Transformation in SA Ultimate

by Xolani (Orange Farm)

I recently read an open letter by Robin Willis, the former SAFDA Development Manager. The letter was addressed to the South African Ultimate community at large and it was mainly about what we can do to help contribute towards developing the sport, and the much needed inclusion of females and players of color into the teams going out to represent South Africa at world events to reflect the diversity in our country and to show how much progress we’ve made not only as a country but also as the South African Ultimate community. Now, one might argue that even though this sounds good in theory and it’s an issue which needs to be addressed, but who is going to pay for those who can’t afford it to go represent South Africa? So basically at the current moment whoever has the means (and the skill of course) gets to represent SA. Even though this point is partly valid we need to take into consideration a number of things. If you were to describe South Africa to someone who has never heard of South Africa, from  its beautiful landscapes to its rich and extraordinary history, the way we strive through adversity, and the very amazing diverse and yet united groups of people you meet, but most importantly the amount of progress we’ve made thus far in such a short period of time amongst a lot of other great things, one would deem it as pure work of fiction. So it only makes sense that an extraordinary and special country like ours has its own special challenges. Sadly, in a country which has the biggest inequality gap in the world the “Whoever has the ticket gets to ride on the bus” logic would not only be detrimental to the progress of Ultimate in SA but it would also stagnate its development.

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I started playing Ultimate Frisbee while I was in high school through an organization called Love Life, and one of my most vivid memories of it was my first training session with the guys from Joburg Ultitude (Not sure what the team was called back then). Love Life used to send us to their evening training sessions and what intrigued me was the way everyone was so friendly, understanding, spirited, and how they encouraged everyone to keep going no matter how horrible you were at throwing or catching. They made you feel like you belonged there and you were a part of something great and I won’t lie I think I needed that as a Grade 10 pupil who was having trouble navigating through the “wanting to find purpose and belong somewhere” stage of my life. In one training session you would feel like you’ve known everyone for ages and the game itself and the concept behind it was nothing short of amazing. Anyway, I was on and off playing Frisbee because of commitments and the fact that I lived in Orange Farm which was an hour away from Joburg North and I didn’t have the means.

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Fast forward to the main part of the story which is the point I’m trying to raise; In 2011 or 2012 I went to my first Nationals, they were hosted in JHB at the Pirates Rugby Club. That experience as a first timer and an Ultimate Frisbee enthusiast was just insane!!! I believe that’s the one event that got me hooked to playing Ultimate. Seeing all the teams from every part of the country, their colorful and creative kits, the mind blowing throws, the tactics, chants, the spirit everyone had, the streakers running across the field at random, but most importantly the amazing skills being displayed at the games. One such game was a final match between The Long Donkeys and a team from Khayelitsha in CPT called Khayoba. Khayoba was made up of a vast number of players from different ethnicities but predominantly black African players, I had been following the Donkeys the entire tournament because I was in awe of their height, skill, precision, and tons of other things, they were by far the best team in the tournament for me and they just bulldozed through every opponent they faced (like the beasts that they are, still my favs). Anyway, I only started paying attention to Khayoba at the finals and damn did they not bring it!?! They were average height, they had this unexplainable team chemistry, trust, resilience, and a sharp eye for the game amongst them and the skill was out of this world, every player gave it their all. As you can imagine it was a nail biting final and in the end Khayoba took it home by a slender margin. Every player from our team was inspired from that match and we all aspired to be like those Gods amongst men in both teams who were playing in that field. 

But here is the strange part, that tournament was the last time I saw that other team, How does a group of such skilled individuals just disappear of the radar? Did they fall off? An entire team? Well I don’t know but I would like to share our experience. Orange Farm Ultimates has been around for a while now, from as early as 2009 but only one or 2 individuals remain from the original team. Every year it has been new players who end up leaving at some point due to various factors such as school, work, loss of interest, and countless other things. Retaining a solid squad every year is very difficult and I feel that’s the biggest challenge. Even though things like school and work are factors they do not compare to the amounts of players we lose due to lack of support which just deteriorates the level of interest in players. I’m talking support not mainly in a financial sense but in the interaction with players and keeping everyone in the loop on what’s happening around the country, assistance in getting to tournaments, providing resources and etc. We need to find means to raise funds for deserving players to go represent SA everywhere where required. With all that being said, we must commend the drastic change in the level of support we have been receiving in the past 2 years from both GFDA, SAFDA, and individual players. Almost every issue I’ve mentioned has either been addressed or is in the process, there’s more transparency and free flow of information, we’ve received overwhelming support from resources to finances, etc. There’s a lot to be done but if we continue moving as a unit and try by all means to keep everyone on this train, our efforts will pay off at the end of the day. 

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Here is a short list of what I think is much needed amongst other things to accelerate growth in new developing communities:

    • Ultimate Frisbee Rules Workshop 
    • Technical Support (Drills, Strategy, Skills Clinic)
    • Resources (Discs, Cones, Kit)
    • Financial Assistance to get to Tournaments or Pick Up Games (maybe 50% where possible)
    • Assistance in hosting clinics for recruitment drives
    • Digital Assistance (Social Media, Photos, etc)

For getting deserving players who can’t afford to participate in tournaments such as Worlds or Regional events around Africa we can maybe introduce a fund raising project whereby willing members of the Ultimate community can donate from R50 a month towards an account dedicated to this project.

To everyone spearheading the development of Ultimate Frisbee in their own right let’s keep on keeping on, even the smallest of contributions make the biggest difference, from your time to your generous donations it all matters and it alters something in someone’s personal development. Thanks to everyone, may we keep on engaging in such discussions and try finding solutions. We will not always agree on the same things but as long as everyone keeps voicing their opinion then we are on the right track.

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