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Ultimate Frisbee club team balances competition with friendship

By Ashlyn Fransen '24
Published February 27, 2024
Categories: Student Life, Students

Senior Hayden Fleischer (back row, second from right) and his teammates celebrate their first tournament win. Photos courtesy Hayden Fleischer ’24

The Eckerd College Ultimate Frisbee club brought home its first official win since before the pandemic. Seventeen players traveled to Florida Gulf Coast University on Feb. 10 and brought the “Eckerd vibe” with them.

A video on the team’s Instagram page shows players hauling backpacks, a cooler, a beach chair and an inflated llama innertube to the team tent.

For Emma Blanck, a sophomore marine science student from Vermont, ultimate provides just the brain break she needs during her busiest semesters.

“I wish I was majoring in Frisbee,” she says. “I just get to laugh and sweat and decompress.”

She describes the community of ultimate in one word: “happy.” People, she says, are kind, welcoming and fun.

The club was passed down to senior communication student from Hanover, New Hampshire, Hayden Fleischer in 2022. He has been playing ultimate since he joined the club in 2020. Back then, tournaments were out of the question, so on-campus recreation was the club’s primary focus.

Hayden remembers feeling flustered when he inherited the club. “I was learning how to run a club while actively running a club,” he says. “I realized, Oh, this is going to take a lot of networking.”

The ultimate club practices on Johnson Athletic Field.

That’s where his communication major came into play. His experience with public speaking through coursework at Eckerd gave him the confidence to lead team huddles and organize tournaments with other teams across the state.

Occasionally, there have been scheduling conflicts with athletic teams who need to use Eckerd’s turf field to practice. When miscommunication occurs, Hayden has learned to be patient and kind through the frustrations.

During his first year at Eckerd, when he learned to play ultimate, the dream of going to a tournament with the team began stirring in his head. Once COVID restrictions were lifted, he had the opportunity to make his dream come true. Hayden started direct-messaging on Instagram with other ultimate teams in Florida last fall. Through one of those “cold calls,” the Tritons were invited to their first tournament in nearly four years.

“We were kind of out of our depths because we don’t have as much funding as other teams do,” Hayden says. “We don’t have a coaching staff, just a student coach.”

All the team has are one another and a love for the game. Emma observed other teams that have paid coaches. The culture of those teams seems, to her, more uptight, and the environment is more stressful. Without a formal coach, sometimes Eckerd players aren’t as familiar with every rule, but their easygoing spirit makes it easier to enjoy the game.

The first tournament the team entered last semester was at the University of South Florida, and EC Ultimate came in dead last. Hayden remembers the defeat with a smile.

“That was one of the top-five days of my entire Eckerd experience,” he says.

It’s been incredibly rewarding to live the reality of a four-year-long goal. The club has grown quite a bit over the last year. Three nights a week, roughly 25 ultimate enthusiasts gather on the turf under stadium lights, stretching their legs before a scrimmage.

Eli Koss, a first-year student from Pennsylvania, builds ultimate nights into his schedule. When he wants to procrastinate on schoolwork, he is motivated by the reward of playing. It grounds him.

“Ultimate is how I met all my friends,” Eli says.

The club connects him with older students who helped him navigate the adjustment to college both academically and socially. They even offer advice about selecting a major.

In high school, Eli and his friends started an informal ultimate team. He was always the weird kid in the league who played without shoes. At Eckerd, that is typical student behavior,  especially for pickup games and practices.

The club will often split into two groups: one for less competitive or novice players and one for more confident players eager to compete. Their time together is more “practice-like.” This club/team split, Hayden believes, is an effective structure because it gives everyone the space to play how they feel comfortable.

“In the future, I hope the club stays relaxed and continues to be a balance of being competitive and welcoming,” Hayden says. “It’s a great experience. For us, it’s more about having fun than winning.”

Eli likes to play competitively, but he thinks pickup is what keeps people coming back week after week.

“We celebrate the mini wins,” Emma says. “We bring Eckerd on the field with us.”

A “mini win” can be anything—somebody doing something cool like jumping really high or completing a wacky pass.

“The ebb and flow between our teammates—that’s the victory,” Eli says. “If it works, sweet. If not, it was fun to try.”

First-year QB Nguyen-Hoang works a passing drill under the sunset.

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