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The Americans Say Goodbye to Cape Town Ultimate

(Photo – Emily Barrett smiles before her exclusive interview with Cape Town Ultimate Blog)

“Are you going to South Africa, too?”

The first time I met Emily Barret, she had approached me at a party back in the states. We knew of each other since we both played Ultimate for Ithaca College, but never had exchanged conversation. Our friendship commenced with that one question, and we have never looked back.

Ever since then, Emily and I have bonded over three things: Ultimate Frisbee, Studying Abroad in South Africa, and playing Ultimate in South Africa with a completely new team. She shares my experience of being new to the team and finding the subtle nuances between Ultimate Frisbee in the States and in South Africa. Since I always comment on the differences, I figured I should give my readers a fresh new voice on the topic. I sat down with Emily for 45 minutes and recorded a bit of the interview (scroll all the way down to listen)

Emily’s Story 

Emily had always been an athlete. In high school, she captained both her lacrosse and soccer teams. She was well known for her strong voice on the sideline, encouraging comments, and a never-give-up attitude. Her first year of college found her playing for Ithaca College Women’s Lacrosse, although she admitted it wasn’t the same wonderful experience as high school: “It wasn’t the same… I felt like, for some reasons, I didn’t belong.”

After feeling lost, Emily’s roommate, Chloe Trifilio, introduced her to Ultimate Frisbee. Emily jokes, “[she] forced me to play.” At first, Emily was skeptical (as most are…), but she started to see the athletically demanding sport for what it really was, and easily drew parallels between soccer, lacrosse and other sports she was familiar with: “I fell in love with it right away.” Soon after joining, Emily was able to showcase her athleticism and quickly  became a force to be reckoned with. “She’s gotten better than me,” her roommate Chloe jokes.

Emily, now finishing her third year of college, and fellow student abroad, has experienced Ultimate in a whole new setting: South Africa.  And she has “loved every minute of it.”

Emily and I sat down together and made a list of the best parts of Ultimate Frisbee in South Africa. Thus, without and further ado, us Americans present:

The Top 3 Best Aspects of Ultimate Frisbee in South Africa 

(By Kevin Doubleday and Emily Barrett)

1. The People

It’s this inexplicable phenomenon: People that play Ultimate Frisbee are generally the nicest. We thought this may just be a Central NY phenomenon, or indicative of United States Ultimate Frisbee, but South Africa proves this to be a global truth. I remember the first week I arrived in Cape Town, Emily had an offer from Chilli Ultimate to play with them the same night that I had an offer from Ghost Ultimate to play as well. It was a hilarious coincidence when Emily and I both showed up at our first match in South Africa — to play against eachother.

Emily and I have both made new friends that we are thankful for — and some that we believe will last a lifetime. We owe our gratitude to the University of Cape Town Flying Tigers for embracing us — and for the rest of the league for being so welcoming during matches.

2. Nationals

Nationals, which was held this past weekend, April 29- March 2, “was insane,” as Emily  described it. We have never and never will have the opportunity to play in another Nationals Tournament — the US is far more competitive for our little Ithaca College team to make it past Regionals.

South African Nationals was an unforgettable experience, for a variety of reasons. For starters, we got to  meet and play against teams from everywhere in South Africa — Pretoria, Johannesburg, etc. The most incredible part of the tournament was beating the number one-seeded (Chilli) and making it to the finals of Nationals — first time in University of Cape Town’s history. Being a part of that history, and placing second in the nation with a very talented and supportive team was just incredible for the both of us.

3. Spirit of the Game 

As I mentioned in blog post about Sprit of the Game, sportsmanship is high and well-respected here. Since we are playing in an actual league — and not a college-v-college league — the higher competitive level gives much potential to pettiness and cheating, but integrity is strong in South Africa. Emily recounts the last game ended with words from the Long Donkeys: “It’s amazing to play against such a competitive team and still keep integrity. This is what Ultimate Frisbee is all about.”

