The lone international team at the recent Pro Championships was there for a lot more than just trying to win.
September 30, 2022 by Kelsey Hayden in Profile with 0 comments
If you watched the Pro Championships a few weeks ago, you may have noticed an unfamiliar team: Southeast Asia Black Widows.
The Black Widows were initially hoping to participate in the US Open this season — a tournament that more traditionally hosts international teams — but without the interest to sustain a women’s division at that event, they lost their chance. But fate intervened — Quebec Iris pulled out of Pro Champs leaving an available spot and the Black Widows were poised and ready to accept the opportunity when USAU offered.
The Black Widows are not just an ultimate team. When you ask veteran Rica Garcia why they compete, her answer is direct and simple. “We are here for Asian representation and each time we are given the opportunity to be seen is a huge step for women of color.”
The Black Widows originally came together in 2017. Back then, single-gender ultimate teams were not very popular in Asia, as the region favored mixed-gender play. But that year, the Boon Rockstar Cup — a big tournament in the Philippines sponsored by local uniform brand Boon Technical Clothing — created single gender divisions and invited a powerhouse Open team with international players such as Jimmy Mickle, Kurt Gibson, and Tom Tullett to compete alongside the best players in the Philippines.
At first, there was no women’s team equivalent. This didn’t sit quite right with Garcia. “I asked them why there wasn’t a women’s powerhouse team so we made Black Widows,” she recounts. Pulling together 16 women from four different countries, the Widows were built with a goal to create a web that connected the best women’s players in Asia and help them reach their peak potential. “We easily won the tournament and it was so obvious women were not used to playing that many roles,” says Garcia. They’ve been playing and working together ever since.
After their runaway success at the initial Boon Rockstar Cup, the Widows knew they were onto something. Beyond putting in the work on the field, the Black Widows were also ready to put in time off the field to support and grow their community as well.
At the time, Black Widows players were largely based in Asia and frequently delivered in-person clinics to women across Asia. They also distributed discs to schools in remote countries to promote growth of the sport. They lived by the motto “Always Hungry,” a nod to an insatiable desire to not only succeed on the field, but to push the women’s game forward for all Asian women.
The next year, the women’s division at the Boon tournament was already much more impressive, and the Black Widows were happy to see the overall quality of women’s ultimate improve in the region. “Even the team we bageled the year before became significantly better,” said Garcia. “Now I think they are the best team in China.”
Of course, given the situation over the past couple of years, while their goal of strengthening diversity in the sport remained the same, their approach has had to be adjusted. They have traditionally been made up of players from the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Hongkong and Japan, but the roster that competed at this year’s Pro Championships was composed mostly of Southeast Asian women based in America. They are still sending discs, cleats, and cones to remote parts of Asia and working hard to increase Asian visibility in the sport. They are also raising funds for members of their network who are ensnared in political conflict in their home countries or even in hiding.
Before Pro Champs 2022, the Black Widows had played together only a handful of times, including at the 2018 US Open and 2022 US Beach Nationals. They don’t get to play together often and so they make sure to make the most of each opportunity. The team went 0-6 for the weekend at Pro Championships but they recognized that the chance to play against some of the best in the world was invaluable for every player on their roster. And more importantly perhaps, they saw their participation at Pro Champs as a way of continuing to spread their message to the women’s ultimate community.
At the end of each game, in their Spirit circles, the Black Widows discussed the issues they were trying to address and the work they do, with each of their opponents. Each time, they were met with positive, supportive feedback.
“One of the things I told Brute Squad in their game was that their program has inspired a lot of people across the world,” reflects Garcia. “They might think they’re just playing and have no idea that players across the world are thinking, ‘I wanna be that girl.’ I think that spoke to them. They thanked us and appreciated the fact that we were doing this.”
Throughout the weekend, many women’s divisions players approached the team to thank them for their work and express support of their work. Some even donated to their work through disc purchases. Every team was appreciative of the Black Widows goals and efforts.
“This was our third time playing Schwa, and they said they remember us and have been following us since then,” said Garcia. “They said they were also advocates of women empowerment and visibility and would love to see more from us.”
Like any competitive team, the goal is to win games, however the Black Widows definition of winning is much broader than just putting the most points on the scoreboard by the end of the game. At least in one respect, the Widows did win at the Pro Champs — finishing with the top Spirit scores in the division for the tournament, thank in large part to their superlative “Attitude” scores.
“The goal is to win but in many ways: win the respect of our fellow athletes and club teams by playing hard, win in spirit, win by gaining sisters, win by gaining visibility for people of color,” expressed Garcia. “If we win games, that is a big bonus.”
To support the Black Widows in their work, follow them on social media @blackwidowsultimate on Instagram and @Black Widows on Facebook.