Ultimate teamwork: Missouri eco-villages send Ultimate Frisbee team to Show-Me State Games

Sunday, July 19, 2009 | 12:12 a.m. CDT; updated 9:14 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Jeff Ordower, right, of the Cleveland Steamers ultimate Frisbee team makes a pass at the Show-Me State Ultimate Frisbee competition Saturday in Columbia.

COLUMBIA — Ultimate Frisbee, also known as just Ultimate, is one of the more laid-back competitions at the Show-Me State Games. Players officiate their own games, and opposing teams cheer their competition's successes. Most games end in a good-natured cheer, and no one takes themselves too seriously.

But for one team this weekend, the spirit of camaraderie and cooperation goes beyond the playing field. The Red Hill Rabbits drove from Rutledge to spend a Saturday in the park and play Ultimate.

But even the simple task of driving to Columbia was a calculated and thoroughly discussed decision.

That's because the Red Hill Rabbits are members of three ecologically sustainable communities called Sandhill, Red Earth Farms and Dancing Rabbit. In these communities, no one is allowed to own their own car, and all property is shared. There is a car-sharing program, but all cars must run on bio-diesel, and the program charges a $.60 per mile rate to discourage overuse.

While each community is small (Sandhill has only six members), each has large goals. All three are part of a growing counterculture of eco-friendly, holistic and egalitarian lifestyles. Tony Sirna, a founder of the Dancing Rabbit eco-village, says community pick-up games are vital to the community and its ideals.

"For 10 years we've been playing Ultimate. It brings people together, it keeps up connection. We never keep score. It's just a group of people chasing a disc," Sirna said.

Sirna wears a tattered T-shirt with a skull over a flower, left over from his time at Stanford University. Sirna attended Stanford between 1990 and 1994 and played Ultimate for Stanford's club team, finishing second in the UPA college national championship his senior year.

The other members of the Red Hill Rabbits are unshaven and wearing similarly dirty clothing.

Jennfier Martin, also a member of Dancing Rabbit, says that Ultimate is a great correlation for how members of the community live and that Ultimate aligns itself with the values of the sustainable lifestyles.

"We're all out there cooperating in a strategic way, just this time, it's for a goal of winning and not building and maintaining a community," Martin said.

Steve Lester is working at Dancing Rabbit as part of the work exchange program. Lester said he joined the program to learn about sustainable living and plans on adapting to the lifestyle full-time after he graduates from Sterling College in Craftsbury, Vt.

The minimalism of the game appeals to Lester and other members of the eco-villages, who play Ultimate most mornings before they work. Lester says that Ultimate is a focus of Dancing Rabbit, but not the main focus.

"I feel like out in the big world, everyone is competitive against each other. I feel like Ultimate Frisbee is the opposite of that," Lester said. "We work together to achieve a common goal, but that's not to beat the other guy. That's what we do at Dancing Rabbit."

With Ultimate becoming more mainstream, especially at the nation's colleges, Sirna feels that some of the values that endeared him to the game are deteriorating.

"It's disappointing to see people exploit the nature of the game. We should play fair all the time, but everyone has to do it. Otherwise we'll enter a cycle of negativity," Sirna said.

Owen Spangler, who has toured sustainable villages across the country for the past four years, says that the Rabbits' goal is not to win, but to prove something to the other teams in the tournament.

"We don't keep strict teams in the community or wear colors for teams. But we still think we can win, and do it in a low-key way," Spangler said. "Then again, keeping score is a new concept for us, but we'll adapt."

After a strong showing, albeit a loss, in their first game, the Rabbits had little time to rest. In their next game, they were trounced by a team made up of college players from Missouri State University.

Sirna is not concerned about losing the first two games. Getting to play competitively again gives him a rush, displayed when Sirna coaches vocally from the sidelines on the rare occasions he is not on the field. The communities were not able to the come to the Show-Me State Games in recent years because they were unable to field a team, combined with the hassle of traveling the two hours to Columbia. But this year, the populations are up, and Sirna was very happy to return to the Show-Me State Games.

"In the really competitive leagues, like in college, there is way less spirit," Sirna said. "But this is great. The games are real laid-back. There's lots of spirit. As long as you have cooperation, it will always be fun."

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