Sunday, August 14, 2011

Platinum Level Sponsor #2:: Showdown and Hot Mess

Full disclaimer: Showdown, an elite women's team comprised of players from all over Texas, is my former team, and I have known several players from Hot Mess, a new women's team from Dallas, for over five years.

At the end of last spring, Laura Weinman, one of the captains of Hot Mess, contacted me about a clinic she wanted to run in the Dallas area. I was overwhelmed with work and Without Limits projects, and not in a good place to be taking on more, so I sent her a quick email with some ideas and didn't give it a second thought. Laura followed up with me in July, and her email resonated with me in a number of different ways. Her passion for growing women's ultimate in Texas, the challenges she was facing in getting a new team off the ground, and her desire to do something were incredibly inspiring, and it was really exciting for me to see a young player in the Region excited to make a difference. I did a lot of thinking and soul searching when I read Laura's email and after some joint brainstorming, some cool ideas began to develop. The Texas Captaining 101 Clinic was born.

Around the same time, I was trying to figure out how to get Roundup off the ground at Smith College's spring tournament, Virginia is for Layouts. Laura had previously attended the Roundup Division at Midwest Throwdown, so when I asked her to consider donating any profits from the Captaining Clinic to make Roundup v. 2.0 happen, Laura jumped on board. Laura had this to say about her experience at Roundup:

My last year captaining at UNT, I was fortunate enough to take the girls to Midwest Throwdown to compete in the Roundup Division, where we had guest coach Dominique Fontenette teach us how to be badass all weekend... we all came back so much closer and confident as a team. For me, it really made me feel more confident as a captain because up until that weekend, I hadn't. I was still learning how to play ultimate but had to step up to the captain role because all of the older girls had graduated. That is why I think the Texas Captaining 101 Clinic will be such a great opportunity for so many girls who will be stepping up into those leadership roles this upcoming year. To have those kind of resources early on can take off so much stress and really let you focus on yourself and your team without all of the pressure of "Am I doing a good job?" and "What if I'm teaching them something wrong?". And going back to our experience at Midwest Throwdown, knowing that all of the money made from this clinic will go to helping make Virginia is for Layouts happen for other teams to experience is pretty awesome in and of itself.

So who is Hot Mess?

A recent graduate of UNT looking for the opportunity to play women's ultimate competitively, Laura and two other like-minded individuals, Amanda North and Sheena Connell, decided to form Hot Mess, a developmental team geared toward high school and college players who want to develop their skills on the field, as well as learn how to becoming stronger and more confident leaders for their respective school teams. The team is comprised of women from all over the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, UT-Arlington, UNT, UT-Dallas, Texas Women's University, and Marcus High School. They even have a player who will be attending LSU in the fall, and many of their players will be captaining their respective teams this upcoming college season. Laura said:

Looking at the bigger picture, we were hoping that by working with these girls and getting them ready for the upcoming school year, it would help high school and college programs have some foundation to work off instead of having to start from scratch, which in turn would hopefully strengthen North Texas' women's teams and help grow ultimate in Texas / the South Region. Locally, we have a weekly Wednesday practice for Hot Mess, but it is open to any girls who would like to come out and play... Because the Dallas area has had so few resources / outlets for women's ultimate, we have had to rely a lot on each other for ideas for drills, plays, conditioning, recruiting ideas, even transportation just to get girls to practices... It's been awesome because not only are all of the girls learning from each other, those teaching the drills have become more confident speaking up and helping out.

Their vision for the growth of the women's division is directly in line with Without Limits' vision, and we are extremely grateful to have their support for both the Texas Captaining 101 Clinic as well as with joint sponsorship of a coach for Virginia is for Layouts.

Where does Showdown come in?

Two of the most influential people in my ultimate career have been Cara Crouch and Tina Woodings. Their abilities as leaders, their desire to build women's ultimate in Texas, and their love for the sport have been incredibly inspiring, and both Cara and Tina were formative in my development as a player and leader, as well as a huge part of the amazing time I had living in Austin. Those years were defined by hours at the IM Fields with those two, as well as countless meetings at Whole Foods and Austin Java talking strategy and building our team.

As a rookie on Melee in 2007, I was inspired by Cara and Tina to keep building upon the strong foundation they had built for the Texas Ultimate program. I was fortunate to spend my last year on Texas under Cara's tutelage as a coach and then played my rookie year on Showdown under the leadership of both Cara and Tina. Last year, I had the privilege of leading the team with both of them, and can say with certainty that I have never encountered players as passionate and invested as they are.

