Here’s something new—a post about frisbee!
I’ve been playing it since I was 17. Many of my life’s happiest moments were experienced with my brethren on and off the field. Coupled with those were occasional moments of overwhelming frustration and questions of why I wasted my time with this stupid sport. I came close to quitting early on in college. Where would I be if I had?
Those were my early Grundle days; they were occasionally dark but for the most part, fantastic.
after one of the darker times
Those days are far behind me now. I’m deeply thankful they happened, and as you probably guessed from my thoughts on flatball (http://twelveahead.tumblr.com/post/67732731117/on-flatball) before, I wouldn’t trade a minute I spent with that team for anything. I’m so glad I went to Mary Wash, and they’re the main reason why. They remain the most fun team I’ve ever played for, and they will always be special to me; they’re the team I grew with.
At our infamously-named home tournament.
Then there was Club flatball, the summers where I played at a much higher level than my college team. For five straight summers, I took the field with older and much more experienced players. The last three of those summers, I played with a conglomerate of some of Virginia’s best players called Squires.
After losing the game-to-go to Nationals in 2010, a great season
Squires was about working hard, bettering yourself and teammates and making it to Nationals. Although we came close, we never achieved that last goal. We did, however, succeed in making every major Virginian college team better by turning their best into much more knowledgeable, complete players. I owe a lot of my improvement and game-planning knowledge to that team. I have to say, though, while we won a lot of games, I never had nearly as much fun with them as I did with the Grundlebugs (who, if you’ve forgotten, rarely won games).
I wondered if I’d ever find a competitive and laid-back team. Maybe it was too much to ask.
Luckily, I didn’t have to look far to find that perfect medium of competition and fun. It was right in my backyard at what became my favorite tournament, Fredericksburg’s own Fools Fest. The second longest-running tournament in the world, Fools is a reunion/alumni tournament built around foolishness. Because this tournament is so famous, it attracts a healthy amount of the country’s best players, some of whom I’ve been lucky to share the field with and learn from. While these players come for the fun (and beer garden), they still play their asses off. That’s where that happy mix of competition and fun comes in. It’s some of the best playing hard, knowing the result is less meaningful and everyone’s there to have a good time—how flatball should be. The spirit is alive.
Fools really is frisbee at its best. And it’s always Mary Wash at it’s best, too. Our alumni (who lost a lot less than my generation) always combine with Richmond’s best and pick an outrageous theme.
The Sacred Church of the Heartasaurus Rex. Praise Raptor Jesus
When we send a team, we usually play up to the level of our competitors, and, win or lose, we have an amazing time doing it. Once a year, I looked forward to enjoying a weekend with this amazing team. That was the extent of my experiencing this, though. I unfortunately never found this perfect balance on a consistent team. That is, until I came to Taiwan.
In late March, I competed in my first tournament with Whisby Nation, Taipei’s team of Taiwanese and expats, at Taiwan’s national tournament. It was a good time. We were by far the favorite to win, and the whole tournament, it was looking like we’d be the clear winner. However, we got upset by a worthy opponent in the finals. This game was the only time I’ve ever seen the Taiwanese players not play at 100 percent. It was weird, and I’m not sure why it happened. I’m convinced it was a one-time thing, though.
It’s been a nightmare trying to guard some of these Taiwanese guys. Pretty much all of them are in shape, and they all try so hard.
I’m usually playing against these exciting Taiwanese players in pickups or practices. It’s never easy. They keep me in shape. I have more experience than the majority of them, but they still run me into the ground. I could go on all day about how I love watching them play.
And I will. Here’s why:
As good as American flatball is, it’s amazing the lack of effort you often see. I think some players in the States take for granted the opportunity to play this game. Whether it’s playing lazy defense, skipping practice, or choosing to stay inside on a less than perfect sunny day, I’ve watched players pass up opportunities to play and it always baffled me. I’m certainly guilty of not giving it my all on the field at times. As any of my college teammates can attest, I’ve played lazily on plenty of occasions.
After college, though, I realized that my body wouldn’t always be susceptible to the pounding frisbee gives it. Since that revelation, I’ve always carried with me the notion that it’s a gift to play this game. I try to channel that gratitude on the field by playing as often and as hard as I can. The Taiwanese players remind me of this gift every time I line up against them.