Final Remarks 

Emily and I will be returning to the States in less than two months. We both return to Ithaca to become captains of our respective teams. Thank you, Cape Town, for teaching us that Ultimate Frisbee can be enjoyed anywhere and everywhere. Thank you, UCT Flying Tigers for welcoming us, challenging us and teaching us new techniques that we can bring back to our home teams.

Music rights granted by Almand Music

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On Ultimate and Diversity

The popular Urbandictionary.com defines Ultimate frisbee as “a traditionally-hippie sport, usually played on college campuses or in public parks, where mostly-white people run around and call for the frisbee (aka disc, aka bee) to try and score in an area similar to a football endzone.”

It’s true: Ultimate Frisbee’s story as a young sport began in Maplewood, New Jersey, a suburb of Essex County with a majority white population. And, when expanding, it seemed to attract mostly white kids (in my personal experience playing many tournaments at different colleges). Surely, I thought, I would see a different story when travelling to South Africa — wherein the black African population is noted at 79.2%. However, Ultimate here in Cape Town is just as predominantly white, although some of my newfound friends on my own team are not.

This is a timely discussion, as heated debates about race in other sports, such as rugby, have approached the public spotlight.

The statistics don’t match the spirit and core values of Ultimate frisbee.  Ultimate is known for its open community and mutual respect. So, where does the disparity come from? I’m not going to pretend to have the answer; that would be a simultaneous display of  ignorance and arrogance. However, I can (and will) speculate on the matter:

In South Africa, opportunity to do anything — even play Ultimate Frisbee, which only requires a R90 frisbee — is closely tied to economic freedom. Just as black athletes in the States generally pursue scholarships in the big three (Basketball, Football and Baseball), budding athletes in South Africa may rightly disregard Ultimate because it isn’t a profit-steering mechanism such as rugby, football, or cricket.

Second — and this is more of a general observation — Ultimate Frisbee still has an incredibly small presence in South Africa. As Thulie Tshama said in her exclusive interview last week: “It’s very difficult to convince more school administrators or leaders to introduce Ultimate into their schools, because some fear that we will take away from the bigger sports.”

Third, racism is very real and very prevalent — unfortunately in every country of the world. As we celebrate Freedom Day this very week– South Africa’s public holiday — we remember how just over 20 years ago blacks had no political power or mobility. And — in the context of Ultimate Frisbee — Ultimate was a completely white sport “back in the day.” The injustices of apartheid echo through today — and the social walls built up that divided groups’ social habits (e.g. Ultimate Frisbee) remain largely the same.

Is there anything being done to introduce Ultimate to these schools and to youth of all backgrounds? Yes, in fact. SHAWCO — a non-profit organisation dedicated to “addressing inequality through innovative and sustainable approaches to community engagement” has teamed up with UCT Ultimate to promote Ultimate Frisbee in Cape Town’s neighboring communities. This looks to me like the beginnings of a program much like The South End Ultimate Program — a successful outreach program based in Seattle Washington that focuses on  spreading ultimate and empowering women in particular. A few Saturdays a month, UCT students travel to a township and “spread the love of Ultimate,” in the words of Ella Alcock, a UCT student participant in the program and player.

Is this initiative enough? Only time will tell. It is my hope that Ultimate’s true nature of inclusion and respect will shine through in South Africa — and other countries — and see a diverse future.

Wondering about diversity in Ultimate in other countries? Read an interview with Alabama’s star Ultimate player Qadeem Ali Hassan about this very subject: http://www.bamasecs.com/2014/02/19/celebrating-black-history-month-with-alabamas-qadeem-ali-hassan/

My favorite excerpt from Qadeem’s interview is an important insight to any subject regarding race and racism:

“Racism stems from tradition. You aren’t born racist, you’re taught racism. If you want to stop racism, you have to end traditions.”

 

 

 

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Dedication and Ambition: Thulie Tshama tells her story

Stepping onto the field at my first Ultimate practice in Cape Town brought back memories all the way from my first day of high school: I was in a new place with new people. I had escaped this feeling going to college at home because I had met some friends during orientation. And even in high school, I knew some kids from my street and from playing sports. South Africa was different, and I knew it would be a challenge to even speak with people, given the cultural differences (plus everyone my age has already made their university friends).

