Eating Dirt for the Disc

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Fools Fest is 72 hours of living, sleeping, and eating Ultimate Frisbee.

By Moira Moody

“Is this a team?”

“Do you practice?”

“Do you play naked?”

Yes, yes, and I’ll get to that. If I got a Gatorade for every crazy question I received about playing Ultimate Frisbee at Penn, my electrolyte needs would be filled for life.

Ultimate is a field sport played with a 175-gram plastic disc and 14 people divided into two teams running like Mercury in order to land that disc into their prescribed end zone. However Penn’s team, Venus, emphasizes the love of the sport rather than the speed.

Venus is a club-level organization that goes to tournaments up and down the East Coast in the fall and spring semesters. There are two field practices a week, and two running practices a week. Weightlifting is optional; clothing, for the record, is not—though some other Ultimate teams have been known to make exceptions on occasion.

I joined Venus with about 40 other freshman women in the fall of my freshman year, and by the end of that year we were down to two. I can understand why the others left: People don’t know what to expect. We aren’t covered by the DP. It is not a sport for people who want to avoid major time commitments or any chance of serious injury. (When you’re eating dirt for the disc, you risk torn ligaments and dislocated shoulders.) There also isn’t the single-mindedness about team goals that some athletes look for when they try new sports at Penn. I think the only reason I stayed was because I was stubborn and wanted to figure the sport out. After four years I’m not that close, but what I did take away was the mix of competition and fun, full-field sprints and College Green tosses, tourneys and long car rides that make Ultimate not so much a game as an experience.

Fools Fest, regularly attended by Penn Venutians, is one such experience. Held in Fredericksburg, Virginia, it attracts reunion teams of former college players who have moved on to play for club-level teams or in city leagues. Venus bends the rules and sends a mix of college and alumni players, while the men’s team, Void, sends an alumni team.

Fools Fest draws the entire Ultimate spectrum: Ultimate college players, Ultimate high-school players, post-college players, Ultimate mommies and daddies, Ultimate babies, Ultimate embryos, and Ultimate monsters (dressed up in costume). There are cross-dressers (there seem to be some at every tournament), but there are also funny glasses, wigs, golfing attire, and leopard prints. There is Tex-Mex, Ultimate merchandise (including the book Ultimate: The First Four Decades), and a beer garden for the 21-and-over players (with the draconian policy of a daily noon opening). The truth is that Fools Fest is not composed of days: It is its own 72-hour time-frame.

The 2006 tournament began at the Wingate Inn, with about 17 college women sleeping in two hotel rooms until sunrise. By 8:00 I was at the Fredericksburg battlefield, stretching and listening to the “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” piped in through the sound system. Right before we played, we all hooked our thumbs around one disc, to rally. We were coming from different places: some of us living, sleeping, and eating Ultimate together for years now, and some with different priorities, who don’t hang out as much outside of practice. But for three days Fools took control, body and heart.

The alumni players rolled in gradually, warming up at their own speed, watching us lose our first game against the Pittsburgh-based club team, the Steel Pussies. It was a good game, but the highlight of the morning for me was watching Melanie Berlin C’05 walk onto the field wearing shorts and bearing coffee after an overnight flight from California, followed at different points throughout the day by 10 other Venus alumni. One woman left her child in a stroller on the sideline to come in and play for a game point.

“I had trouble sleeping before this tournament,” confessed Berlin, standing on the starting line. “I know,” laughed Sarah Farnham C’03. “It gets really pathetic after you graduate.” These women brought an incredible amount of spirit to the game—almost matching the amount of Sparks caffeinated beer brought by the men.

As a mixed group of veterans and rookies playing highly experienced teams, we did all right. We fought valiantly against the AARPe Disc (veteran athletes), the Flash Tacos, and Half-n-Half, but it was a slow start. As current co-captain Diana Cornell C’07 put it, “You can see some of the alums thinking, ‘I used to be able to do that. Do you think I still can?’”

Of course they could. And so could we.

We ran hard, and when we had a break, we cheered our men, playing They Might Be Giants songs on keyboard and guitar and taking credit for any points scored. In the evening we ordered pizza and spread out in the hotel hallways. We caught up as individuals and as generations of Penn players, with best friends seeing each other for the first time in months or years. We slept little, and danced a lot. The tournament-wide party was in the hotel ballroom and backlit by a slideshow of all the great plays by the competitors—interrupted at one point by the announcement of a wedding engagement.

When our alumni arrived, we started to win games. We were bolstered by the knock-down woman-on-woman game face of long-time veterans like Sarah Farnham C’03 and the incredible end- zone grabs of rookie talents like Whitney Viets C’09. As co-captain Erin Silverstein C’06 put it: “Fools is where you can see that, as a college player, it’s only the beginning.”

Moira Moody C’06 lives in Philadelphia and has played Ultimate Frisbee for the past four years. She also studied English and is an active member of the Kelly Writers House. She works at Canary Promotion + Design.

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