Many Princetonians may be familiar with the legendary first collegiate football matchup between Princeton and Rutgers in 1869. However, fewer are probably aware of an equally significant and historic matchup between the two schools: the first ever collegiate ultimate frisbee game in 1972, which Rutgers won 29-27. 44 years later, Princeton still boasts a proud men’s Frisbee program known as ‘Clockwork Orange.’ Consisting of both an A-team and a developmental B-team, Clockwork has competed at the Division-I level since 2014.
A-team captain Zane Friedkin ’18 discussed the team’s recent history and goals for the upcoming season. The team has been competitive in recent years in the Metro East region, one of 10 regions in the country, and has qualified for the past four regional tournaments. This season, however, they have their sights set on winning the sectional tournament and regional tournament and advancing to nationals. “We’ve always been a team with a lot of talent, but I think this year we’re practicing more seriously,” said Friedkin. “We’ve tried to rely on our talent, and this year we’re trying to be a team that relies on our system more.” Such a focus will be crucial for the team when forced to play teams from larger schools. These days, said Friedkin, “the best schools [at Frisbee] are the schools that are best at football, the big state schools that have the largest pool of athletes.”
While Clockwork’s B-team may officially exist for developmental purposes, the team still has serious competitive ambitions. Four-time B-team captain James Almeida ’17 reflected on the evolution of the team from his freshman year, in which it only won a single game against a severely undermanned Yale team, to his junior year, in which the team posted a winning record and a third-place finish in the sectional tournament. This year’s team has even loftier goals. “This is the best our team has even been,” said Almeida. “I am confident that we can win our section.”
Both Almeida and Friedkin mentioned the sense of camaraderie that pervades the team as a highlight. “After three years, it’s ended up that my best friends are on the team … in the past year the team has gotten really close,” said Friedkin. Almeida added, “It feels like a family. We call it a brotherhood sometimes.”Many people with only a casual experience of Ultimate might be surprised to learn the athleticism, conditioning, and strategy require to effectively compete. Like any other sport, success in ultimate requires athletic ability, strong fundamentals, and efficient tactics. To those with only an exposure to chaotic pickup games, the sight of players in a competitive game aligned in strict formation, moving in purposeful fashion, and making crisp, accurate throws might come as somewhat of a shock. Additionally, both teams have placed a particularly strong emphasis on conditioning this year. Prior to the Spring tournament season, the A-team has instituted a mandatory weightlifting program, and the B-team has embarked on long and grueling runs through a cornfield behind West Windsor before many of its practices.
In many ways Ultimate Frisbee is like any other sport, but it also has a distinct culture. Though according to Friedkin, the sport has moved beyond its “hippie days,” the global ultimate community has several unique customs. Perhaps most interestingly, the sport is self-refereed, relying on a strict honor code that Princeton students would find familiar. Per the preamble to the official rules of play, “It is trusted that no player will intentionally break the rules… Highly competitive play is encouraged, but should never sacrifice the mutual respect between players, adherence to the agreed-upon rules of the game, or the basic joy of play.” The sport of ultimate truly embodies the old cliché that “it’s not about whether you win or lose, but how you play the game,” as players have a moral responsibility to abide by the rules and codes of conducts. To reinforce these ideals, many tournaments will hand out awards to the players and teams that best represent the “Spirit of the Game” through their fairness and attitude. Naturally, the Frisbee community is known for its inclusivity and integrity. “People on other Frisbee teams are the nicest people I’ve ever played a sport against,” said Almeida.
It is understandable, then, that many ultimate players are passionate about the sport and wish to see it grow. A relatively young sport, ultimate has burgeoned in popularity; several college national games have been televised by ESPN in recent years. Within Clockwork, however, the focus seems to be more on the performance of the team. “I don’t really care about that,” said Friedkin, referring the growth of the sport. “I just like playing Frisbee.”
However, anyone interested playing Ultimate should proceed with caution. “A lot of people get addicted to it,” said Friedkin. “When you start playing Ultimate seriously, it can become really addictive.”