First things first, if you have any feedback from the live webcast of any of the UPA games specifically regarding my commentating you can put it in the comments of this blog. I really do appreciate the criticism (even from you, Toad) as it helps me improve. And the praise is nice because it makes me feel good :).
So, for those of you that don't know me, I've been "involved" with Ultimate for a pretty long while. I first started playing the game in the fall of '93 at Paideia (HS) and went on to play for the US Juniors team in '94 and '96 and Brown from 1998 through 2002. During that time I played a lot - starting at Brown all five years. All that I was was an Ultimate player. My parents used to joke that I was getting a degree in Ultimate. In many respects it wasn't far from the truth.
After graduating I moved out to Colorado to work for the UPA running the youth program. I tried out and made Johnny Bravo in 2002. After my first season, I had a pretty serious skiing accident that left me in the hospital for a month. I lost thirty pounds and didn't regain it all for several months. I continued to play for Bravo through 2006 but was always working to regain the speed I had prior to the skiing accident and didn't play much or at all in big games for the team. I loved being a part of the team though, especially in 2006 when we made semis, and prided myself on my contributions to the team in less tangible ways - being a good sideline player, helping with scouting other teams, helping newer players understand and develop with their potential strengths, and working hard at the track or at practice.
During this time I also started to coach Ultimate. I coached for three years at Monarch HS.
After the 2006 season I moved back to Atlanta and tried out for Chain and made the team. At the time, I was probably playing the best Ultimate of my career. I wasn't quite as fast as I had been when I graduated college but in my eyes the game had slowed as I had gotten older and spent more time coaching and could really see what was happening on the field. But I found myself frustrated with my Chain experience for reasons I won't get into now and quit the team before the '07 series (as an aside, before my interview with Dylan Tunnel after the finals I told him that my first question was going to be "so, if I hadn't quit Chain, would I have been cut before this season?" His response - after a good laugh - "it's probably good that you left when you did." And he's probably right. I think with the talent they brought on over the last two years, there is little chance I would have made the team this season). I ended up observing at Nationals that year. In '07 I also began coaching at Paideia (first the JV Boys and then for the last two years the Varsity girls) and have spent the last three years on the UPA Board of Directors.
The following year I picked up with Bucket, a non-practicing team that finished 16th at Nationals in 2008. This year, I didn't know what I wanted to do so I told the Bucket leadership not to add me to the roster unless they didn't have anyone else who they wanted to play with them since the roster limit would be an issue. They ended up adding me just at the roster deadline when former Chain player, Sam Gainer fell through. I played Regionals but then chose not to play at Nationals for various reasons, one of which was because I was really interested in doing the Ultivillage commentating.
Ok, I'll now apologize for that very self-indulgent rant and get to the point of my post.
Somehow over the past seven years since graduating college I've moved almost completely from being an Ultimate player to something else all together - a hanger-on of sorts. I love the sport. I love the people. All of my closest friends are Ultimate players, but something hit me this weekend when I was doing the commentary for UltiVillage - I spend considerably more time talking about Ultimate than I do actually playing it. This transition hasn't been a fast one. It started when I started playing for Bravo and stopped playing a lot of points at tournaments. But it certainly was clear this year when I skipped Lei-Out, Poultry Days, Nationals and in two weeks the Brown tournament, Huck a hunk o' Burnin' Pumpkin (HHBP), to talk about Ultimate.
And even more strange has been the idea of moving in to the "Ultimate media." In 2002 I started writing articles for the UPA magazine and in 2005 started commentating for CSTV (later CBS College Sports) and for the past two Club Championships Ultivillage. I've started posting more frequently on this blog.
I really enjoy this aspect of the game - I feel like elite Ultimate at all levels is a very closed off thing and there are a lot of people who are hungry to understand the top level of the game more. To get beneath the surface. As a HS and College player I was always hungry for information and have had a long documented addiction to RSD. But as a player, I always found it hard to talk about the game. I couldn't make predictions or talk critically about teams or strategy when I played for Bravo or Chain without feeling like I was putting up locker room material or giving away information.
But what I find scary about this transition is how it will affect my relationships with players both friends and those I don't really know. If I'm talking to a friend of mine on a top team, is he or she not going to be open with me because of what I may later post on this blog or say in some commentary? Can I critique teams and players without putting friendships in jeopardy? Can I praise them without seeming like some ridiculous fanboy instead of a mutual friend?
In the Master's final webcast, I went off on how good a player I think Brian Snyder is. Now, I don't know Brian Snyder but I like the idea of a giving the spotlight to player who is really talented but isn't terribly well known because of the teams he has played on. But I'm pretty sure now it would be awkward to talk to Brian after the praise I lavished on a guy I don't really know. Perhaps I could just go over the top with the fanboy side of it and ask him to sign my face as an icebreaker.
It's weird, talking about the game almost necessitates being apart from it and the players. I guess I'm going to try and strike the balance between the two, but if it puts my relationships at risk, I'd pick those relationships over being a respected commentator on the game any day. Because, no matter how much I actually cleat up and play, in my heart I am an Ultimate player.
And so, if you're an Ultimate player - friend or acquaintance, and you want to talk with me about the game or your team but don't want me sharing your thoughts with the whole world, just use these five words "this is off the record..."
And I'm going to try to keep bringing more of Ultimate to everybody out there who, like me, is hungry to always know more about the game.