Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Melee Years:: Dream Bigger

Since I am headed to Austin today, it seemed appropriate to share the story of my time on Melee. My two years in the Texas Ultimate program allowed me to develop as a leader and advocate of women's ultimate more than any other period of my career. I am grateful for the time I spent in Austin, and for friends and teammates who shaped my experience.


My senior year at Cal, I applied to a handful of grad schools. I had two requirements: a good Planning program and a good ultimate team. A series of unlikely events unfolded between Summer 2005 and Spring 2006, and when it came time to make a decision, Austin became the obvious choice. Moving to Austin was probably the best decision I have ever made.

I moved two months after losing two games-to-go at Northwest College Regionals. It was difficult to leave teammates and friends after such a disappointing end to our season, but my new teammates welcomed me with open arms and made me feel right at home. My first season on Melee, we had a fantastic regular season and cruised through Regionals until the Finals game where we lost a heartbreaker to Truman State. The game itself was devastating, but even more difficult for me to swallow were the ticky-tack calls, and the fact that every single person watching that game, except TUFF, was cheering against us. I was crushed.

I had previously made plans to study abroad in Montreal in the fall to do research for my thesis. A few days after we lost at Regionals, I retracted my paperwork and decided to stay in Austin. I was voted captain for the following season and spent the summer in California, starting and captaining Slackjaw in an effort to get as much experience as possible before going back and playing my last season of college ultimate. My co-captain, Becca Shelton, played for Showdown that season, and we spent hours upon hours exchanging ideas, planning for the season, and challenging each other to become better players. When I got back to Austin, Becca and I spent just about every day at the IM Fields throwing, working out, and talking.

One of the areas that I pushed hardest in was that I wanted our team to take a leadership role in developing women's ultimate in the South. I had two reasons that I wanted to get more involved:
1) I wanted Melee to be one of the best college women's teams in the country, not just the best team in the South. Helping to raise the overall level of play around us seemed like a good investment.
2) I saw a distinct difference in the quantity and quality of resources and opportunities available in the South compared to what I was used to in the Northwest. I felt like I had a responsibility, as someone who had been handed tons of resources and opportunities, to spread the wealth.

I took drastic measures to invest in other teams, and I am incredibly grateful that I had a co-captain, coaches, and teammates who supported those decisions. Cara Crouch, one of my frisbee mentors, was one of our coaches that year, and she both fueled my aspirations, as well as gently reminded me that change takes time. It was important for me to have that kind of support as Cara understood the ultimate scene in the South much better than I did, and also had a very similar vision for what ultimate in Texas could be. I am lucky to have had her as my coach, captain, and teammate, and to continue to be able to call her my friend.

A few examples of the general "dream bigger" mentality our team developed:
1) Our team ran five events that year, including two out-of-state tournaments, AND hosted Sectionals. I often look back with regret at how much I pushed my teammates, but I am also very proud of them for how much they changed the landscape of the South that year. Tournaments like Midwest Warmup and Midwest Throwdown exist because of Melee '08.
2) We focused on relationships. We refunded teams' bid fees when tournaments weren't executed to perfection. We made a conscious effort to model Spirit of the Game both on and off the field. Teams we had fought with in the past became allies. At Regionals, teams cheered FOR us and at Nationals, the team we had beaten in the game-to-go at Regionals was on our sidelines cheering for us.
3) We served as a connector. In addition to developing OUR relationships with other teams, we tried to develop relationships between other teams as well. We got people talking and we tried to build a network of people who care about our sport.

To tie those things together, I am confident that the only reason Without Limits has had any success is because of the investment of our friends. In the early years, people like Heather Waugh, Courtney Kiesow, and Sarah Griffith dragged their teams to our tournaments. We hosted out-of-state events because it was a way to make those tournaments more convenient and accessible, and our friends responded incredibly positively to that. Our friends trusted us to run good events, and we hope that over the years, we've rewarded that trust and earned their continued love and support. Today, our friends do more than just attend our tournaments; they have become our collaborators- Lindsey Hack, Leila Tunnell, and Lindsay Lang from UNC-Chapel Hill; Abby Stephens, Sam Huo, and Sarah Ebstein from Wash U; Melissa May, Carly Maconaghy, and Katie Erikson from Penn State. The list goes on and on. My time on Melee taught me a lot about thinking outside of the box, and about the importance of my friends in bringing those ideas to life. So, thanks Melee, and thanks friends, for believing in what we do and for shaping what we're all about.

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