March 25, 2010

Most people wouldn’t normally look at a plain Frisbee disc and picture it as a sport; players running in formation on a long cut up soccer field, getting mud on their clothes and scraping their knees as they dive for a catch. A sophomore at SUNY New Paltz, Eleazer Herbst age 19, from Scarsdale N.Y. joined the team last year because of curiosity. In High School he used to throw a Frisbee around with his pals.  Today, Herbst, an Elementary Education major, competes in numerous Frisbee games, and tournaments. His competitiveness and commitment to the team has earned him many trips to Sectionals.

Herbst started on the team with hardly any prior experience. Most of the successful Frisbee players have originally been in the same position. “Most players are getting a blank slate,” he said.

Herbst always wanted to make it to Sectionals because it is the first step of reaching Nationals. Sectionals like playoffs chooses the top three winning teams to go to Regionals which then chooses the top three teams to go to Nationals in New York State.

The New Paltz Ultimate Frisbee Team otherwise known as the Gunx, have a goal of placing top in Regionals. Even though they maybe a young team of three years, the team’s increased commitment in the sport throughout the past year has enabled them to improve substantially. According to Herbst, the team went from placing in 18th to 8th in tournaments.

The name Gunx is named after the Shawangunk Ridge mountain range that encompasses Ulster, Sullivan, and Orange Counties in New York State which begins from the northern tip of New Jersey and reaches toward the Catskill Mountains. The team is headed by two captains, Ben Campbell and Dave Atwood who are juniors at SUNY New Paltz. Campbell who is referred to as Tree Beard and Atwood who is referred to as Gremlin have initially created the team with Ellen Mullen (Witch) and Bridget Conrad (Founding Father) back when they were freshmen.

Together Campbell and Atwood spread their knowledge of the games rules and regulations to all newcomers. The game is usually played outside on a plain grassy soccer field with cones set up on either end. The goal is for each team to score in the end zone. Each line on either side consists of seven players on offense and defense. It starts with a team throwing the disc down the field. The offensive team must make it to the end zone without having the disc hit the ground. If the disc hits the ground or is knocked down, than the opposing team has possession. Also, players are not allowed to run with the disc. When someone has the disc they only have ten seconds to release it before the other team can get it. There are usually certain formations like: vertical stack, forcing, man, and zone. Vertical stack is when the offense stands in a straight line, a few feet away from each other in order to leave room for cutting. Cutting is an important skill in Ultimate Frisbee which enables a player to fake out their opponent and either move towards or away from the thrower.  Forcing is a defensive strategy that forces the offense to throw to one side of the field. This will reveal where the offensive players will cut to. Man is when a defensive player assigns him or herself to one offensive player on the opponent’s team. Pairing two opponents against each other will remain consistent throughout the rest of the game unless substitutions change the play strategy. Zone is a complicated defensive technique that spreads the players out on the field. Zone tries to stop Hail Mary throws from being caught in the end zone.

These Frisbee skills had to be learned. To prepare for games and tournaments, the team needs to have a lot of stamina, speed and some physical strength. The Gunx do many conditioning exercises. They always run and stretch before practice. They also lift weights at the gym four times a week; do sets of drills and play nonstop. “Personally I go out myself before practice and workout for like a half an hour to an hour” Herbst said.

Even though the Gunx have played numerous colleges in the Hudson Valley region (Marist, Vassar, Purchase and Bard), they are still not completely recognized by the school. The Ultimate Frisbee team is not a part of SUNY New Paltz’s divisional sports. They are a separate entity that practices on the Lenape fields two hours a day. During the spring, the intramurals take over their field space, causing the team to lose practice days. However, they are slightly funded by the school when it comes to tournaments.

Frisbee can seem tiring, but the team is very friendly. Because there are no coaches, every player has input like a democracy. Out of a total of 30 players, 20 usually stay committed. The team sometimes splits up the gender for tournaments and the offense (o) or defense (d) line for practices.

The team expresses good sportsmanship. Whenever they win or lose a game they shake the hands of the other team and then give them a cheer. The Gunx huddle together and describe their strengths and weaknesses of the games. If the team wins or does well in a tournament, they go out to eat and sometimes have a party. In the end, it’s all about having fun and bonding with each other.

The Ultimate Frisbee team plans on getting a sponsor because their hoping that it will increase the influence of young people. Herbst believes that Ultimate Frisbee is growing in popularity. He concluded, “I think it’s going to get bigger and more respected as time goes on, however long that takes.”

If you enjoyed this and would like to read more from Anthony, check out his novel ‘Stay Awhile’ on Amazon