What It’s Like to Feel Invisible on an Ultimate Field

Earlier this spring, I had the pleasure of attending the spring break tournament High Tide for my final time as a senior. I love this tournament because it is such a unique experience. Not only do we get to play the greatest sport known to man for an entire week, but my favorite parts of ultimate culture truly shine here. It’s my little slice of ultimate heaven where the haircuts don’t make sense and jorts are preferred to Patagonia. Every team is ready to dance and you can’t walk down the beach without seeing discs and Spikeball sets.

As much as I love this tournament, it made me consider some of our community’s downfalls. On Monday, I participated in the hat tournament with several of my teammates. The hat tournament is such a great part of High Tide because it allows you to meet players from all over the country who love to play just as much as you do.

The hat tournament is mixed, so like most mixed events the rules are to play either 4-3 or 5-2. As most of us know, this ratio rule is in place because of a lack of women. Ideally, you play 4-3, but occasionally a team gets screwed and only gets a few women. This is why the Tournament Director, Ed Pulkin, added this rule. Since it’s a hat tournament, he simply doesn’t know who will show up. To my dismay, my team went up against a team that I would consider less than spirited. They continually put 5-2 on the line despite having plenty of women, limiting the playing time for all of the women competing in the tournament. Their huck-to-tall-guys-in-the-endzone strategy prevailed and this team ended up winning the hat tournament.

But who cares right? This is just a hat tournament that means nothing. Wrong. Hat tournaments are a staple of our community and spirit of the game. Hat tournaments are about meeting new people, growing our sport, and good old fashioned fun. Hat tournaments are not about marginalizing women, rookies, or anyone else. Yet, that’s what I saw represented in this final game.

This is not an isolated incident. I love playing mixed. Ultimate is one of the only sports where mixed gender teams compete competitively, which makes me so proud. Yet, I have been involved in too many games where mixed teams neglect their women. It doesn’t feel good to be wide open and get looked off. There are a lot of efforts being put forth to build women’s ultimate right now, and simple actions like not throwing to your female teammates deter those efforts.

I know what half of you are thinking. “But I play mixed and always throw to women. Some women are better than me.” Awesome. Thank you for being a real teammate, but there’s a larger issue here. We shouldn’t let these other teams take their women out of the equation. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been invisible during a game because the other team didn’t throw to their women. I’ve had women tell me “you don’t have to defend me because they won’t throw to me.” Yeah, I can poach and maybe still get a D, but that’s not a game I’m excited to play.

If we really want the mixed division to exist in our community at any level, we need to start speaking up. Women make up roughly half the U.S. population, probably more. If we want to grow this sport or professionalize it, we need to engage that population of women – whether it be as players or fans. So play your women, throw to women, but more importantly call out teams who aren’t using their women. Don’t revert to a “boys will be boys” mantra. Our community is about inclusion and spirit. As a reminder, spirit of the game states that “win at all costs” tactics are to be avoided by ultimate players.

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