Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Blue Print: The Road to the Repeat

In many ways 2008 was one of the worst years of my life. My graduate work was in shambles, my personal relationships a train wreck and, worst of all, I suffered a Jones Fracture at the first practice of the club season and was sidelined during the best season Colt .45 ever had. However, despite these unfortunate circumstances, I will always remember 2008 as the most fantastic whirlwind of my young life.

For those that may have forgotten or were not around for it, 2008 began with a dozen or so college previews followed by tournament recaps and a few trips to places like Austin, Texas, Boulder, Colorado, Vancouver, Canada and Sarasota, Florida. Looking back I cannot help but wonder what could have compelled such behavior and in reflection I can think of one word, "passion". Fortunately for me, I was brave enough to let my passion get the better of me and in so doing found out who and what I truly am.

This journey was not one I traversed alone however and I owe a large debt of gratitude to many people and organizations. Of them, I think the most thrilling come from a handful of players and teams that made 2008 arguably the most exciting ultimate season the sport has ever seen. With characters like Joe Kershner, Will Neff, Kurt Gibson, Jolian Dahl and Mark Sherwood, I was never short of superstars to investigate and teams like Arizona, Dartmouth, Michigan, Florida, Colorado, Pitt, Georgia, and Carleton made every tournament feel like Memorial Day.

But there was one program that was heads and shoulders above all others. There was one collection of warriors that carried a confidence, a swagger, a sense of pride, and, most of all, a love for each other and for our game, that is likely to never be duplicated. The Wisconsin Hodags represented the absolute pinnacle of competitive achievement two years ago and I can say with no exaggeration that in covering them from wire-to-wire, they were one of the most epic teams to have ever played the game.

Beginning in May of 2006 this team was set on becoming the most dominant force ultimate had ever seen. Losing 15-12 to Florida in the sweltering heat of Columbus, Ohio left an aftertaste that only teams like the Buffalo Bills or Cleveland Cavaliers can understand. Because of this, each member of Baby Blue returned home with a focus and a dedication that few people in this world can understand.

A few short months later, Classic City Classic and the beginnings of a new season were upon them. In February of 2007 Wisconsin once again starred down the barrel of a focused Florida program and once again came up short. Such a loss only renewed their commitment to excellence and never again that season did they taste defeat. But they also never faced Florida again.

So into the offseason they returned, still burned by a defeat that in all seriousness should have been washed away with one of the most convincing National Titles ever earned. But these are no ordinary flatballers.

It may have taken over a year but finally, Wisconsin earned their re-match with Gibson's Gators on a windy Sunday morning in Austin, Texas. Emotion could not have been higher, especially considering Wisconsin's lackluster Saturday, a paltry 4-1 pool play performance. They had been 16-0 the previous two years.

However, much like Columbus and Vegas, Florida would be the victor. Once again Florida had snatched victory from the Hodag jaws and once again Wisconsin would return to Madison beaten and frustrated.

Through sectionals, regionals, and two days of Nationals both Florida and Wisconsin were perfect and on May 18th, 2008 the showdown of a lifetime was set. One could argue regional finals carry comparable emotion and history to this bout, but it would be a hopeless venture. This was a contest that had been brewing for the bulk of each competing players' careers and never before had a contest featured such competitive giants of College Ultimate against one another.

After nearly a decade of following College Ultimate, I have never seen a game carry as much significance as that day in Boulder, Colorado. For three years these juggernauts gave ultimate fans the most exhilarating ride in College Ultimate and as if it were written in the stars the once weary Hodags were victorious.

However, unlike some of the most historic seasons in College Ultimate history, this trilogy of championships has been carefully captured and archived. Fortunately for all of us the entire saga, each short coming, each success, each chapter of this story has been documented and is now ready to own.

The Blue Print: The Road to the Repeat is the story of Wisconsin's emergence as one of the most dominating forces in the history of ultimate and the tireless historians from Madison are ready to share their work that is now 5 years in the making.

With the help of UltiVillage this DVD will be available to any fan, player, or follower that wants to witness, understand, and, dare I say, repeat a bit of history. Our sport rarely archives greatness and considering how rare true greatness is, such an opportunity is something no ultimate purist could pass up.

This weekend at College Nationals will be the first opportunity to acquire pre-sale copies of the documentary. Be one of the first to earn your seat for a truly awe-inspiring performance.

Here is the official press release for the documentary:

"The BluePrint: The Road to the Repeat” is a feature length documentary that follows the full season of the 2008 Wisconsin Hodags. After two years in a row of making finals, losing and then winning once, the Hodags set out to bring the championship back to Madison for a third time in six years. This would be a trial of focus, dedication, and unity for a team beleaguered by a record snowfall winter, and a line up of bitter competitors waiting for their shot at the returning champs.

