Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Silver Level Sponsor #1: University of North Carolina-Wilmington Seaweed

Full disclaimer: I worked with University of North Carolina-Wilmington Seaweed this past spring to run Women's College Easterns and am friends with a number of their players.

Seaweed is the first college team to step up and sponsor a coach for Virginia is for Layouts. My relationship with the Wilmington girls started about a year and a half ago during some tenuous spring tournament interactions. When captain Claire Chastain emailed me last fall to ask for some advice about Easterns, their home tournament, I wasn't sure if I should take her seriously. She emailed me a few times and I kind of shrugged things off as my plate was already more than full for the spring. At Club Nationals, 5th year Kelly Tidwell sought me out and introduced herself to me, asking me to at least have a conversation with her team about their tournament. Being a softie, and impressed by their persistence, I agreed. I laid out many of my doubts in a video conference call with some of their team leaders (none of whom I had ever met in person), and found them to be more than receptive to what I had to say.

Claire summarized last year's experience working on Easterns and how that impacted Seaweed's decision to sponsor a coach:
Last year we reached out to zziNG (Editor's note: funny, Claire...) about Women's Easterns, which at the time, was a 10-12 team regional tournament. She knew about our reputation among the women's ultimate community but decided to work with us despite it and together we made Easterns a competitive tournament that drew teams west of the Mississippi for the first time in years. Not only did it provide another competitive tournament for us to play in but it helped raise funds that helped towards Nationals expenses. After Easterns, Michelle talked to us about paying it forward because she wouldn't take money or fortune cookies (Editor's note: Not all Asians like fortune cookies.) as payment and when this opportunity to give back arose, we jumped on board.

The past year has been a year of learning and growing, both for Seaweed and for myself. I've pushed them hard on their relationships with other teams, and despite my initial skepticism, I've found them to be loyal and loving bunch. They're hard on me, but in working on Easterns, I feel like I gained a handful of little sisters who love to give me a headache, but who also make me incredibly proud. Though they've been quiet recently, their Twitter feed is quite entertaining (@SeaweedUltimate) and if you get a chance to catch the Claire, Kelly, Sara Casey trio playing with Phoenix this fall, you should do so. One of the more rewarding moments of last spring was a Melee-Seaweed dinner at Flaming Amy's Burrito Barn at Easterns. Lots of socializing, good food, and plenty of making fun of me from both sides-- not something I ever could have even dreamed would happen.

This week, I put out a call to all of the 2010 Club Nationals teams, 2011 D-I College Nationals teams, and 2011 College Centex teams to step up and sponsor a coach for Layouts. I feel like these are the teams who either 1) have the most to give and/or 2) have benefited the most from Without Limits' work. Playing elite level ultimate is a huge investment of time and money, and I know most teams struggle to get people to practices and pay for their own uniforms and travel. Any investment in Roundup will certainly be above and beyond the call of duty for these teams.

I'll admit to being slightly surprised at Seaweed being the first team to step up. They're not a team rolling around in money and I've known most of them for less than a year. Claire had this to say about working with Without Limits and why Seaweed believes in what we're doing:

Without Limits sponsored our home tournament last year and every other Spring tournament we attended (Centex/Queen City Tune-Up). These were by far the most competitive tournaments of the regular season, every tournament played made us a more nationally competitive team helping us finish the regular season ranked 3rd and reaching Quarters at College Nationals. We believe in Without Limits' mission to advance women's ultimate because we've seen firsthand the impact they've made in women's college programs like our own. The coverage of women's college ultimate in the past has been almost non-existent, but WL has put a spotlight on teams and players outside of the typical powerhouses, up and coming teams/players who would've previously been unheard of and given them the opportunity to play at competitive tournaments or developmental tournaments with skills clinics to give them resources to take back to their teams and build their program.

So, what is Seaweed's vision for the future of women's ultimate?

Women's ultimate is on the rise and the more competition at tournaments as well as overall advances in skill among women playing will close the competitive gap. Right now, there's a more than a handful of teams that can compete on a national level, but by building teams in the developmental division/regionally competitive teams via skills clinics and tournaments focused on building teams/programs. The tournaments that WL sponsors that bring in coaches who play on a national scale who will coach and teach skills clinics will increase the quantity and quality of women playing ultimate and grow the division altogether.

Thank you, Seaweed, for everything you've taught me, and for investing in the future of college women's ultimate. FTB.

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