Thulie is a 5th year medical student at UCT. She was one of the first “Capetonians” I met at UCT Ultimate because I have a tendency to get hurt and she has a reputation of helping people get better. After getting to know Thulie (through a series of unofficial medical consultations), and realizing how young and new the sport of Ultimate is in South Africa, I knew she would be a great person for me to feature on this blog. She is a well-respected athlete on the team and a force to be reckoned with when playing competitive.  In this Q&A discussion, we will find parallels between the USA and South Africa leagues in terms of challenges to ultimate Frisbee as a growing sport.

(Thulie’s comments in blue; mine in grey; questions are bolded)

How much of your life is ultimate frisbee a part of? In other words, explain how important it is to you.

Oh, Ultimate is very important to me. Most of my friends have come that it has become a part of who I am. I often joke and say, I’m actually in Cape Town for Ultimate Frisbee, but go to university in my spare time, haha. No, but seriously, I’ve missed a lot of classes, lost out on sleep, and have gotten myself in trouble because of Ultimate, but it makes me very happy, so I regret none of it.

What reason did you decide to play for UCT over other teams?

Well I was attending the University, so it was only natural that I join the university team. It was more convenient. But now that I’ve become a part of it, I’ve grown to love my team and teammates, and am actually a little nervous about graduating next year, because I’ll have to start over and find a new team.

 

On Ultimate in South Africa

In your experience over time, what has changed in terms of the league and in terms of South Africa’s ultimate scene as a whole?

Well in the 5 years that I’ve played Ultimate for South Africa, I’ve seen growth in the number of people playing Ultimate, the number of teams, the exposure (more people are learning what ultimate is) as well as the skill level. People are getting better at the sport, and are also drawing new players to the sport, which is awesome.

Thulie has seen the growth that the USA had seen about ten years ago. Even today, high schools and universities across the states are still just now picking up on what ultimate is. It’s a parallel that I’m sure resonates around the entire world.

What do you think needs to change with Ultimate Frisbee in South Africa?

The perception that it is a hippie sport. A lot of outsiders still don’t take the sport seriously, and although comments about it being a beach/park sport were funny at one point, as a player invested in the sport, you’ll find that it gets very frustrating. You constantly have to explain what Ultimate is, and have to convince people that it does actually take some skill to play the sport.

This stereotype is a worldwide pain for all ultimate players. See my last post right here, written before this interview, to reinforce my own frustrations with the perceptions of Ultimate.

Where would you like to see ultimate frisbee go in the future of South Africa?

I would like to see more schools, particularly high schools, involved in ultimate. I know a lot of boys’ schools only take seriously the sport I like to refer to as the “big 3”: rugby, cricket and soccer. These are also major sports in South Africa in general(girls’ school are a little different, favouring netball and hockey more). It’s very difficult to convince more school administrators or leaders to introduce Ultimate into their schools, because some fear that we will take away from the bigger sports, but the catch is that most of these sports are quite exclusive, and not everyone can access them, especially if they’re looking to play at a competitive level.

It’s difficult, as well, in the states to introduce sports to different school administrations. Personally, I don’t think my hometown school will ever offer ultimate, at least in my lifetime. Instead of Rugby, cricket and soccer, we are up against basketball, wrestling, track, volleyball, rowing, etc.

It’s not to say that ultimate is without it’s problems, but coming from someone that has tried all of the above sports, and was very involved at a high school level, I find that Ultimate is much more accessible and spirited. And as much as I would love to see the sport grow, hope that it maintains that unique quality.

I agree – ultimate has a unique quality. So easy to pick up, but incredibly hard to master.

Is there anything you would like to touch on about your experience with Ultimate?

