Oberlin, Ohio is about as far from the ideal place to foster a competitive Ultimate Frisbee program as you can get. From November through March, the temperature varies between 15 degrees and 35 degrees, there are constant 20 mph winds, and the ground is coated in an omnipresent layer of frozen snow. And Oberlin, a school often identified more for its academics and conservatory than for its athletics program, doesn’t boast an indoor field house among its facilities.
In addition, here at Oberlin, a school of roughly 2800 students, we lack the ability to recruit from a pool of, say, Ohio State University’s 60,000 students. Despite huge pushes for recruitment, our combined A and B team roster rarely exceeds about 30 players.
Yet the Flying Horsecows, Oberlin’s Men’s Ultimate team, refuse to turn over, refuse to be written off as the easy victory that hundreds of small liberal arts colleges’ teams are in the eyes of bigger schools.
And so we train. Hard. Oberlin has a storied Ultimate history, and every day we work to match the glory days of the Horsecows in the mid ’90s, an era in which the team traveled to college nationals three times. Under the tutelage of our coach, Darden Pitts, captain of the 2006 Junior World’s Team, we push our bodies and minds to the limit so that we can compete with the best.
Year round, five days a week, we work. Through the ice, the snow, and the wind, we work. The cold tests our mettle, and when a seemingly endless winter finally departs, we know that we’re tougher and harder than any of our opponents. And as soon as we realize that ten players have just played 14 hours of Ultimate spread across two days—well, we shake it off and do it again the following weekend.
Of course, we may be fighting a losing battle. As the sport of Ultimate becomes more and more popular, bigger universities will see more and more athletes attend tryouts, and will thus be able to choose the cream of the crop for their programs. Smaller colleges, on the other hand, will see proportionally less players attend tryouts. But without divisions akin to those in other college sports, these two different groups will keep butting heads.
Yet perhaps there is something to be said for that. Not content to simply be one of the best of the small schools, the Horsecows strive to fight against the tide and take down powerhouses. We know that the odds are stacked against us, but this knowledge only makes us work harder to achieve our goals.