With one crutch under each armpit, Raffi leaned his head forward as if brooding, slightly, almost peering up at the team he had helped to assemble. It was the Vassar Ultimate A-team’s first tournament of the year, and like a real-ass Varsity coach, Raffi was calculating. Perhaps the only thing missing was a clipboard on that increasingly sunny Sunday afternoon, but without a free arm to hold it, such an accessory would have made for a rather difficult, if not distracting, balancing act. Not more than one week earlier, Raffi had been sharing the field of battle with the teammates before him, simultaneously shouting orders and making fiery in-cuts. Now, he stood on the sideline with no ability to contribute physically, but with a greatly heightened responsibility, nay–a democratically ordained duty–to utilize his brain and his larynx for the greater good of the team.
There he stood, torn ACL raised gently off the ground, attentive to details unseen by those heckling or ass-slapping on the sideline. Then, as the breeze picked up for a moment after a score on the far endzone, his co-captain approached. As he crossed his arms and leaned in close, Matt Luk was no doubt discussing business. They exchanged words and made their way toward the Vassar bench. It looked lonely over there, cold in comparison to the colorful and crowded sideline of the Alums. It takes time to build friends, no doubt, but, more specifically, it takes time spent collaborating efforts on the field. How many hours had those alums spent together playing on the same field, side by side in the stack? How many practices on Noyes and dirty dinners had they attended? How many winding car rides through the Taconic had they shared, and then, after some time, and only for those who pursued it, how many club practices and sandy Wildwood reunions had passed?
From all of this, there comes a sense of calm. The Alums know each other’s strengths and abilities. They also know, non-exhaustively, of their drinking habits, their dance moves, and their sexual indiscretions. Rooks, of course, are incapable of drinking, dancing, or sexing, and so, you see, they are already behind. Thus, the four (or was it five?) rooks that the A-team trotted out onto the field that Sunday afternoon, no matter how spectacularly gifted they were in the art of Ultimate, would not and could not help them against a team of weathered (and withered) veterans. But they certainly tried, yes they tried very hard. And this humble narrator must admit he was impressed, more impressed with a young crop of players than ever before. There is no doubt that Vassar’s uncanny knack for succeeding in the north-east college Ultimate scene will continue. This team’s ability over the past decade to vastly surpass expectations is astounding. Somehow, the team didn’t get the 6’4” twins from Colorado we always dreamed about, but they still managed to pull in an amazing group of young, experienced talent. There are two seniors, to my knowledge, graduating from this team–captain Luk, and Mr. Weiner (or, taken together, one giant 8-foot man). Think of this team. Think of the time ahead that will be spent together, growing and learning. Think of the rides up and down the Taconic, the never-have-I-evers and chuck-fuck-marrys. Think of the on-field pile-up after the championship game at sectionals, and the never-ending, malleable reiterations of what went down, the stories told over and over of heroics that have yet to come…
…Now back to that increasingly Sunday afternoon, where the very same team that brims with unbridled potential is getting pounded by a bunch of old scrubs. Demoralized and downtrodden after going down early, something like 4-2 or 6-3, the young men from the cold bench had lost their zesty passion. Frogger, with his fierce orange hair and overzealous bellows of encouragement, was noticeably subdued after not one, but two point blocks by Sam “Tiger” Woods. Perhaps it meant more to the Frog Master, having kissed the fruits of victory after last year’s HFRO win over the alums at the young, young age of rookdom. Spoiled, he was, by such early success. In time, sooner rather than later, I hope, he will come to appreciate his position on this team. Virtues of patience, compassion, encouragement, and optimism, no matter how difficult they may be at times to procure from within and then transmit outwards, are essential elements to success. More essential, perhaps, than talent, skill, or conditioning. After all, we follow our greatest contributors, and in doing so, we must trust that they will follow us.
As the game went on, there were moments that verged on the absurd. Sloppy Sean’s miraculous full layout on an errant, floating pass, stands out most. As the earth shook beneath our feet upon that moment of impact, the disc raised in his hand just off the turf, we must have known then that the Gods of Ultimate were looking down at us favorably on that day. Other fortuitous moments no doubt fueled the eventual Alum victory, and yet the youths still made it close, made us fight for every point. The stakes didn’t seem as high as they were last year. The Alum team felt more cohesive, and the Vassar team was a whole lot younger.
As Raffi and I exchanged words towards the end of the game, he didn’t miss a beat in jumping out of his seat to yell congratulations to a rook who had just made a fairly haphazard bidding catch in the end-zone for a score. At first I scoffed, it being what some might call “garbage time” with the game nearly at hand, and yet, there would be no moments of greatness gone unnoticed, nor moments on ineptitude. I sat back and smiled. Clipboard or not, Raffi was monitoring these young men like a mother hen, plotting not just for the next point, but for the next tournament, and the next one after that. This I know for sure, my friends, that the Vassar squad will grow, it will intimidate its opposition, and it will most likely beat the Alums next year. For now, we rest, we work, and we pray that every weekend can be as glorious a melding of the past and present–and all that we love about Khalj–as that weekend was.