Two years ago, a group of students created an Ultimate Frisbee club team to represent Cedarville at area tournaments.
“In our first tournament at Ohio Christian, we didn’t have a single point scored on us,” said co-captain Tony Donato. “That was when we realized we still have a lot of good guys that didn’t go to that tournament and if we add them, we will be a really deadly team.”
In their first season as a sanctioned club team, they qualified for the national tournament, an unheard-of feat.
“We went to two tournaments in March and did really well at both of them,” said captain Kyle Bradley, “and we ended up … getting three bids to nationals for the Ohio Valley Region by finishing fifth in the country.”
These bids determine who goes to nationals. Despite the early success, expectations were still low for the new club.
“No one really knew who we were, we were completely unknown,” Bradley said. “We got upset at conferences and because of that we weren’t expected to make it out of regionals, everyone thought we were overrated.”
After squeaking into the regional tournament, things came together for the team.
“We were able to put it all together after a rough start and beat the team we lost to at conferences by one point to make nationals,” Bradley said.
At nationals, the team struggled early but recovered enough to get a ninth-place finish, which was special for the founding team members, nine of whom were graduating seniors.
“Those were the guys who created the program, so to have that opportunity to go from nothing to making nationals in that first year was awesome,” Bradley said.
After the seniors graduated, the 11 remaining varsity players were left to see if they could take a team and turn it into a program.
“At our first tryout we had about 60 people, and within two weeks, numbers were down into the 30s,” he said. “We focused heavily on development and trying to develop a system for the years to come. Last year we were focused mainly on the varsity because that was our shot to make nationals; this year we’re trying to get the framework for a sustainable program.”
The team is relying heavily on new recruits, mainly freshmen and sophomores, many of whom went straight to varsity.
“Having all the freshmen has been a growing experience for us as captains,” Donato said. “We are in charge of the team, we make the calls, and we make game-time decisions. We also try to be more positive this year. We found out early on that if someone makes a mistake, yelling at them doesn’t work, but teaching them how to improve does.”
The positivity has created a team community both on and off the field, so much so that the team is hoping to live together next year.
“It’s a place where people often show up expecting to play Frisbee and then they find connections that keep going after practice is done,” said co-captain Andrew Wiebe. “There’s a reason that once people come and try out and commit to the team that they don’t leave.”
The community within Cedarville’s team is also shared throughout the sport. Teams spend a lot of time building relationships with each other during weekend tournaments.
“Since we built a credible program last year, we’ve been able to create a lot of relationships that can produce good effects for Christ,” Donato said. “That’s something that makes our sport unique because we get to minister to other teams both on and off the field.”
Last season, the Ultimate community was hit with a tragedy. Three players from Carlton University were killed in a car accident traveling to a tournament. For Cedarville, this presented a unique ministry opportunity.
“Seeing the Ultimate community come around Carlton and support them, that was really cool to see,” Wiebe said. “While all those people might not understand Christ, when stuff like that happens within the community it affects the entire community, and that’s something we can talk about and bring Christ into.”
The Cedarville Ultimate team is not all about winning, and success isn’t what the sport of Ultimate is about, either.
“A lot of the game is built upon playing the game with integrity and playing with respect for your opponent,” Bradley said. “The game is completely self-officiated, even at the highest levels. It can be easy to take advantage of the rules if you want to.”
Donato said he likes this aspect of Frisbee compared with other sports.
“One aspect of every other sport is do what you can to win,” he said. “In basketball, if you’re losing, you’ll intentionally foul or in soccer you might flop to get a call. In Frisbee, it’s an unstated rule that you will do none of that. Winning is not the number one goal.”
Without these unwritten rules, known as the Spirit of the Game, the game breaks down. After each game, opponents rate each others’ spirit. At the end of a tournament, the team with the highest ratings wins the Spirit Award.
Cedarville has won several Spirit Awards, including at nationals last year.
And Donato said he loves winning Spirit Awards more than tournaments.
“I love knowing that other teams like to play us because of how we play,” he said.
Wiebe said for him, Ultimate is about playing hard, but it’s also more than that.
“If you out-throw your opponent, you out-jump your opponent, then you’ll win the game,” he said. “As Christians, that has big implications, our attitudes on the field reflect Christ, how we play and the fouls we call.”
Positively reflecting Christ has been a focus. When thinking about building a program, Bradley said he hopes the team stays competitive, but he’s more focused on Cedarville using Ultimate to witness.
“We have an opportunity to play in a way that other teams look at us and see that the only difference between their school and ours is that ours is a Christian school and that that is clearly affecting their actions and the way that they play,” he said. “That’s what we’re looking for, and what better way to do that than at the highest level of competition possible.”
Tyler Greenwood is a sophomore mechanical engineering major and a sports reporter for Cedars.