Gentle Sport Builds Strong Bonds
by George Fitting '10
June 29, 2010
Jake Rainwater ‘11 lays out for Dickinson’s Ultimate Frisbee team.
Spring is not the only thing in the air when the snow melts in Carlisle. As soon as weather permits, Dickinson’s Ultimate Frisbee club team, the Jive Turkeys, is tossing discs at Mooreland Park.
To many people, the words “ultimate” and “Frisbee” share no connection. To the Jive Turkeys, they represent not only a sport but a way of life that transcends the playing field and is a defining feature of their college experience.
The game was invented in the late 1960s by students at Columbia High School in Maplewood, N.J. Its popularity has steadily risen ever since. Today, there are teams in 42 countries and more than 27,000 registered members of the United Players Association(UPA), the sport’s official governing body in America.
Ultimate Frisbee combines elements of soccer, football and netball and demands an array of disc-handling skills in addition to stamina and strategy. Teams of seven face off on a 120-yard field, scoring points by completing a pass to a player in the defensive end zone. The first team to reach 15 points by a two-point margin wins. In a close game where the margin has not been achieved, the winner is simply the first to score 17 points.
Dickinson’s team was founded about 11 years ago and has up to 25 players per season. Like the majority of other Ultimate Frisbee teams, the Jive Turkeys team is self-regulated with no coaches, no tryouts and no referees.
“It really relies on people respecting each other and genuinely trying to help each other improve their skills,” said Courtney Williams ’10, who was team secretary and co-captain of the women’s team. “It’s very friendly and tight knit that way. Everyone is important and keeps the team alive.”
The Jive Turkeys remains coed during the fall season to maintain this kinship, but it separates into male and female squads in the spring because many of the tournaments are divided by gender. The team competes against local colleges like Gettysburg, Lafayette and Goucher and hosts the JiveFest tournament at Dickinson annually during Homecoming & Family Weekend and sometimes in the spring.
The highlight of the year is a springbreak trip to Savannah, Ga., for a week of sun, ocean and fierce competition in the High Tide Tournament, which has grown to attract more than 175 teams from across the country. “High Tide represents what Frisbee is,” said Jake Rainwater ’11, who was team president his sophomore year.
One thing that sets Ultimate Frisbee apart from other team sports is that players do not value winning over spirit. According to the UPA Web site, “Ultimate players are free to demonstrate the most honorable and the most joyous sides of human nature in sport.”
The Jive Turkeys takes this to heart with several traditions that ensure the spirit is preserved. “Some of the best players in the history of the team wear skirts [regardless of gender] when they play,” said Rainwater. Everyone earns a nickname after joining the team, which fosters camaraderie and establishes a welcoming environment. Williams is “Kiwi” because she’s spent time in New Zealand and Rainwater is “Gutter,” after a character in the 1994 movie PCU.
Dan Jones ’08, a former captain of the men’s team, brought the idea of a “spirit circle” back from his semester abroad at the University of Queensland in Australia. The winning and losing teams circle up after a game, and each captain says something positive about the opponents. Other customs include a yearly “silly practice” featuring outlandish costumes and contests and an enthusiastic pregame cheer that has achieved intercollegiate fame.
The sport may seem easygoing, but Ultimate Frisbee matches are far from relaxed. “Athleticism is imperative—at the higher level, pure athletes dominate the sport,” said Rainwater.
Experienced players master several ways to throw the disc and must be able to sprint, dodge, negotiate defenders, find openings and memorize and execute plays. “The silliness will always be there in a sense,” said Rainwater, “but there’s been a lot more focus on playing and succeeding in the three years since I’ve been here.”
The combination of spirit, tradition and serious competition has spawned intimacy that lasts beyond graduation. Williams and ainwater agree that one of the best aspects of the team is its exceptionally strong connection with alumni. Players who graduate are inducted into the alumni team, The Godfeathers, which competes in JiveFest every year. Alumni attend other tournaments and visit the college in their free time as well.
This unusual sense of community is what drives the Jive Turkeys and makes the team stand out at Dickinson. “I’ve met people who graduated six years before I got here,” said Williams. “We can’t part with each other. We just can’t do it.”