Diehard Fans

One of the coolest things to see traveling to college tournaments so far this Spring is the number of fans out at games. At the Hellfish Bonanza, JMU — the home team — had a pretty sizable audience (~40) for most of the weekend. At Warm Up, I spoke with the parents of Central Florida’s Michael Hickson, who have gone to almost every single UCF tournament in the past five years.

More and more, you see parents out at tournaments supporting their sons and daughters playing during the weekend.

I got an email from a “team Mom” of sorts after Big D in Little D from the mother of North Texas’ Austin Walker, Kim “Momma” Walker.

She wrote:

[quote]I’m a spectator. I’m a mom. I’m a non-player. But boy do I love the game of ultimate! And most of the time I’m watching it through the lens of a camera. You can see a lot through that lens, especially when you’re zooming in on a player or a play. The intensity, the fun, the disappointment, but especially the camaraderie.

I just came off of a weekend doing one of my favorite things: watching my son and his team play ultimate in Denton, Texas in the Big D in Little D tournament hosted by the University of North Texas Illegales. Like I said, I’m a mom, so I didn’t wander between the three locations to watch any other teams play. I stayed put and watched the Texas State Buckets from San Marcos play five games on Saturday and another three on Sunday.

But I have to imagine that I witnessed the same thing at my own son’s games that I would have if I were to watch a team play that I knew nothing about. I witnessed dedication. These boys didn’t have to be out there in the cold, see your breath, early morning hours. They chose to make a trek into town, which this weekend happily was only a 20 minute car ride for me. I think I’d probably be safe to say that this was the first tournament of the new college season for each of these 22 schools.

They came to start honing their skills and working as a team. I know that on the Buckets, of the 16 members that played, 6 were freshman. That’s a big number to incorporate into a team that lost a lot of seniors last year. I don’t think they’re out of the ordinary and I felt like I saw a lot of teams dealing with the same situation. This was the chance to test the waters by putting into place new strategies and lines, new offenses and defenses, to see how they would stack up against other teams. And stack up is what I think the Buckets did. They were the only second place team to break seed and move up into the first place ranking.

But what I saw the most, and feel like I always do at each and every ultimate event I attend, is that ever present “spirit of the game.” Most games started and ended with the team circling up, sometimes chanting, sometimes cheering, even sometimes singing. Some liked to play music during the game, but as the game got more intense, the music got softer or even got turned off. Or as the game got more fun, the music got turned up louder and an out breaking of dance ensued for a few brief moments. These guys are as fun to watch off the field as on. And don’t even get me started on the way they dress!

I heard commentary, such as, “give peace a chance” when two guys were battling it out on a call. Another time I heard, “good thing they don’t call as many things as I really do”, when a teammate missed the opportunity to make a call. They let things slide sometimes because it’s just not worth stopping the play to call a foul, contest it, send it back, etc., etc. I saw them picking their battles, more so if a big game was on the line, and that’s when they fought for their cause. And in that mind set of spirit of the game, if one team was really dominating another, I saw no over enthusiasm as the winning team scored and scored and scored. It was a slap of hands, pat on the back, low key “good job” given to their teammates as they moved on to the next point.

You know, so many of these boys have played ultimate with each other in some form or fashion outside of the college scene, that although they may be rivals for awhile during a tournament, they’re often friends and teammates at other times. My son’s best friend is at University of Central Arkansas;he played them first on Saturday. One of his good friends from high school goes to Kansas State; we lost to them trying to get to the finals. It went to universe point playing against the UNT team, which is made up of a ton of his hometown friends, club teammates, and winter and summer league teammates. This is typical ultimate. And me? I’m known as Momma Walker. I try to promote the spirit of the game in my own way. I often bring cookies to give to other teams. I offer up snacks that my Buckets can’t possibly finish. And when other parents, family members, friends, etc. come to watch, we talk a lot during the games. I take pictures of them with the boy they’ve come to watch. I want them to have a good experience and come back. After all, these boys would play whether I, or anyone else for that matter, was there to watch because of their love of the game, but I gotta think they like it more with an audience![/quote]

This is awesome to see — and one of the reasons I think USA Ultimate should really think about pushing college as the driver of spectator interest in the sport.

  1. Charlie Eisenhood
    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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