Men’s Ultimate Frisbee Takes Flight

Quinn Hull

Socks jogs along the midfield line, then, like a shot, he cuts toward the goal. He glimpses it out of the corner of his eye: shooting through the air, perfectly delivered, right on the money. But he’s closely defended. He locks elbows with an opposing player in the end zone; they make a final jostle for position. Then together they ascend.

As the many Oberlin residents, students and parents at Savage Stadium on Saturday who showed up for the football game soon realized, it wasn’t what they thought it was. This was Ultimate Frisbee, courtesy of the Oberlin Flying Horsecows.

Socks — the nickname his teammates bestowed upon him — doesn’t snag the hovering disc for the score, at least not this time. Instead, his adversary, fittingly nicknamed “Boom,” ferociously swats the disc to the ground. Seconds later, play restarts and the frisbee is whizzing in the other direction.

Club teams such as the Flying Horsecows and Preying Manti (the women’s Ultimate team) are student-run, and are sometimes cast as less legitimate than Oberlin’s varsity sports. So when the athletic department sent out an S.O.S. for halftime entertainment, the Flying Horsecows eagerly seized on the opportunity to showcase their skills in an intrasquad scrimmage.

“They were ecstatic about the opportunity to play in front of a big crowd and spread the brand of Ultimate,” said Betsy Bruce, Recreational, Intramural and Club Sports Director. “They’re so fun to watch.”

And though it was only an exhibition, the game exuded all that is good about Oberlin Ultimate: It’s entertaining, exhausting, technical, and even from its outset, very, very successful.

Doug Powers, OC ’77, is the godfather of Oberlin Ultimate. It was in the fall of 1976 that he founded an instructional Ultimate ExCo, after his girlfriend showed him the trendy new sport from where she went to school, Tufts University.

Once it hit campus, the sport built up steam quickly. Within the year, Oberlin was playing its first intercollegiate match, against Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute on April 3, 1976. That match, like the one last Saturday, was also played at Savage Stadium. As Powers fondly recounted, “We lost by a few goals, but the day was absolutely magic.” A tradition was born.

Years later, the originally co-ed team split along gender lines. This necessitated a change from the original (and, let’s be honest, pretty banal) team name, the “Oberlin Ultimate Frisbee team.” But how Flying Horsecows became the new name, remains a mystery.

“I’ve heard rumors,” College sophomore Dan Melzer says. “[It was] probably some crazy dude tripping acid in the ’70s.”

No matter its origins, the Horsecows have made their name one to be feared in the world of Ultimate Frisbee. The team has made multiple College Ultimate Nationals appearances, most recently in 2010. After missing out last year, Melzer, who was part of an Ultimate National Championship-winning team in high school, says he “want[s] to get back.”

This is well within the realm of possibility. Last Saturday, the Horsecows were flying to the disc, making impressive diving catches on offense and stellar interceptions on defense.

“We felt like we looked great. …It couldn’t have gone any better,” said College sophomore Nikhil Kalathil.

College seniors Bo Strauss and Rhagav Goyal get some of the credit for the fantastic showing. The duo does most of the team’s administrative work — organizing practices, scheduling workouts, deciding whether or not to hire coaches.

“They kind of do everything,” said Melzer.

Strauss and Goyal’s newly instituted mandatory practices and conditioning sessions appear have only increased the team’s fervor for success.

“We decided to commit … to being our best,” states Kalathil.

Perhaps the greatest marvel about the team is that when at their “best,” they are arguably the best men’s sport on Oberlin’s campus. So given their success — and their fantastic name — the very least you can do is watch them play.

“Not a lot of people know about Frisbee,” said Melzer. “There’s a misconception that its like a bunch of athletic hippies out on the quad.”

The Flying Horsecows will look to shatter that image this year. They open their season this Saturday at an away tournament, but you’ll have the opportunity to observe them next weekend during Oberlin’s annual Ultimate Tournament, the Great Lakes Open.