Why we play: Ethan Pierce

Senior captain of the ultimate frisbee open team Ethan Pierce stands with his high school squad, Freeport Ultimate (FU). Stemming from his early days playing with FU, Pierce has grown a love for ultimate and its culture that extends well beyond the field. Courtesy of Anna Kristofick

I should begin by acknowledging that it is odd that I am writing for a column focused on athletes. As I hope to convey, while still a sport, frisbee, to me, has been decidedly less athletic than expected. I should also disclaim that I speak solely for my relationship with frisbee, and certainly don’t want to act as if I speak for Vassar’s frisbee teams—although much of my experience with and love for the sport comes from there. So let me try and explain what brought me to play on a team President Bradley once mistakenly labeled as “non-athletes.”

As soon as I escaped the dumpster fire colloquially known by the better-educated as “middle school,” I joined my high school’s team—inspired by my father and my own spectacular failure in the realms of baseball and basketball. There are a few points worth briefly covering regarding high school frisbee (which yes, I know you are dying to read about), most of which stem from the fact that we were not a school or town-affiliated team. As a wee little freshman, beardless and unaware of roughly most things, this was an enormous step towards freedom.

Consider for a moment this startling fact: High school seniors have driver’s licenses. This meant that practices and games became weekly unsupervised gallivants filled with a semi-healthy mix of frisbee and debauchery until there wasn’t enough light to continue. During my time as team captain senior year, practices often involved more ice cream than exercise. Freeport Ultimate (FU) became a space in high school that I still heavily associate with claiming independence and an endearing depravity that tint my memories so fondly.

After immediately getting involved with frisbee my first year at Vassar, the team, or the Khalj as we prefer, became a very important space for me during my adjustment to college. To keep myself honest: Frisbee that year was fairly disorganized and specifically my beloved B-team (RIP) was a total wreck. After a semester of B-team being sidelined, and with frustrations running high, we lost many of the first-years. I was lucky that my limited prior experience allowed me to get to know some of the older members of the team, who became some of the people I call my best friends today (see pic). After that, frisbee became a regular and expected part of the first three years of my college experience. Be it game days where we slept on dorm floors, or hosting our annual Huck for Red October Tournament (Oct. 5-6 this year, come support!) or just an average team Deece after practice, many of my fondest college memories are centered around the team and our ludicrous traditions, eclectic characters and the beautiful relationships that blossomed during my tenure there.

Pierce poses with former Vassar ultimate players Michael Eacobacci ’19, Ellis Igneri ’19 and Ilan Berkman ’19 at “Frisbee Prom.” For Pierce, events like this one that focus on team bonding and relationships are just as important as any competition. Courtesy of Anna Kristofick

It is, however, far past time that I check both my honesty and my privilege. While frisbee has been an overall welcoming and loving place for me and many others, that is not everyone’s experience. Being a white man affects my experience there. Frisbee is one of the whitest organizations on campus. Even nationally, frisbee has a vastly white reputation. I won’t attempt to speak for others or their experiences on the team, but even I have felt inklings of the drawbacks of homogeneity and feel conflicted about so heavily promoting a space that may not be able to support any/every Vassar student.

Even as someone born with many privileges, I have had my own struggles with the organization and some of its constituents. For me and many others playing time has been an issue and social dynamics within the team are complex. All of this is to say: Frisbee here is an organization with our fair share of chaos and flaws.

To step back and reflect more broadly about my relationship with frisbee, a couple things come up as notable. My relationship is (again) not something I would define as athletic. It is in many ways the differences between frisbee and many more conventional team sports that drew me in. No coaches or referees, cheap to play, not institutionally affiliated and far less competitive than most varsity sports; the appeals of frisbee are too numerous and subjective to truly cover here.

Ask another player and they might tell you that frisbee is important to them because it helps them stay in shape, that it pushes them as an athlete and they love the fierce competition. Within most frisbee settings (teams, leagues, pick up games, etc.) there is even a slight tension between players focused on gameplay/competition and those more oriented towards communal or interpersonal elements. If asked to recall some of the best athletes I know, many frisbee players come to mind—but when asked to recall some of the best frisbee players/people I know, they certainly aren’t all great athletes. For me, it is that culture of relaxed athleticism, nonchalant intensity and unrestrained enjoyment that make frisbee so addicting. So why do I play? Because for me, frisbee is exactly that—playing.

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