First Steps, But Welcome Ones

You can’t tell any story of CUT without some reference to Al Duerr and the events below. This version is from Joe Cesario ’91.

At ’88 sectionals, we lost both games (only three teams including CUT) and failed to qualify for regionals. We got crushed by Madison, not getting to double digits in a game to 19.

At this point it had been many years since CUT had beat Madison. I rode home with Al Duerr that day and listened to his plans to put Carleton on the map of serious college programs. We had to get faster, taller, and in better shape. We had to throw better, cut better, catch better. But above everything else, no matter what, we had to beat Wisconsin. If we wanted to compete on a National level it was going to go through Madison.

From then on, all we thought about was beating Madison. In true CUT fashion of course, it didn’t take very long. Sectionals ’89 was at Carleton. Madison had a nice run at Nationals the previous year and was looking to build on their success. We played in the finals on Bell Field. Perfect spring Sunday afternoon, hundreds of fans. We took down Madison 21-18. We never looked back, I never lost to Wisco again.

In May 1993, Al Duerr, that person who deserves the most credit for making CUT what it is today, took his own life. Receiving the news at practice, we sat in stunned silence, a bunch of kids who had no idea what to do. But the immediate reaction was to lean on each other for support and invite CUT alumni back to campus and be together in community and remembrance. That was the first Alumni Game. 21 years later, in the wake of a new tragedy, CUT and Syzygy have 200 alums returning to campus for this year’s Alumni Weekend in May.

The February 28th accident that killed Michael Goodgame, Paxton Harvieux, and James Adams and seriously injured Conor Eckert and Will Sparks devastated the Carleton community. There is no roadmap to recovery. There is no template for how you move forward. Left behind were a bunch of kids who had no idea what to do.

It isn’t essential to know the specifics of those next few days: playing Settlers, cooking food together and eating, making each other laugh, hugging and crying, telling stories, far exceeding the capacity of beds and couches, lifting and playing hoops together. But the underlying theme, the foundation of those first days is, to me, incredibly important. The team sought strength, refuge, support, and understanding from each other.

They were surrounded by their 17 closest friends, all of whom knew exactly what each other was going through, loved each other unconditionally, made each other laugh, didn’t make each other feel uncomfortable, and didn’t awkwardly tiptoe around the issue.

The outpouring of support from the Ultimate community has been incredible. Overwhelming. Everyone wants to know what they can do and is aching to help in the most profound ways. In a community as close as ours, where we are connected by shared experiences, common goals, and a communal sense of ownership of our sport, it’s no wonder we feel so affected. Every one of us has imagined ourselves in that car.

But none of us really knows what the team is feeling. We can’t insert ourselves into that huddle, no matter how much we’d like to. And this is a huge lesson I have learned from the team in these first couple weeks. They are a family and there is no one better suited to help them through this than themselves. I bring this all up because there are so many out there looking for understanding and, while none of us can ever know what the team is experiencing, all of us who have been involved with a close college team can understand and appreciate the closeness, trust, empathy, love, and support that comes with it.

CUT is in South Carolina this week preparing for Easterns. We are getting back into the game. We aren’t looking for any special treatment because we certainly won’t be holding anything back when we line up across from you. Say hi. If you knew one of the guys, feel free to let us know or tell a funny story about them. If you never met them, feel free to tell us that too.

I’m not saying that the team is fine and that there is no work to do. None of us is fine, and there is a ton of work ahead. Everyone is on a long path to a different form of normal. We are getting back on the field to work together in practice. We will continue to work together against our opponents this weekend. These are necessary first steps, but welcome ones.

I was moved by the reports coming from the Stanford Invite of a general feeling of community, brotherhood, and support, especially in the midst of what was still intense competition. CUT is one of six teams — along with Colorado, Wisconsin, Texas, UNC-Wilmington, and Oregon — who are in the beginning stages of a conversation about how we can each take a lead in improving spirit in the college men’s division.

I hope that feeling from Stanford can continue. This accident has taught us that we all share a common bond. And I think it has to add some perspective that really we just play a game. And while personal and collective accolades certainly play some role in its value, I think the real appeal of our sport is that it is a great way to work hard with our best friends towards a common goal. And if we look at the Ultimate community, I think we find that our opponents are just like us.

  1. Phil Bowen

    Phil Bowen is the coach of CUT, the Carleton men's ultimate team.

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