A simple disc brings community for successful club ultimate frisbee team
For junior Sam Lee, the captain of Elon University's men's club ultimate frisbee team, it is the differences that bring his team together rather than any kind of commonality.
“I feel like the ultimate club is really unique because a lot of people come and join it and they don’t know what competitive ultimate is about,” he said. “So they get a really diverse group of people.”
Lee and 28 other Elon guys make up the team, which has played very well in recent years, well enough to make some noise in club ultimate frisbee circles.
The team, which calls itself "Big Fat Bomb," finished third in the USA Ultimate College Series Division-III Atlantic Coast Regional Semifinals last year, losing to Davidson College’s team 13-11.
“We had a really good year last year,” Lee said. “It was kind of upsetting how we finished. It’s not easy to make it all that way. It’s definitely a long road. This year, we really think it’s our year to do it.”
To “do it” means to advance to the national championships, this year held in Appleton, Wis., May 19-20.
In preparation for the regional championships, which are being held at Elon this year, Big Fat Bomb plays other schools in North and South Carolina throughout the spring. Mostly, they face off against other D-III schools, institutions with 7,500 students or less. But they also play bigger and stiffer competition in Division-I.
“It’s really cool being able to play against the big-name schools that you see on TV,” sophomore Andrew Gruninger said. “If we were going to play any other sport, we wouldn’t be able to compete with Duke in basketball, or (North Carolina State University) in football. But in ultimate we play them at the same level, and it’s really fun to play them and say, ‘Oh, we beat Duke today.’”
Lee speaks to the camaraderie that comes with the frisbee community, even with schools other than Elon.
“When you go to tournaments, you hang out with other teams,” he said. “One of the unique aspects about our sport is that it’s self-governed. When we’re officiating it, we don’t have any referees. It’s really all about the players. We have rules that help us figure it out on the field. It’s called ‘spirit of the game.’ That whole aspect of the sport, I feel, creates a sense of community around everybody. We respect each other enough to be able to make a right call in the game and not have it go to an outside source.”
That “spirit of the game” makes a nice transition back to Elon’s campus, where the team has created its own little niche. It draws in people who are attracted to the camaraderie. Gruninger joined the team last year because of it.
“Last year was really great as a freshman, finding that group of people to be able to be a part of, especially the upperclassmen last year,” he said. “They didn’t care that I was a freshman on the team, they cared that I was playing frisbee and hanging out with them. It was really nice to just have that group of people.”
Junior Ben Cox, the club’s president, joined because he saw Lee, his roommate freshman year, leaving most nights to go practice.
“I saw him participating in the club, going out to practice every night, participating in these tournaments on weekends,” he said. “And I was like, ‘Wow, that’s something I want to do. I have way too much free time on my hands.’ So my sophomore year, I jumped in, joined the team, and I’ve been really committed to it ever since.”
Junior Alain Monyette came to Elon wanting to join the club soccer team after turning down recruiting efforts, but was attracted to Big Fat Bomb instead.
“I had always liked frisbee, even though I had no idea what it was at the time,” he said. “I was terrible, I was really atrocious, but (the club frisbee team members) were still really cool guys. So I kind of got into it because I still wanted to be doing something athletic. I went from practicing six days a week to college, I wanted to be able to do something like that. Frisbee was the best club for me at the time.”
The team practices at 8 p.m. almost every day of the week depending on weather. They will warm up, do some drills and usually scrimmage. Practice time is like any other sport — used to improve.
“Everybody on the field is a quarterback,” Lee said. “Everybody has to work on throws, everybody has to catch it whether it’s in the air or coming straight at them. When you’re trying to catch a frisbee when you’re just playing around with friends, you don’t have somebody running full-speed behind you trying to knock down the disk. We have to implement that.”
Monyette said strategy is a big part of what is learned in practice, specifically roles people play on the team.
“A lot of the drills focus on playing (different) roles at different times,” he said. “You’re not really assigned a role, even though there’s ones that you’re better at physically. But you’re going to have to play every one, so all the different drills focus on different aspects of the strategy of playing.”
Both on and off the field, Big Fat Bomb is connected, despite having little in common. According to Monyette, only two players on the 29-man roster have the same major, and the roster is spread out between the classes.
“We’re literally a completely diverse group of people, and the only thing that’s linking us is that we all want to be the best we can on the frisbee pitch, which is crazy," he said.
That linking has lead to the group supporting individuals in their interests. Cox said team members have supported teammates in off-the-field activities. For instance, Monyette is in Wake Leviathan, the only metal band on Elon’s campus.
“We had about 10 guys come out to their first concert,” Cox said. “That’s not the most popular genre of music, so we were certainly there to support Alain and his cause.”
That is what the group brings, a uniqueness not many things offer, all around a little disc.
“Everybody on the team is really unique in terms of their backgrounds, sports they’ve played before, what they’re interested in,” Lee said. “The thing that brings us together is this random sport that we happen to play in college.”