The sport of ultimate is claimed by Yalies as their game, invented in New Haven in the 1970s.
Not so fast, say Bates alumni circa 1960. “I arrived at Bates in the fall of 1956 and clearly recall playing what became known as ultimate on the lawn of John Bertram,” wrote Jim Hall ’60 in a letter to Bates Magazine.
Clark Whelton ’59 pinpoints a defining moment. “We were practicing on the lawn between Roger
Bill and Chase when bursar Norm Ross ’22 opened his office window and
yelled to Dick Pierce ’57, captain of our squad, ‘Hey, Dick, will you please
take your team someplace else?!’” To Whelton’s thinking, Ross’ “use of the word ‘team’ clearly implies the existence of an
Q.E.D, and so we proceed.
Especially at night, “winter practices are hard,” says team captain Emmett Shipway ’16 of Avon, Conn. “It’s cold and it’s kind of a grind.”
This year has been different, and not only because of the unseasonable warmth. “Especially this year, everyone who is out there loves it so much,” says Shipway. We’ve had more numbers this year than we’ve had in my four years, so the cold doesn’t seem to bother anyone. People are really crazy about it.”
With quantity comes quality. For example, the captain of Cold Front, the Bates women’s ultimate team, is Josie Gillett ’19 of Seattle, who recently earned a spot on the U.S. women’s team that will compete at the World Junior Ultimate Championships in Poland this summer.
Ultimate players try not to fixate about gear, but then there are the gloves, whether ultimate-specific friction gloves or football-style receiver gloves. Shipway says he’s been wearing a glove on his non-throwing left hand to help him catch the disc in the cold.
But since throwing both lefty and righty is the mark of a talented player, and throwing with a glove is tricky, he’s stopped wearing a glove at all. “A lot of guys on the team are ambidextrous, but gloves are all personal preference.”
Ultimate devotees exult in the purity and sportsmanship of their calling. One expression of that ideal that it is self-refereed under a code of conduct called “the spirit of the game.”
“All you need is a field and a disc and some sort of cones,” says Shipway. “It’s accessible to people all around the world.”
And about that disc. Here, we won’t call it by that trademarked F name that Wham-O owns. And the Orange Whip doesn’t use that brand of disc, anyway. “You don’t really see Wham-O discs in the competitive world,” says Shipway.
“We use the 175-gram Discraft.” (In fact, a custom Orange Whip version is available for purchase.) “Using any other size, weight, or proportion would seriously throw off our throws.”
And about that name, Orange Whip? I’ll have three of them, in memory of John Candy and his oft-quoted line from The Blues Brothers.
Everyone gets a nickname. Some are “just random sounds that we thought worked,” says Shipway. Other nicknames have real backstories.For example, “Mama” is Henry Simon ’16 of Chappaqua, N.Y. His mom, Vassar alumna Judy Horowitz Simon, won the 1981 women’s World Flying Disc championship, for which she received a few thousand dollars in prize money and endorsement deals, including her name being inscribed on some Wham-O Frisbees.
The Bates ultimate team seeks to meld NESCAC competitiveness with the spirit of the game. To that end, the Orange Whip culture is “fun, competitive, progressing, community, family,” says Shipway.
Despite differences in the scale and abilities of individual club teams in NESCAC, “we all try to share the spirit of the game,” he says.
Bates plays in the North New England Division III of USA Ultimate’s college division. “It’s a really strong section,” he says, the top rivals being the usual suspects, Bowdoin and Middlebury. Amherst and Williams, in the South New England Division, “are also always good,” he adds.
This weekend they’ll find out who’s good, better, and best as the Orange Whip head to Hamilton, Mass., for the Open New England tournament, April 2–3.