We warm up, jogging, stretching, loosening our throws. Lit by field lights, white plastic discs float, bright against a deep charcoal grey sky, cloud layer tinged slightly red. Just before we start our game, rain begins to fall. Tip. Tip. Tic. Tic. Tah-tah-tah-teteteteteh sounds from the disc we hold in the center of team huddle. Watch out, it’ll be a slippery game, says captain Casey. At the opening throw, distant lightning flashes. As first substitute, I count forty-three seconds until thunder. Thirteen seconds closer and we’ll have to delay. But three points later, the rain subsides, the clouds separate into massive abstract art, revealing a newly waning full moon, another white disc above the field. No more lightning, no more thunder, just a lovely cooler temperature for the rest of the game.
I’ve played ultimate for over ten years now, starting at William and Mary back in the autumn of 2005. Since then, in all the various places I’ve lived, I’ve found an ultimate crowd, each providing new friends, instant community, and a chance to get absolutely exhausted while chasing a small plastic disc. Given my past experiences, I sought out the Brisbane ultimate crowd upon my arrival and attended a pickup game during my second week. Sure enough, here I was, a fresh face (and not the only one that night) and everyone was immediately friendly and welcoming.
Maybe many sports communities provide this, but in my experience, not all. I was at St. Andrews, Scotland, as a second semester student, studying abroad for the first time. I thought, Hey, maybe I’ll go out for rugby! A new country, a native sport*. So I headed out to the pitch on open tryouts day. No one said hello. I asked around about the format. Oh, you’re new? We’ll get started soon. A couple minutes later I overheard him saying, It’s funny to see the new influx of people. You know by the third week there’ll be like one left. And at the end, in a show of camaraderie, they asked me to post flyers for their upcoming party.
The next day, I went out to the ultimate practice and immediately felt at home. Granted I already knew the game, having played for two years at that point, but the people were friendly, asked where I was from, how I liked Scotland thus far. There were a number of new players, well explained drills, and a scrimmage to finish. At the end, they made certain to invite me and all the other new players out for drinks. I threw out the rugby flyers that night.
Back to Brisbane. After that first night playing pickup, a guy named Rockley invited me to join their team, Tsunami, for the upcoming season of Brisbane Ultimate Mixed League. Alas, the season wouldn’t start for another month, but at least there was also another regular pickup game on Sundays.
So here we are, tonight, our second week together as a team — or rather, my second with the team. Our first game was tight, a battle back and forth, a reintroduction to competitive play after a summer of lazy, humid, hot summer days and nights.
Seven people line up at each end zone, four men and three women. Having won the previous point, we start on defense. Casey calls out the player on the other team each of us will guard. It’s man to man defense, at least for this point. Shit, that guy makes quick cuts. Well, I’ll stay as near as I can. I raise the disc above my head, signaling we’re ready. A hand rises on the other end. I bound towards our line, shouting to my team, ‘Disc is up in three. Two. One.’ Holding the disc, my right hand curls around my left body, hips swivel to follow, and my right foot plants. The wound spring unwinds and the disc soars away down the field. Time to chase.
In each game, I hope for at least one moment when anticipation, cultivated instincts, and dogged pursuit combine into glory. Some days let me down, but not tonight. I’m chasing this gangly late-forties guy on the other team, his cuts imprinting the Zorro trademark in the grass: it’s like chasing a squirrel through a slalom course. He’s primarily handling, the ultimate equivalent to a quarterback, but another player has the disc, but the stall count is nearing the ten second limit. I hear my teammate counting, Stall six. Stall seven. I know my guy is hot, trying to get open for a quick short throw to reset the count. Stall eight. He cuts hard back toward the thrower. I swivel to follow, a half step behind, on his right shoulder. Stall nine. The thrower dumps the disc two steps out in front of us. He stretches. I strech. My fingers hit plastic and the disc tumbles to the ground.
An hour and a half of running later, we’re stopped by the time limit. It’s a hard fought game from both sides, but we end up winning 13-9, not quite making it to the game ending 17 points. The two teams shake hands, then huddle up together, sweaty and gross, an alternating pattern our blue shirt and their red shirt. I stand with one arm on the shoulder of the guy I’ve been chasing all game, the other on one of their primary cutters. Each captain offers thoughts and compliments to the opposing team, a finishing ritual to honor the spirit of the game. All right Tsunami, Casey says, three cheers for Bermuda Triangle. Hip hip. HUH! Hip hip. HUH! Hip hip. HUH!
Header Image: Sunday pickup on the University of Queensland Cricket Pitch. The curved lines can be confusing.