The Creation of Cedar Rapids Ultimate
I’m a busy guy. I work evenings and weekends at a t.v. station that fills my nights. I am freshly married and recently became a homeowner. Plus, I spend at least one day a week working at a restaurant to get a little extra cash to help pay student loans. So, between giving my best a work trying to set myself up for the next promotion, making my wife a priority, spending quality time with her, mowing the lawn, washing the dishes and sautéing pasta dishes I’m kinda swamped but I still made the decision to start a non-profit. When I decided to start it, I did without thinking twice because I thought this non-profit would get more people in my town to play Ultimate. Yes, the game with the frisbee.
I started playing Ultimate my freshmen year of college. I know, what a cliche, but it’s true. It was orientation week and I knew nobody at my college of 7,000 students. I hadn’t even met my roommates yet. I was walking through the club fair(I had just signed up for rugby out of boredom) when I hear someone yell in my direction “Hey! You’re tall. You should play frisbee.” I signed up, went to practice the next week and did good enough that I was encouraged to return. Ultimate became the physical activity and social lifeline that I needed to survive my freshmen year and I fell in love with game; the running, the flow, the spirit, the camaraderie between players and between teams. As Ultimate grew in my life I became captain of my college team, played for a Club team that was two wins away form Nationals twice and coached the best High School B team in Minnesota. Regardless of how little money I had, or how little time off I had, it was always used for Ultimate. That was my life. My family, my lady and Ultimate. So, when I moved to Cedar Rapids in the fall of 2010 with my lady(who also plays Ultimate) we knew we’d need to find some Ultimate. Since we moved here in November we had a rough time until pick-up games started in April.
When pick-up began we found us some great lifelong friends but the type of game we found didn’t quite fill our Ultimate needs. Instead of playing 7-on-7, they played whatever-on-whatever and defense seemed to be optional. I would’ve felt rude, as a newcomer, suggesting that each person on our team tried to guard a person on the other team. Some people love playing Ultimate that way and I’m glad they enjoy it, but I wanted more from my Ultimate. I played in Iowa CIty Summer League and traveled to play in club tournaments but I really wanted my home town to be able to put together a good game of Ultimate. There’s 150,000 people in the metro area. I just wanted to find 20 people who loved to play Ultimate with, like, rules and stuff.The idea didn’t seem impossible. I would spend way too much of my time wondering about the best way to create and Ultimate community in Cedar Rapids. There seemed to be pockets of players who never connected and a few people who’d prefer to play with structure but the majority still seemed to only want to play a relaxed game.
I wanted to figure out how to get the people searching for more from their Ultimate and get hem all together. I’ve never been the greatest at networking but that’s what Cedar Rapids needed to get to the next level. Then, one Tuesday afternoon in the spring of 2013 playing whatever-on-whatever pick-up I met an athletic, friendly, out-going fella with dirty blonde hair reaching down to his shoulders. I could tell just by the way he moved on the field, in fast, hard cuts made with purpose, that he expected more from a game of Ultimate, just like I did.
This fella, Caleb, wanted what I did. Better Ultimate in Cedar Rapids created by the building of community. We meet and talked and decided we needed to give our community a name. That’s when the entity known as Cedar Rapids Ultimate began. At first it was just a Facebook group that allowed players from all the different, isolated pockets of Cedar rapids to find each other and find games to play. THen we began hosting our own pick-up games and introducing more structure and rules to our games. First playing 7-on-7, then travel calls, fouled calls and picks. Eventually, we even called it a turnover when someone dropped the pull. Serious stuff! We had created our kind of pick-up but we wanted more. We wanted to share our love for the sport with as many people as possible. We created a Youth League to teach the next generation and got 19 kids to sign up the first year. We printed discs with our name not hem to give to the kids and sell around town. Youth League ran through the summer and than we hosted a Fall League for adults. Attendance at Fall League was shaky but it led to some of the most competitive and well-played Ultimate that I have ever experienced in Cedar Rapids. It was during the transition from Youth League to Fall League that Caleb and I met Taylor, the third leg of our awesome tricycle.
Taylor wanted to see a club team form in Cedar Rapids and to help build the community that we were creating. It was Taylor that dreamt big and thought about how much more we could accomplish as an organization if we were a non-profit organization. When Taylor made this suggestion I never asked myself if I had the time, desire and energy to make it happen. I only asked myself if it was best for the Ultimate community in Cedar Rapids and we decided that it was, so that’s what we did.
