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May 9, 2013

Hedonism Bots, Junk, and Supersnatch: This is Chicago Ultimate

Springtime here looks almost normal, from the pale, sun-deprived calves coming out of their long hibernation to first-years reading Marx on the quads, those ubiquitous salmon-colored shorts, and, of course, the discs soaring through the air wherever there’s grass. Frisbee is uniquely collegiate, and UChicago’s Ultimate team stands out as being particularly ingrained in our culture. Chances are, if you’ve left your dorm-cave, you’ve been served Ex Libris coffee by a team member, romped at the Jericho (the apartment where several players live), or maybe even caught one of their passes in an intramural or pick-up game.

Every year, the men’s team, usually 50 or so students strong, starts fresh with tryouts that span the entire fall quarter, where students new to the sport and veterans alike train together. After a couple of tune-ups in the fall, the squad splits into the more competitive A-team, which goes by Junk, and the no-cut B-team, Hedonism Bots. The women’s team, Supersnatch, usually travels to the same tournaments, but organizes and trains separately from the men’s club.

The core group commits at least a dozen hours a week to the team, between its practices at Washington Park and workouts on campus, and for most of them, their experience on the team is a huge part of their experience at the school.

“Between the Frisbee team and Ex Libris, I don’t need any other extracurriculars to fill my time,” third-year Jason Aerni said. “The team also forms a pretty tight-knit group off the field. We say that your teammates should be your best friends, which is kind of a joke and kind of true.”

“Many of my closest friends are people that I’ve played with or met through the UChicago Frisbee team,” said Andrew Malone, the B-team’s coach and a graduate student in the geophysical sciences.

“The team is a bunch of fun, loving guys,” said Daniel Shear, a second-year on Junk.

A big part of that bonding is the time the team spends traveling together. To get away from Chicago weather, the team travels to the Stanford Open every year in February, and this year, most of the players spent their spring breaks at a pair of tournaments in Georgia and Kentucky. The squad competes against schools ranging from traditional rivals like Northwestern, who they played three times this year, to larger schools like Michigan State.

College Ultimate is unique in that it’s primarily tournament-based; instead of playing a couple of games a week, competition means traveling to a multi-day tournament to play up to seven games. The community also tends to be a bit ridiculous—one annual fall tournament is called No Wisconsequences—and UChicago’s club is no exception. “We’re silly,” Aerni said. “We come from all different parts of the school, and it’s a release for us; it’s just what we like doing.”

Similarly, Ultimate is perhaps more relaxed than the more established Big Four sports – one of its tropes is the so-called “spirit of the game,” where players call their own fouls—which is one of the reasons why students who played other team sports in high school often seek out Frisbee as a change of pace that can still satisfy their competitive streaks.

“We work hard on the field, but we’re quick to recognize that it’s just a sport, and a generally laid back one at that; if someone messes up on the field, they’ll likely get heckled, but never chewed out,” said second-year Ziv Dreyfuss, the B-team’s captain. “It’s a nice balance of seriousness and shenanigans.”

“There’s less pressure than a varsity sport,” Aerni said, “but the guys still compete at a high athletic level. We’re all competitors.”

Another reason is simply the play in general, which combines the endless sprinting of a sport like soccer with the unique trajectory of the flying disc. “Ultimate is great because of the Frisbee,” Dreyfuss said. “Nice throws are beautiful.”

It may be associated mostly with college, but Ultimate is growing in America in general. The American Ultimate Disc League, a professional, salaried league, started up in 2012, and Chicago has a huge club scene that several players participate in during the summer. Beyond that, the sport is beginning to be offered more seriously in high schools. Before this year, only two players on the team had high school experience, while five first-years that came out for the team in the fall had already played competitively.

That group of first-years is part of the team’s improvement from last year, and one of the reasons why they’re setting high expectations for next year. After finishing last in 2012’s Regionals, Junk improved to seventh out of 16 teams this year, and went 20–12 over five tournaments in spring season. Likewise, the B-team bounced back from a one-victory season last year to a second-place finish at Developmental Regionals, and a “Chumpionship” win at a tournament hosted by Earlham.

“The core of the team is pretty young, mostly first-, second-, and third-years,” Aerni said. “We have some guys who are pretty poised to step up. Seventh place is solid, but we’re aiming higher.”

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