Why We Play The Game

Usually fierce rivals, Wisconsin players paid homage to Carleton on the fields at the Stanford Invite this weekend.
Usually fierce rivals, Wisconsin players paid homage to Carleton on the fields at the Stanford Invite this weekend.

“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers the o’er-fraught heart and bids it break.” – William Shakespeare

Ask someone why they play ultimate and you’ll get 100 different answers. Some love the competition, others love the culture, still others love the flight path of a perfectly thrown huck. Maybe it’s some combination of all of those things and more.

At the highest levels of the game, among the top tier teams at the College and Club Championships, often the stated aim is winning a Championship. Others simply want to make Nationals. The goal is often about winning; that is what sports is all about, right?

It is in times like these that our thoughts turn to the deeper reasons we love the sport and the joy of competition.

***

Upon hearing the news of the deaths of James Adams, Michael Goodgame, and Paxton Harvieux as my plane touched down in California on Friday night, I felt a milder version of the stomach sinking dread that engulfed me when I lost friends earlier in my life.

I did not know the three young men that lost their lives on Friday, but as Tiina Booth so eloquently put it this morning, my own past losses sharpened in my mind as my heart ached for those personally affected by the tragedy.

The immediate outpouring of support from across the ultimate community for the Carleton teams reverberated around the Internet and the Stanford Invite fields all weekend. Pitt coach Nick Kaczmarek never took off his CUT jersey; Wisconsin players donned CUT apparel beneath their new whites. A somber, but immensely supportive tone was evident from every team on the field. On-field disagreements were subdued and players helped each other up.

I have found my thoughts continuously returning to a conversation I had with Carleton coach Phil Bowen after CUT’s loss to Central Florida in the semifinals. To this day, it remains one of the most impactful interviews I have done at Ultiworld.

I posted a part of that interview last May; take a moment and listen to Bowen:

What we love about ultimate is not the winning. Winning, in the words of Bowen, is merely a celebration of the hours of blood, sweat, and tears that we put in with our teams. The bonds we form with our teammates is what makes the game — and all sport — special. The friendships many make playing ultimate are some of the deepest in their lives.

My college coach always told us that taking the field was a privilege. Think, he said, about how lucky you are to be able to travel and play with your friends, to refuel together at a buffet, to share stories and experiences.

Never than in these moments does that ring more true. The shock of the Carleton tragedy is not only due to the loss of life but because of the ruthless randomness of the situation. Why do these things happen to such good young men?

In time, the pain begins to subside. All you can do is celebrate the lives of the fallen and try to keep some of the joy and energy they brought to the world in your heart.

As we forge on with the competition of the college season, do not forget that all of the rankings, the bids, the Callahan, and the games are but a fraction of the reason we play. It is all the moments in between — running sprints with your brothers and sisters, inviting new players into your team and your culture, talking strategy over two hour dinners with your best friends — that really count.

  1. Charlie Eisenhood

    Charlie Eisenhood is the editor-in-chief of Ultiworld. You can reach him by email (charlie@ultiworld.com) or on Twitter (@ceisenhood).

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