Cara served as a coach at the Roundup Division in 2010 and is one of the current captains of Showdown. Tina serves as the President of the Ultimate Players League of Austin (UPLA), has been an integral part of Women's College Centex for the past three years, and remains on the core for Showdown. Both of them have been key to the clinics that the team has run over the past few years. Tina had this to say about Showdown's involvement in the community and with Without Limits' projects:

The South Region has always had lower participation relative to other regions in the women's division. Showdown recognizes that many college teams do not necessarily have the luxury of experienced coaches or organizations to lean on for support and training. By participating in Without Limits events, Showdown is able to pass along skills and inspire players to take it to the next level. Showdown has already seen a huge benefit to assisting with Without Limits events; we have had over 25 college women attend tryouts- more than a 50% increase from last year, and this new talent accounts for more than a third of our team.

Over the years, Showdown has been involved in running Women's College Centex, mentoring local college players, and leading clinics all around Texas. Last year, they teamed up with Brute Squad to run the inaugural Fusion tournament. So, as I worked to get two new projects, the Captaining Clinic and Layouts, off the ground, it made sense to go to them to ask for help. I asked Showdown to help me run the Texas Captaining 101 Clinic and to use the proceeds to sponsor a coach for Virginia is for Layouts, and I got a resounding YES.

All three Showdown captains (Cara, as well as Holly Greunke and Shelby Kuni) will be instructors at the clinic, and numerous other Showdown players and alumni will teach sessions over the course of the weekend. While I no longer live in Texas, and will be lining up across the field from Showdown in a few short weeks, I am incredibly thankful for all of their support.

Showdown and Hot Mess are raising the bar for women's ultimate in Texas and beyond. Do you want to get involved in what we're doing?

Sponsor a coach. Coach. Be coached.

More information here:

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Platinum Level Sponsor #1:: Molly Brown

Full disclaimer: Molly Brown is my new team. While I spend the majority of my time with them in total silence, shying away from their hugs and judging them for their weirdness, I am learning to love them, and I am incredibly grateful for their support.

Earlier this spring, I began making plans for Fusion v. 2.0 and was looking for a way to bring in the experience of a club team, while also finding a way to raise money for a college team. I had recently moved to Colorado, and the college team I wanted to work with was thousands of miles away. So, I went to my new captains and asked them to get our team involved. Virginia Fusion was born. Not only is Molly Brown partnering with Smith College to run Fusion this fall, but the team has also stepped up as the first club team to sponsor a coach for Roundup at Smith College's spring tournament, Virginia is for Layouts. Asking your friends and teammates for support can be awkward, but two minutes after I asked, I received an email saying "Holla! Do it up." I think that means "We're in!" around these parts.

First, a little bit of background about our team. Captain Anna Schott describes how the team was formed, and some of the team's philosophy:

Molly Brown was formed in 2010 to bring together the most competitive team possible in Colorado. That didn't necessarily mean all the best players- it meant the best players who were willing and able to commit to being a team and putting in the work needed to be able to perform at the highest level. One of our main tenets is that we draw on the skills of all of our teammates and we are constantly pushing each other to grow as players. Molly Brown is an incredible group of female athletes and being a part of this team means that you are continually developing as a player and learning from your teammates at every practice, tournament, throwing session, and workout.

Schott, who also doubles as my tennis hitting partner (we're awful) and coffee break buddy, had this to say about Molly Brown's commitment to the growth of our sport:

There is a lot of positive energy around what our team is about and it has been great to see that energy impact our local community. Several Molly Brown players help coach high school teams and help run youth skills clinics (in conjunction with Johnny Bravo players) which has been an incredibly rewarding experience because you get to see young players fall in love with the game.

Molly Brown players understand the importance of investing in the next generation of ultimate players. Current University of Colorado Kali captain and Molly Brown rookie Whitney Fose, had this to say about Molly Brown's involvement on the local level:

I think the connection between club and college ultimate is so important. College athletes look up to club players. After watching and playing with a higher level of ultimate, I feel inspired to come back to my college team and challenge them in the same way I was challenged. The club-college relationship continually raises the bar for college players and renews their competitive drive. Molly Brown women have come out to Kali's practices and spent one-on-one time with individuals. Kali's leadership has also tried to exemplify aspects of Molly Brown by bringing drills, work ethic, and team attitudes back to practice.

Kath Ratcliff, my former college teammate, and current teammate on Molly Brown, is a prime example of a club player who has invested significant efforts in the development of the next generation of players. As a former coach of the UC Berkeley Pie Queens and one of the current coaches of Kali, she is an accomplished player and experienced role model who has taught many young players the game... including myself. Kath describes the importance of the involvement of club players, and some of what she has gotten out of giving back, saying:

Most women's teams in my college playing days were forced to lead only through captains with a couple years of experience, and those who were fortunate enough to have dedicated coaches were always the better teams in the nation. Aside from the obvious benefits of refined strategic knowledge that a club player can bring to a college team, I think with women specifically it's important to have a strong, confident, positive role model - someone who the younger players can look to as an example of spirit of the game and fair play. My favorite thing about college women's ultimate is how self-officiating forces young women to confidently approach conflict and helps them to learn to stand up for themselves. This is something that an experienced club player can help to build in younger players. Personally, I coach for the moments where you can see someone understand or do something for the very first time. I also really enjoy being able to take a part in younger players realizing their potential as athletes and watching them increase in confidence as they recognize their own abilities.