So, in the fall of 2013 we decided to take Cedar Rapids Ultimate from being 3 guys running a Facebook page to becoming a full-fledged non-profit organization. During this time I was working two jobs, planning a wedding, making time to see my lady, buying a house and paying off those evil student loans. Still, I found time for regular meetings with Taylor and Caleb to talk about our goals, complete complicated forms for the IRS, contact area businesses about fundraising opportunities and strategize about how to grow Ultimate in my town. It would’ve been easier to just drive to Iowa City and play in their leagues and travel to tournaments with their club teams but it was more important to me to build something here. I felt an obligation to build something from stretch in a town that could really use more Ultimate. My town.
Now, the question is why. Why dedicate so much time to a sport? Not just the time to play a few days a week but the time to build a community for Ultimate players. I do it because I love playing Ultimate and I believe in it’s potential. Ultimate is fun. It’s great exercise. It’s a team atmosphere. It’s a social lifeline. For some people that’s all Ultimate is and that’s fine but the biggest reason I devote so much time to promote this sport is because I believe in its power to make the world a better place. To my core, I know that when I teach someone how to play Ultimate I’m also teaching them to be better people. I’m teaching them how to be patient, understanding and honest. I’m teaching them to be better people. I’m not an amazing person but I have spent ten plus years learning about this tool that can make people treat each other with respect and I want to share my knowledge. Ultimate has so much potential for good. This amazingly powerful potential within Ultimate is possible because it is built on the idea of “The Spirit of the Game.” The idea that you don’t need referees if everyone on the field is knowledgeable of the rules and respectful of their opponent. Spirit of the Game is essentially holding respect for the game, respect for the rules, respect for your opponent and respect for yourself above a win-at-all-costs attitude. This encourages fair play without compromising competition and it gives the players the responsibility of keeping the game fair, competitive and fun.
This is the only sport in America that allows this much responsibility to remain with the player and it has wonderful affects on it participants. Players must call their own fouls and violations and uphold the rules themselves. This gives the player a voice. If a player feels cheated or wronged that player not only has the right, but the obligation, to speak up. The ability to yell ‘foul’ and have 13 other people stop instantly because they recognize that what you feel, and shared, is important to the game. This feels empowering to someone not used to speaking up for themselves. It gives the player the confidence to say, “You broke the rules. It’s wrong. I’m going to stop it. I’m going to fix it.” This builds confidence and confidence leads to positive people who believe in themselves. People who believe they can go to college, or that they can speak up when they see someone being bullied, or it can give someone the confidence to leave an abusive relationship. The nature of being your own referee breeds a good kind of confidence that can make better people, but Ultimate doesn’t stop there.
The player calling a foul has a voice, but so does the person being called for a foul and this created a situation that could be called conflict. The person called for a fouled could concede saying ‘No Contest’ or the player can say ‘Contest’ if they disagree. They have the right to say, “I’m innocent. I followed the rules.” They can disagree and that’s okay. The two players now have an opportunity to quickly and calmly discuss what happened and how they both feel about it. They can come to an agreement or agree to disagree and then the game continues. A guidance counselor would call this conflict-resolution. A skill that everyone needs is built into the essence of the sport. A game couldn’t be completed without this happening effectively. Fouls happen and travels happen but the game breaks down when players can’t use conflict-resolution skills to enable to game to progress.
Just imagined if every child played Ultimate and grew up learning these skills. They’d be learning self-confidence and conflict-resolution skills without even realizing it. They’d learn these skills while still learning the lessons in teamwork, discipline and leadership that are learned through all team sports.
Think of a world where everyone has a basic understanding of conflict-resolution and just slightly more self-confident. Think of how many more high school graduates and entrepreneurs we’d have. How much less crime and hatred would there be in a world where people knew it was okay to disagree. They knew it was okay for someone to have a different opinion. All this could be gained by a sport that is extremely cheap to play and is wonderful exercise.
I see all of this in the sport of Ultimate. I see a group of friends running around, tossing a piece of plastic back and forth and I smile. I smile because I see Ultimate and all that it can be, which is why I put my precious time in to creating an Ultimate community in my town. I believe in humanity and I believe that Ultimate will make it better.