I’ve never felt like this with any other sport, and I think it’s a combination of the skill and technique that it takes to play Ultimate, as well as the people we play with. Most dedicated Ultimate players LOVE the sport and will invest time, money and energy into it, and it’s very encouraging, and makes me want to push for more, and to continue with the sport.

 

 

South African Ultimate Showcases Model Spirit

Ultimate Frisbee can be a very physical game, especially at the club and pro levels. Physicality finds its way to each component of the game — pushing off opponents to gain yardage, overly exerting force when diving for the disc, and throwing shoulders while cutting to space can all be examples. The potential is great for very physical matches, and so the concept of “spirit” is put into place, wherein players must exercise mutual respect for the other teams.

The World Disc Federation — the worldwide governing body for ultimate frisbee and other disc related sports — defines spirit in its preamble:

“All players are responsible for administering and adhering to the rules. Ultimate relies upon a Spirit of the Game that places the responsibility for fair play on every player. It is trusted that no player will intentionally break the rules; thus there are no harsh penalties for breaches, but rather a method for resuming play in a manner which simulates what would most likely have occurred had there been no breach.

Highly competitive play is encouraged, but should never sacrifice the mutual respect between players, adherence to the agreed-upon rules of the game, or the basic joy of play.” (Source: http://www.wfdf.org/sotg/about-sotg)

For example, players call their own fouls. After a foul is called, gameplay stops and the fouled player explains to his or her opponent why he or she called the foul. The opponent will then chooses to “contest” the foul or “uncontest” the foul. Much of this process requires players from all parties to remain calm and only converse in terms of the rules of the game.

Here is a great example of good Spirit, courtesy of youtube channel World Flying Disc Association


Spirit also manifests in other ways — complimenting opponents, communicating well to the other team, respecting knowledge and rules of the game, not cheating, politeness etc. In sum, spirit is the concept of sportsmanship, but it actually applies to rules of the game.

I’ve observed a significant difference in spirit playing both American and South African teams. First and foremost, teams in South Africa appoint a “spirit captain.” In the case of a dispute, spirit captains will be called to settle the matter. In addition, spirit captains will talk before, during and after the game to keep communication open. I think US teams could benefit. I’ve played in many games where simple communication could had saved the morale of both teams during a hard physical match.My second observation comes from playing on the field. In the US, calls are almost always disputed, and physicality leads to grudges and low spirit. In the South African league, however, calls are greeted with politeness. Even disputes are always resolved with a high five and high spirit. I theorize this in due in whole to South Africa’s spirit “rating” system. After every league match, teams rate the other on certain spirit criteria, including fairness, communication, contact and fouls, and more. Teams usually strive for a high spirit rating, and I believe this affects the spirit on the field.

Last, teams join together after a match in a large huddle and the spirit captains will take turns speaking for each team. They will exchange compliments, a few jokes, and then lead a cheer for the other team.

These three components of South Africa’s ultimate create a highly-spirited environment, without compromising competitiveness and intensity in the matches. I hope that more teams and leagues in the US and elsewhere can adopt such plays.

Emily Barrett, of the UCT Flying Tigers said “I like calling my own fouls and talking it out. You learn a lot and people are generally very nice. You’ll always get disputes in any sport, but the Spirit rules in Ultimate force you to come to a resolution, which is a really important thing at any level.”


 

For an example of poor spirit, see Canada’s behavior at Worlds 2012, courtesy of Youtube Channel Ultiworld

Team Canada later apologized on their blog: http://furiousultimate.com/?p=798

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7 Ultimate plays that validate the sport

(photo by http://westwight.org.uk/)

When I was a sophomore, I was enrolled in a humanities course entitled “corporate communications.” I really loved the professor, and we frequently chatted after class. When I chose to write my final essay on the inner workings of the AUDL (American Ultimate Disc League), she kind of giggled and said, “oh Kev, pick a real sport!”