The film highlights the 2008 Hodag season through eight tournaments interspersed with scenes from grueling workouts and intense field practices. Feel the contrast of a team which thrives on the ideal of Hodag Love, but expects nothing less than perfection from itself. Catch all the action as rivalries with college Ultimate powerhouses like Florida, The Colorado Mama Bird, and The Carleton Ultimate Team unfold.

Pre Sales start this Memorial Day Weekend!

Click here for more information on Wisconsin Ultimate.

just my thoughts

match diesel

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

PED's in Ultimate

Is it possible? Is it impossible? Is there a sport better suited for PED use?

After following the Cushing story for a little while, I can not help but consider the possibility that PED's are in our sport.

Ok, first off, lets re-visit the definition of Performance Enhancing Drugs. In glancing at Wikipedia's page on the topic, I couldn't help but notice that marijuana actually can be a PED in sports like archery to reduce jitters and to steady one's hand. Using this definition, PED's are definitely in our sport.

However, what about the good stuff like steroids and HGH? Is it possible that they exist in ultimate? I suppose those that have never thought about it, or come across anyone who has, these sorts of PEDs are not unlike hard drugs. I personally have only seen cocaine twice and have never seen heroin, PCP, Ecstasy, etc.. and would have no clue how to procure any of them, even if I wanted to. That does not mean that they do not exist though and given the fact that steroid use is prevalent in high schools across the US, I am inclined to believe a motivated adult could find whatever they thought would help.

This concept is even more alarming when considering the number of players in our sport. A quick glance at the college rankings site indicates that there are over 600 teams registered on the score reporter, in the open division alone. Now I do not claim that all are active teams, but that is a lot. If I could venture a guess as to how many people play ultimate, I suspect the number would fall in the 10s of 1,000s and with such a large sample size, I am skeptical that 100% are clean.

What's worse is that ultimate, like most professional sports, is ideal for PED abuse. Some say steroids or HGH can not help you hit a fastball, but they sure as shit can help you heal. That is the canonical use for steroids. Can you imagine how valuable such a substance would be in getting through an arduous 6 month season? What about overcoming an injury or giving you the boost you need to make the cut? Which brings me to my next point, who would consider using.

For most top shelf athletes, PED use in ultimate is likely unnecessary. If you are gifted physically, you likely have no interest in artificially boosting your body's ability and would likely feel unimaginable guilt and regret if you did so. But realistically, such athletes do not constitute a majority. They represent the small few that can walk onto a field and stun the masses simply by doing their thing. But what about the rest of us? How badly do you want to make the A team? What would you sacrifice? And are you even mature enough to understand the implications and consequences of your actions?

I suppose one could counter that because one's financial stability does not depend on their performance in ultimate, the temptation is not as prevalent as in professional sports. My response to this lies with availability. Yes, if sequestering steroids required knowing the right people, paying the right price, and/or venturing into some really dark places, steroid use would be a rough road for the recreational player to traverse. However, with websites like this and this, one just needs a credit card. Punch in a few numbers and your address and boom, welcome to 20 inch pythons. The ease of the internet once again shows that it comes with some drawbacks.

Considering the fact that abuse knows no age and the sport has grown into the same demographics that have already been shown to use PEDs (high school students) I am inclined to believe that somewhere, someone is using. That being said, my biggest question is "How does this affect spirit of the game?" Forget refs, forget muscling for position, travel calls, or double teaming. What about steroids?

Scary as it may sound, perhaps someone reads this and gets an idea. Hopefully it is an administrator looking to build some sort of testing infrastructure, but I suspect it could be a college kid who's a little scrawny, who loves the game, and simply HAS to make his/her A team. And to add to the temptation, who's going to stop him/her? What is in place to even address the issue? Once again, forget refs, what about PEDs?

I suppose this issue is a few years down the road, but only because no one has been busted yet. It took Black Tide getting booted from Nationals to get people to pay attention to years of eligibility. Then again, how would one currently even recognize or catch a PED user? Which is probably the scariest component to the argument. We simply can't.

just my thoughts

match diesel

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Importance of Stats

Last night I caught "61*" on HBO and for those that have not seen it, the movie is a pretty sweet depiction of the homerun race between Mickey Mantle and Roger Marris in the summer of '61. Billy Crystal, a huge Mantle fan, articulates the struggles of both players as they try and break Babe Ruth's single season homerun record, "The most most respected record in all of sports". Being a sucker for emo-sports stories such as this, I was taken in by the flick nearly 10 years ago when it first aired, and once again, caught myself getting a little misty. Although in the wake of the steroid era, it is kind of hard to feel any positive emotion when Big Mac is on screen.

In any event, this movie got me thinking about ultimate and how we really don't have that many records. Yes there is DoG's epic run of 6 consecutive championships, but for me it draws similarities to ULCA's championship runs in the 60's and 70's. They were incredible and will never be forgotten, but the increase in parity makes duplicating such a result unlikely.

