Ultimate Frisbee team balances need for competition with desire for tons of fun

Ultimate Frisbee Lauren Adrian ’08, left, and Julia Spencer ’10 eye the prize during a practice game on Ankeny Field.

Despite the elements, the annual OnionFest tournament brought out the sweet sight of flying discs and a healthy dose of competition for Whitman’s Ultimate Frisbee team, the Sweets.

Though advertisements for this year’s OnionFest promised “absurdly good weather… rolling hills of amber wheat and the sweetest coed disc this side of Sunnyside,” reality proved more strenuous.

Twenty teams from around the nation weathered gusting winds and intermittent (and rare) April snowfall during the tournament.

Neither wind nor snow, however, could drown out the traditional Whittie cheer of “Slice ‘em, dice ‘em, sauté, fry!” Nor did the weather put a damper on the day’s cheery atmosphere, live music, onion-eating contest and themed costumes.

“The Sweets have a reputation for being fun-loving and spirited, where competition isn’t the end-all be-all,” said men’s captain Jonathan Loeffler ’08.

Ultimate Frisbee is the biggest club sport at Whitman, with about 50 active players and nearly 200 members on its mailing list. Both men’s and women’s teams are “self-sustaining,” Loeffler notes, but the college provides funding and resources.

Frisbee season begins in the fall, when a coed team forms, and new recruits are put through basic training (catching, offense and defense). “It’s open to whoever wants to play,” said women’s captain Sarah Haas ’08. “There are people who come dressed up as Superman, and then there are more competitive athletes for whom it’s a physical outlet.”

In the spring, the women’s team and men’s team go their separate ways to participate in national tournaments or, in the case of OnionFest, to host their own.

OnionFest Jonathan Loeffler ’08 is pleased to pose in his oh-so-sweet Ultimate Frisbee garb at the club’s annual tournament, OnionFest, in April. In August, Loeffler will enter serious competition: He qualified for the world championships in Vancouver, B.C.

In the past few years, both teams have traveled to increasingly competitive tournaments. This year, the men’s team won the Hanford Howl in Kennewick, was invited to the Stanford Invite (reserved for the top 16 teams in the country) and played in the Ultimate College Championship. The women’s team trekked to Nevada for the “Trouble in Vegas” tournament, a grueling two-day event.

Loeffler and Jeremy Norden ’11 have played their way to the top and the right to play in the World Flying Disc Federation Championships this August in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, competing against top teams from around the nation.

For Loeffler, who has played Ultimate since fifth grade, the beauty of the sport lies in its authentic nature. “It requires the traditional athleticism, but there’s a simplicity in the game in that it’s self-officiated,” he said. “That keeps the sport unique, with no referees. The responsibility for fair play is on each player. That purity is attractive.”

“Our biggest challenge is how to achieve a balance between being low-key and competitive,” said Haas, women’s team captain for the past two years. “It has a lot to do with wanting to play Frisbee, for whatever reason. We don’t have to define that balance, but we have to have an understanding. You play how you want. The most important thing is building a community of people who want to be playing together for the spirit of the game.”