of cleats. It's not a game that takes years to learn: a kid who hasn't played until his senior year in high school can easily catch up with his peers and do well on a college club team. It's a competitive sport in the sense that the teams play each other for points, but it's really common to hear both teams yelling compliments when a player on either team makes a good play. It's an easy game to like.

Almost every evening all summer long, Boy in Black and Shaggy Hair Boy have organized an Ultimate game, sending text messages by cell phone to their friends to let them know when and where the game will be played. Most of the time, they hold the games in the soccer field behind the old elementary school in Traintrack Village, less than a mile from our house. Boy in Black brings the supplies: orange cones for marking out the field, jugs of water and gatorade, and a bag full of discs. Shaggy Hair Boy brings a pile of white and black shirts, so that once they decide on teams, they can play Dark vs. White.

Sometimes, I play with them, especially when they've got an odd number of players and need someone to make even teams. I like hanging out with my kids and extras, no matter what they are doing, and I enjoy spending the evening running around the field or sitting in the shade of the tree where all of our stuff is piled. I can't really hold my own on the team — I am always the weakest player — but the kids shout encouraging stuff to me anyhow and keep asking me to play with them.

The kids who come to play are mostly high school or college-age guys; most are about a foot taller than me and in considerably better shape. I usually get asked to guard my daughter or With-a-Why. They both play far better than I can, but at least they are close to me in size. Well, at least for now. I suspect With-a-Why will be taller than me by the end of the summer. I keep asking all of our extras, "Can't you get one of your parents to play so I can get a more equal match-up?" but my wish for another middle-aged woman to play against has not yet been granted.

When I asked Boy in Black earlier this summer if he was going to do any volunteer work (he's got a full scholarship so he doesn't really need to work for money), he told me he wanted to concentrate on Ultimate. At first, I kind of rolled my eyes and thought, "Throwing around a frisbee? How is that contributing to the community?"

But I have to admit, as I am standing in the field, doing drills with Shaggy Hair or practicing my flick, and I watch teenagers arriving, talking to each other and hanging out on the grass as they wait for the game or grabbing discs to throw around, I can see that the games are, actually, something positive in our community. In a small town, there isn't much else for kids to do, and they could do far worse than spend hours running and jumping in a field, focusing on their skills, learning to cooperate with their team mates, and sitting on the lawn talking about their lives. In my eyes, organizing games that high school and college-age kids are willing to play with a 47-year-old mother has got to do something good for the community.

That's Pirate Boy in the photo.

14 comments:

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

Here in Bend the city proposed converting a certain park to a dog park. It's near the river, has a big grassy field, and you have to walk a ways from any parking so it's not as popular as some other parks. However ... it's perfect for Ultimate. There was such an uproar from the Ultimate community here that the city dropped the idea!

BlackenedBoy said...

Your children are pretty awesome. What are you going to do once they're all grown?

Pilgrim/Heretic said...

I saw a thing in the NYT a while ago about the correspondence between the presence of ultimate frisbee teams on campus and that campus's overall success rate (graduation rate, GRE scores, overall GPA, lower suicide rates, some combination of the above?) I don't remember exactly what the measure was, but overall it was definitely positive. Didn't surprise me at all - the combination of physical activity, inclusiveness, cooperation, and sheer fun can only be a good thing, especially for stressed-out grade-obsessed college students.

jo(e) said...

Pilgrim: That article is here.

Smart kids play Ultimate.

jo(e) said...

Blackened Boy: I do have great kids. Hopefully, I'll still be close to them when they are grown. And I'm hoping for some grandchildren eventually ....

susan said...

That is a cool photo, and an even cooler story.

concretegodmother said...

that's a great little article! i had no idea! i can't wait to share that with my students in september. maybe we can get something going on our high school campus! we could some boosting of the overall success rate!

YourFireAnt said...

OK. Come and get me and I'll play ultimate on your team.

FA

Gawdess said...

there is a frisbee golf course in my town, near the river valley, it is pretty cool - in that picture that kid is really catching some air, he actually doesn't really look all that out of place up there.

jo(e) said...

Fire Ant: Seriously? You so ought to come play with us.

Mary said...

There is a park near our house where we often see Ultimate Frisbee games on the weekends. It' so much fun just to watch, but I would love to play some time. Unfortunately, my two crappy knees would probably scream in horror. It's great that your kids ask you to play. BTW, LOVE the photo -- it's terrific!

readersguide said...

Yes.

bsouth said...

That's a fantastic picture. I love hearing about your children - it gives me hope for when mine (2 and 10 months) grow up! I'd love to come and play with you and the bonus for you is I'm so out of shape I'd make you look great!!

Singing Owl said...

Fun--and fantastic picture!