With the rise in fan appreciation for all sports, focus often falls on one record or another. From the '72 dolphins, to Cal Ripken, Wayne Gretzky, Joe DiMaggio, Wilt Chamberlain, etc... we can all think of records that command attention and inspire hope, even for those of us that will never see a professional playing field.

Some might say these records are irrelevant and that players don't pay any attention to them, but I would argue that most professional athletes cared at one point or another, if only as a child, and all would agree that records are an important part of sports. Can we say the same for ultimate? What records are there? I know Joe Seidler could probably name more than a few, but I get the feeling most folks would be left flat when asked what records are treasured in ultimate.

The only thing that really comes to mind is the perfect season, which to my knowledge has not been done, at least not recently (Perhaps an ex-NYNY player will correct me, but for arguments sake, lets say there has never been a team that has gone undefeated). Since I have played the game Stanford, Florida and Wisconsin have all come close with records of 37-1 (2002), 49-1 (2006), and 55-1 (2007), respectively, and I believe all three could claim to be the best college teams ever assembled. Now I am not here to claim that the perfect season is the ideal record, its just one that comes to mind. In reality, I think it is a goal that could prove to be counter productive. Considering the fact that all my "1-loss" teams are college programs, it is obvious that no one really cares about the perfect season in the club sphere.

However, what I am trying to claim is that ultimate could benefit from well known/accepted records and more importantly an improved system of keeping statistics, which is obviously where records come from. One of my favorite components of every UPA magazine that features recaps of Nationals (college or club) is the championship stat sheet where I can see who had good/poor games and how clean/sloppy the finals were. To my knowledge, no game has ever been turnover free, but I do sometimes find myself talking about the epic Furious/DoG semifinal from 2002, Kyle Weisbrod's #1 game of the decade, which seems to be the pinnacle of ultimate performance.

With this in mind, I am curious to know what records could manifest in ultimate. Given that our sport is prone to speciality positions at the highest level I doubt a triple crown of 1) Goals, 2) Assists and 3) D's would be possible. Perhaps single season records of each could be cool, but I wonder if lopsided teams would dominant such stats, thus making any sort of record irrelevant. Another route, much like goalie records in hockey, could be player completion percentage but I wonder if keeping track of passes would be overwhelmingly tedious. Regardless, I know that such stats where kept at least once at the 2005 World Games in Germany, and I can vividly remember combing through them that summer with a grin from ear to ear.

Then there are team records. I mentioned DoG's run of championships, and the "clean sheet", but what about football-esk records like average points against. I am sure Muffin, Mahowald, Hohenstein, and the rest of the '07 Hodags would love to be talked about the way the Steel Curtain is, especially considering the fact that offense has such a major advantage in our game.

Ultimately (ha! I always find it funny to use that word in ultimate articles) I don't really feel anything for any of these records which, given our sport, is not surprising. I respect total number of championships, but in all honesty, they are respectable almost to the point of boredom. Yes de Frondeville's got like 11 rings, I'm over it. Give me something a little more exciting to pay attention too.

Which brings me to my final point. In 2008 I had the time of my life covering ultimate and when I look back at all the seasons I have followed the most epic are always the ones I followed most closely. I think 2005 was the best college nationals in recent history, but it was also the first time I ever attended them. I think 2008 had the most compelling stories with Kershner, and Florida and Wisconsin, but then again I was at Centex, and Nationals, and followed every team with a magnifying glass. Since then I, and what looks like most of the ultimate community, have not been paying attention. I was approached to write the College Open Preview because somebody flaked and I struggled for talking points, especially with the Callahan. And it wasn't just me. Everyone I contacted sort of shrugged their shoulders and was like, "I dunno" and/or had some sort of heavy regional bias. All in all, I find the focus on ultimate, college or club, is pretty weak and has been for the past two years and I think statistics would make a difference. I mean come on, take a look at baseball. The game is nothing but numbers and I am sure more than a few of you out there care more about WHIP than you'd care to admit because of your fantasy team.

Anyway, long story short, I wish our sport kept better records. I have bitched numerous times that we don't archive our history well and now that we have a consistent score reporter, I now want statistics. Goals, assists, turnovers, D's. Think how much analysis of the game would change if we had such information. Who's the best? Who's the most consistent? Who's improved the most? With cold hard data, everything would change. High risk high reward players would be exposed for their carelessness and cool and steady flatballers would gain the credit they deserve. Strengths and weaknesses could be improved or taken advantage of with greater efficiency. Hell we might even get a record or two to chase when the dust settles.

I am sure I'm just yelling at the rain, but here is one way to make ultimate more like professional sports without talking about refs and SOTG, keep track of stats.

just my thoughts

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