This past weekend, I got to line up with the Taiwanese and competed in my first international tournament with Whisby. We traveled to Jeju Island in Korea for the 10th Annual “Dirty Dozens.” The roster was limited to only twelve players (hence the name), which meant a lot of playing time. I got in shape for this one, hitting the track for the first time since the summer of 2012, when I captained the Squires. And damn, I felt good. I hadn’t been this fit in a while. For better or worse, I played almost every point this weekend.
We came in as the number one seed for reasons unknown to us. We had never won this tournament or beaten the team seeded directly below us. We eventually saw them in the final.
This tournament was the three year anniversary of of Whisby’s first tournament as a team. They debuted at Jeju in 2011 and lost in the finals to the same team we faced in the final this year.
I don’t know how that 2011 game went, but this year’s Jeju Final was a classic. The opponent was Tokyo’s best mixed team, UKI.
UKI in white, mixed in with Whisbyers in black
Honestly, we looked over-matched again. UKI is representing Tokyo in the coed division of the World Championships this year. Thus, they’ve practiced a lot together and have a lot of experience with one another. They also have a healthy amount of veterans with many years under their belt.
And there we stood on the other side of the field, a team of much younger, greener, but fearless players, led by the talented and knowledgeable Haahhhhvaahhhd grad, Will Chen, and revered Taiwanese captain, Kuohsun.
Will leading the troops
Kuohsun handling in the Final
Will visits Taiwan a couple times a year to play with Whisby and to see relatives. He has plenty of experience at a high level in America and is a respected name in the American flatball community. You certainly see why from his play and leadership, but you would never guess it from talking to him. He’s the humblest guy you’ll ever meet, and he’s a fantastic teacher. It was such a joy to to play with him these past few weeks. He is one of the best teammates I’ve ever had the pleasure of taking the field with.
One of his many big plays in the Final
Other than Will, though, Whisby was a team with less overall experience than our opponent. Throughout the final, the crowd was treated to what I get to see every day: the inspiring passion the Taiwanese play with. These guys deeply love the game, and they honor it by giving it their all every time they’re out there.
In addition to seeing the Taiwanese play the game the way it should be played, the crowd was also treated to a final for the ages. This game had it all and was packed with highlight reel plays throughout.
like this one, Will laying out in the back of the end zone to nab a disc that looked doomed to fly out.
And the crowd went wild
In the first half, after many amazing plays like these had already happened, my old Hong Kong teammate, Zach, gave the crowd this grab of the game, catching a hammer under Whisby’s biggest playmaker Willie (also from that awesome HK team).
For those of you who don’t play, catching a hammer (an upside-down throw) can be difficult enough, let alone catching it on the run, but laying out with another guy in pursuit? That’s talent. This matchup was something special all game. And after seeing this catch, I remember thinking, “I almost don’t care who wins this game, this is just FUN.”
The only excitement this final didn’t have was a lead change. We took an early lead and never gave it back. UKI often came close to breaking through, but we’d always find a way to put the breaks on their runs (lolz). They made it interesting at the end, coming their closest at 14-13. But in the end, heart beat out experience, and Will sealed the deal with a break throw to Kuohsun in the endzone—a fitting way to end. Kuohsun threw the disc up, he and I made ecstatic eye contact, and he jumped into my arms. (You can watch this in that video I posted last week.)
It was that heart that won Whisby this game and this tournament. Playing club, I’ve seen my fair share of teammates who work their asses off. I’ve never seen anyone play with as much fire as these Taiwanese guys. It’s such a joy and a privilege to play on the same team as them. (I highly recommend it!)
sporting our “Jeju Champion” shorts at the closing ceremony
In my eight years, the amount of tournaments and leagues I’ve won could be counted on one hand and, honestly, none of them meant anything in comparison. It’s never been about winning for me. I said it before: it’s about the amazing people I’ve been so lucky to share the field with.
Where would I be if I quit? I have no idea. Not here. And here is the only place I want to be right now. I am so glad I stuck it out in the early years.
Indeed, it’s never been about winning games. This weekend wasn’t a game won. It was a true victory. A triumph of the Taiwanese. It was the most inspiring frisbee I’ve ever seen played. I am so grateful I was a part of it.
Photos are courtesy of Katherine and Haruna Machida (stolen from facebook)