She had fallen prey to the larger problem we ultimate players face: the stereotype. If you have never come into contact with the actual sport ultimate frisbee, you may envision a few college “bros” lounging on the campus quad, smoking copious amounts of marijuana, and throwing a whamo disc around. While this does indeed happen worldwide, it is not the sport of ultimate frisbee. Excelling in ultimate frisbee takes incredible energy, leg strength, team cohesiveness, throwing accuracy, and field awareness. To prove it, I’ve assembled some clips from ultimate frisbee players around the world, showcasing different skills:

Offensive Skills

When on offense, throwing fakes can help take defensive pressure away, opening up the long throw downfield. Brodie Smith exemplifies this:

(Courtesy of Everything Ultimate)

I love this video because it shows how good Ultimate is more than just running fast and throwing long. So much goes into the scoring points and beating defense.

Field Awareness

Every good ultimate player knows throwing to space is equally difficult and important. Here is a great clip of Billy Sickles showcasing the beauty of a good throw to space

(Courtesy of Major League Ultimate)

“[Throwing to space] looks like an easy feat…but you need to time your throw, make sure the disc has enough spin on it, and make sure you account for factors like wind and where the defense is” said Emily Barrett of the UCT Tigers, in response to good hucks like these.

Throwing skills

In Ultimate, there are many ways to throw the disc. Watch this incredible video showing a perfect around pass to a receiver in the end zone:

(Courtesy of Major League Ultimate)

“Sometimes these throws are dangerous,” said Alec Tucker (captain of my team back home in Ithaca, New York). “You just need to know your ability and make the right decision. In this case, the throw was a perfect pass, but sometimes it won’t end up so beautifully.”

Incredible Defense

Defensively, it is your job to stay on the man or woman you are marking and make sure he or she does not receive the disc. Here is a fantastic play showing commitment and effort to defense:

(Courtesy of The AUDL Channel)

Here is another clip of Quinn Hunziker from the MLU showcasing incredible defensive abilities:

(Courtesy of Major League Ultimate)

“Defense is harder than it looks,” said Emily Barett. “I remember getting beat up the line. It’s so hard to learn how to stay on your feet, know where the disc is, and shut down all options on the field.”

Pure Athleticism:

All talent aside, hard work at the gym and practice has paid off for AJ Nelson, who plays for Chicago Wildfire.

(Courtesy of The AUDL Channel)

“This is my favorite all-time play. It’s this clip that really got Ultimate in the mainstream spotlight after it aired on all the major sports channels,” said Jarid North of the UCT Tigers.

And an interesting diving-catch-and-throw combo:

Another player for the Chicago Wildfire, Jonathan Helton makes this incredible play:

(Courtesy of Everything Ultimate)

Whether we are throwing 80-yard passes, jumping high to attack the disc, or exercising smart field awareness, ultimate frisbee players defy the stereotype. The athleticism exhibited worldwide in the sport of ultimate make it a fun and exciting sport to watch.

The case is no different in South Africa, and UCT seemed to recognize the sport last year when it offered the first ultimate frisbee scholarship ever in South Africa to Thulie Tshuma.

UCTU Flying Tigers Defeat Valley Flyers; Both Demonstrate High Levels of Sportsmanship

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Kevin Doubleday of The Flying Tigers rises to catch the disc in the endzone / Photo contributed by Emily Barrett

In what many onlookers described as a “fairly-played” and “friendly” match, University of Cape Town’s mixed team, The Flying Tigers, defeated The Valley Flyers on March 14th. The Flying Tigers won 17–3 in just under 60 minutes of game play, bringing their Cape Town Ultimate Summer League to a record of 4-2. The match took place on Woolsack Fields, located on lower campus at University of Cape Town. 

Kevin Doubleday led The Flying Tigers to victory with four assists and five completed scores, while Derik Scheepers of the Valley Flyers fought back with 2 assists and three defensive plays. Although the Flying Tigers were missing key players Dylan Sims and Roark Robinson, the smaller team was able to work a consistent offensive flow and a strong defensive pressure to help bring the team to victory.

Momentum after a string of seven consecutive points in the first half carried the Flying Tigers to a successful second half, despite The Valley Flyers’ few defensive upsets. Third-year cutter Emily Barrett described the attitude the Flying Tigers had set into place for the win as “inspiring.”

