To ’bee or not to ’bee?

In the fifth of six features, the Journal’s Assistant A&E Editor goes out for a practice with the Queen’s ultimate frisbee team

An ultimate frisbee player lets the disc fly during a practice at West Campus.
An ultimate frisbee player lets the disc fly during a practice at West Campus.
The ultimate frisbee team has been successful at the provincial and national level, regularly medalling. This year, they brought home the bronze from the Canadian University Ultimate Championships in Montreal.
The ultimate frisbee team has been successful at the provincial and national level, regularly medalling. This year, they brought home the bronze from the Canadian University Ultimate Championships in Montreal.

It was a cold evening by anyone’s standards when I wandered behind West Campus’s Jean Royce Hall a few weeks back in search of the ultimate frisbee team.

Shivering slightly but enthusiastic to observe, I settled along the sidelines of the field not entirely sure of what to expect from my next hour or two with the team.

Formed in 1997, Queen’s Ultimate is recognized as a competitive club and competes in Canadian championships and tournaments.

Women’s coach Robbie Trachter has been working with captains Amanda Rak, Megan Hunter and Sarah Wildgen and the rest of the 17-strong team for a few months. Chris Vanni, Geoff Powell and Earnie Lin captain and coach the men’s team, also composed of 17 athletes.

Everyone on the packed turf, illuminated by the bright stadium lights, seemed impervious to the cold. Some running, some stretching or high-kicking, a handful of players darting to-and-fro across the field made it hard to pinpoint the athletes as training specifically for ultimate as opposed to any other sport.

Aside from the impressive agility, balance, speed, a keen sense of awareness and placement on the field and communication with teammates, players acquire a strong sense of responsibility. Ultimate frisbee is unique from other sports in the way that it is an entirely player-called sport—there are no referees.

Trachter said having no referees can lead to arguments, especially in national tournaments. Preparation and training for nationals started during frosh week and the women’s and men’s teams usually participate in two to three tournaments per season.

In especially heated conflicts, Trachter said there are the limitations to a player-called game.

“We use observers in certain cases,” he said. “Sometimes it’s hard to know exactly what went down when your head’s in the game. The observers are able to give us a play-by-play of what happened and from there we make our own calls.”

Trachter said players keep it professional on the field.

“Even with observers you still have to resolve the issue on the field—you have to be able to call your own fouls and make your own travel calls,” he said. “In the end, everyone’s pretty good at keeping focused and getting back to the game.”

The object of ultimate is to score points by passing the disc to teammates in the opposing endzone, similar to football or rugby. Usually the first team to get to 15 points wins.

Queen’s has won the Canadian Eastern University Ultimate Championships three times since 2003, coming in second once. They’ve also won the Canadian University Ultimate Championships twice since its inception in 2001, coming second twice and third twice. Last weekend, the Gaels came third in this year’s national championship, which was held in Montreal.

With seven players on the field per team, there’s a competitive but respectful spirit on the field. When it comes down to it, the idea of spirit is crucial and pivotal to what ultimate is known for in its entirety.

Sportsmanship, respect, fair play and having fun are imperative to protecting the “spirit of the game” as defined by the Ultimate Players’ Association. Taunting other players, dangerous aggression, intentional fouling or behavior motivated only by winning are considered contrary to the spirit of the game and must be avoided by all players at all costs.

Although the field was bustling with athletes, the men’s and women’s teams remained separate throughout the practice. The teams practice between 8 and 11 p.m. every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

With discs flying left, right and center and drills galore, at times it was hard to distinguish precisely what was happening. The drills became increasingly more intense. One in particular called for 10 throw completions. If the disc dropped, the group would begin again.

Constant encouraging phrases echoed throughout the group.

Some team members have played since high school and others just for a year or two.

Trachter said the divide is beneficial to the teams, adding that ultimate is a sport that is relatively easy to pick up.

“If you’re athletic and have a good sense of where you should be on the field, it comes fairly naturally,” he said, adding that communication is also important.

The teams had pep talks and huddles before practice began. It was clear from the way the captains spoke to their teammates that the intensity and effort put forward during the drills and practice was necessary to make the best of their upcoming national tournaments.

Because the team entirely is student-run, their strong and sturdy dynamic is supported by mutual respect.

“Everyone wants to win for each other and for themselves because they’ve worked so hard,” Trachter said.

After several months of practicing and training as hard as they have been, Trachter said the players have become quite close.

“We’ve become like a family,” he said. “Everyone really holds their own.”

Check out the Journal next Friday for the last indie sports feature on curling.

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