Molly Brown players are heavily involved in the local ultimate community, serving as coaches, running tournaments, acting as mentors, and even working for USA Ultimate.

So, isn't that enough?

No. As an elite women's club team, we recognize our responsibility to give back to the community as a whole, and we know that there are teams around the country who don't have the opportunities we have. We want to do more.

Anna sums up the reasons Molly Brown has decided to sponsor a coach, saying:

In a sport where community has always been very important to those that play, the positive effect on the women's Ultimate that can be directly attributed to Without Limits is simply unparalleled. Without Limits has helped create positive relationships between college and club teams (as well between club teams and between college teams) that have already had a huge impact they way that women's Ultimate is played. It has helped foster a community where there is not only a high value on competition but also on respect between teams and giving back to the community. The women's game is going to continue to develop at a rapid pace because of these relationships and the support that is available for young players and programs.

Thanks to the generosity of Molly Brown, we have enough money to get Roundup off the ground. In the weeks leading up to Fusion, we'll be sharing some more stories with you, as well as giving you an opportunity to get involved. Want to sponsor a coach? Come coach at the event? Be coached? We're actively looking for sponsors, and we'll be releasing more information about how to apply for and fundraise to either be a coach or be coached at Virginia is for Layouts this spring.

Stay tuned to the blog and to the Roundup info page:

Monday, August 1, 2011

Revisiting Roundup

I have been friends with Anna "Maddog" Nazarov for half a dozen years now. I was terrified of her for a good year after we met, and it wasn't until the end of our college playing days that I really had the chance to get to know her. While I am still unsure as to whether she has ties to the Russian mafia, I am positive that she is one of the kindest and most genuine people I know. In 2010, I had the privilege of working with her to organize the Roundup Division at Midwest Throwdown. The Roundup Division was our attempt to bring some resources to developing teams in the South and Midwest. We flew coaches from around North America to St. Louis to guest coach and mentor teams for the weekend, and to lead skills clinics for a few hundred players. All of this was done in conjunction with a regular college tournament. In this post, Maddy recaps her experience running the Roundup Division. We'll be looking to replicate the Roundup opportunity at Virginia is for Layouts in the spring. So if you are a club player interested in coaching, or a college team interested in submitting a bid, check out all of the information on our website at


The idea for the Roundup Division sprang up from a seemingly mindless gchat conversation where Michelle and I were lamenting our inability to fit coaching into our work schedules. Because Michelle has the uncanny ability to take on more than any reasonable human being can handle, I took charge of organizing the Roundup part of Midwest Throwdown that year. First step: recruit coaches. My feeler email to the potential coaches took the form of a long-winded ramble about the idea and the vision. I made it clear that since it was only July (the tournament was in March the following spring) we weren’t sure what sort of funding mechanism we’d have in place (if any) so it would probably be a volunteer endeavor and that I wasn’t looking for a commitment just yet. I don’t think either Michelle or I were expecting the positive response we received right away. We completely underestimated how much people care!

Within 24 hours we got two commitments. Within 48 hours we had another one. Over the next few weeks we finalized the six remaining, absolutely incredible club players who rounded out our coaching corps and made the weekend such a huge success. Here are some excerpts from the enthusiastic responses we got way back in July:

“Heya Anna. So is it going to be warm and sunny there :) ? Sign me up.”

“I’m in. Absolutely!”

“What an amazing opportunity. I would love to! … That sounds incredible – what an honor that you would think of me. … Thanks for making my day.”

“Holy cow, I am totally honored to be included among such a group of studs. This is an incredible idea and I think it would be really fun.”

“Thanks for the invite. This sounds like a really interesting and exciting development for women’s ultimate.”

“Checked it out, dates look clear, I’m stoked to be involved!”

“By March my schedule will be back to normal so count me in!!!!”

“I think this is an amazing idea. I'm all about empowering players and teams. If you need help, let me know. I think this could be a model to use consistently to promote women's teams, even club teams. Teams/players need to be taught good leaderships skills as well as skills, drills and strategy. I'm all about it.”

The lesson learned there was that all across the country (and Canada! Hi, Canada.) there are women at the highest level of club ultimate who care about developing teams having opportunities to play and learn. A little bit of caring goes a long a way. Each email response we got had an average of five exclamation points. Cara was so into it she emailed us from wherever in the world she was traveling after winning her gold with Team USA to tell us she was in. Those few we asked who had scheduling conflicts were clearly bummed they couldn’t participate. Every single person expressed some sort of gratitude that we had thought of them. And that was just the first iteration of Roundup. With this much enthusiasm, the possibilities and ideas are truly endless.