“We came into this game out of a disheartening loss to Chilli Black just last week, but instead of keeping our heads down, we all made the decision to stay positive and play each point with intensity and resolve,” she said.

Emily scored two points in the first half and contributed to several offensive points throughout the game.

Flying Tigers (white) work offence against Valley Flyers / Video Contributed by Emily Barrett

Onlookers and players referred to the game as “well-spirited,” meaning players on both teams exhibited a high level of fairness, sportsmanship and consideration towards one another throughout the match. Compliments exchanged by both teams could frequently be heard from the sidelines. 4th-year Flying Tigers Cutter and team co-captain Jarid North said the game seemed “well-spirited and friendly.”

“The Valley Flyers are the newest team in the league,” he said. “They joined just this year and although they are a developing team, they have nailed down the most important aspect of Ultimate: Spirit.”

4th-year Flying Tigers handler and co-captain Bergen Massyn agreed with this sentiment. “They stayed positive the entire game and always took the time to  compliment a player or one of our offensive plays. We’re so happy to have them in our league,” she said.

After North scored the final point of the game, both teams huddled together and spoke about the match. Massyn spoke highly of The Valley Flyer’s progress.

“You have come such a long way since we first saw you play last,” she said to The Valley Flyers. “Thanks for a great effort and we can’t wait to see what you bring to us next time.”

The Flying Tigers will face UCT 3rd (1-5) while the Valley Flyers (0-6) are scheduled to play Ghost (6-1) Monday, March 28th. Summer league matches occur every Monday evening at 7 p.m. For more information on league matches, times and locations, visit http://ultimate.capetown.

 

Welcome to my Blog!

This blog’s purpose serves to cover Ultimate Frisbee-related news in the Cape Town area. As a study abroad student at the University of Cape Town, I have been pleasantly surprised by Ultimate’s presence and prevalence in South Africa. In addition to covering games and statistics, this site will also take an in-depth look at the cultural differences between Ultimate Frisbee in the United States and in South Africa. In addition, this blog will critically analyse the diversity — or lack thereof — of the Ultimate community in South Africa.

Ultimate Frisbee is a sport that combines American football, soccer, and field hockey. It is played on a rectangular field with two endzones and each team’s goal is to score a point by completing a pass into their opponent’s endzone. Players with the frisbee cannot move, but can pivot on one foot like in basketball. There are 7 players on the field at a time, and each team is trying to score 17 points to win the game. Players on the defending team try to disrupt the offence by forcing a drop, knocking the frisbee out of the air, or making an interception. Play continues until a team scores a point. Here is a great video explaining ultimate frisbee and its rules:


According to ultimate.capetown, a central hub site for ultimate frisbee enthusiasts in the Cape Town area, Ultimate in South Africa has been around since 1980, after the increasing momentum the sport had gained in the USA. It was in these early days of South African Ultimate Frisbee that Justin Smith, a man labeled as the “pioneer of ultimate” in SA, founded the SAFDA (South African Flying Disc Association). The SAFDA is the governing body that sets rules and regulations in leagues in Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Durban. They also host the Mixed Nationals every year.

Here in Cape Town, SA, Ultimate Frisbee prevails as a growing sport — with seven teams in the Cape Town mixed league alone. Chilli Ultimate, established in 2006, has constantly set the bar for high competitiveness in the Cape Town Ultimate. Univerisity of Cape Town’s ultimate team, UCT Tigers, is known for athleticism while Ghost is regarded as a small but incredibly skilled team. Other teams include Maties Ultimate, Salusa, Valley Flyers, and the most recent addition Catch 22, established in 2015.

Next week, UCT Tigers will host an open invitational, wherein all aforementioned teams will compete for a trophy. This invitational is called the MCI – Mother City Invitational. For full coverage on the upcoming events, check back next week!

To fully understand how competitive Ultimate Frisbee can become, check out these highlights from the AUDL, an American Leauge: