A team of alumni, faculty, and staff claim they've been winning Ultimate Frisbee games since before today's students were born. This spring, they aced Beloit's intramural championship.
When the most resolute patches of snow finally disappear on campus each spring, and the dormant tree branches burst with pinpricks of green, something unusual begins to blossom on campus.
Starting in late March, Ultimate Frisbee fanaticism unfolds, as intramural teams assemble and start to compete in weekend matches. They play their way through a bracket that leads ever closer to playoffs and the championship game, traditionally held under the Strong Stadium lights on the last day of classes.
Teams are known for their silly—and sometimes suggestive—names, their field antics, and their ostentatious attitudes.
In the oddball assortment of teams, one stands out even more than the others: Old School. Known on campus as the “geriatric ward” and fondly referred to in the Round Table as “an eclectic group of octogenarians,” Old School is the faculty, staff, and alumni team. They may lack the sophomoric spunk and elasticity (especially in the knees) of their younger opponents, but these old folks are far from serious.
Old School’s team logo replicates an authentic U.K. road sign, which cautions drivers to look out for frail pedestrians. Team emails sent by the captain address players as “mossbacks.” They joke about wild Geritol parties and prune juice endorsements. And, if anyone asks, they often partake in collective post-game Bengay rubdowns to ease the pain of arthritic joints and over-stretched muscles.
Formed in 2001 by Beloit alumnus Ari Hurwitz’00, the Old School Frisbee team is part of the “Old School franchise,” an amalgamation of teams made up of faculty and staff that also compete in intramural soccer, basketball, and volleyball. When Hurwitz returned to Beloit after graduation to work for the Office of Admissions, he realized there were few outlets for faculty and staff to participate in sports. He sent out emails to garner interest, and just like that, the Old School franchise began.
“It definitely wasn’t one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” Hurwitz says with a laugh, noting that professors, administrators, and other non-students have always been fairly active in campus sports—they were just scattered throughout different teams.
The Old School franchise has flourished into a fun but formidable presence in intramural sports at Beloit. Historically, Old School teams across all sports have a strong showing, usually making it all the way to the playoffs.
This was certainly the case for intramural Ultimate Frisbee this year. Old School was undefeated all season and easily made it to the championship game. There, they faced the self-proclaimed “jock team,” Whispering Eyes, which is composed of footballers, track stars, basketball players, and other collegiate athletes. After an hour of neck-and-neck play, Old School pulled ahead of the whippersnappers to win by one point, marking the team’s first championship victory.
Old School player Charles Westerberg’94, Beloit’s associate dean and an associate professor of sociology, is known as a “wrecking ball” on the field. He was elated by the victory.
“After we won the championship, I was—and I still am to a certain extent—giddy,” he says with a smile, sitting in his office after the big game, cup of coffee in hand. “I’m still giddy when I think about it.”
As an undergraduate at Beloit, Westerberg played on the football team, where argyle socks became his signature article of clothing. He was first introduced to Frisbee at football practices, when players would sometimes break out a disc for agility drills before putting on the pads.
Westerberg loves Old School—and not just because it gives him an excuse to bring his argyle socks out of retirement. “It allows me to experience some of the things I experienced when I was playing football,” he says. “It’s just a little more laid back.”
Westerberg isn’t the only Beloit graduate on the team; Old School usually has a strong alumni presence. This season, several recent graduates returned to their alma mater to play alongside professors and friends. These sprightly former Beloiters were instrumental in getting Old School all the way to the championship, as any authentic old-timer on the team will tell you.
Old School was captained this season by Assistant Professor of Philosophy Heath Massey, a self-proclaimed Frisbee fanatic since college. In his undergraduate years, Massey had no idea what Ultimate was; he just played casually with friends.
“The most natural thing to do on a weekday afternoon when we were done with classes was to go out and throw Frisbees at trees on campus, or go to the soccer field and throw the Frisbee until we were exhausted.”
Massey first played Ultimate Frisbee during graduate school in Memphis, when he stumbled upon a group of people playing in a city park one muggy August day. Following the lead of those die-hard players, he’s been crazy about Ultimate ever since.
As captain, Massey led a diverse crew. “Since I’ve been playing, it’s been a mix of faculty members, faculty spouses, staff members, and even students,” he says, noting that many juniors and seniors have joined the team in the past. “It makes for a really fun team to play with, because you have players of different skill levels, age, and experience.”
Ann Davies is one of Old School’s staple members. The Edwin F. Wilde Distinguished Service Professor and dean of the college/vice president for academic affairs is often cited by students as a field favorite.
Slight and wiry, she has the sharp features and trim form of a lifelong athlete. Long before joining Old School, she enjoyed solitary sports like biking and running, in which she could gather her thoughts and spend a little time alone. But her Frisbee roots run deep. Her older sisters attended Oberlin College, where Ultimate has been popular since the ’70s, so Davies was first introduced to the sport at the green age of 10. “But then I took a long hiatus, and I really didn’t play again until I came here,” she says.
She joined Old School in 2006, when Massey recruited her. “I couldn’t say no to a fellow faculty member,” she says with a laugh. “And they needed women.” Her hiatus finally broken, Davies isn’t likely to leave Old School anytime soon. Like so many of her colleagues and friends, she’s hooked on Ultimate.
"It’s a lot of fun to see a good play happen—it’s beautiful—and there’s an added edge to that when it’s a 40-year-old versus a 20-year-old.” She pauses and smiles bemusedly. “We like to say, from a proportional standpoint, they’re aging a lot faster than we are.”
A team of faculty and staff may seem rather out of place in a student-dominated intramural sport like Ultimate, and that is precisely what makes Old School so precious to Beloit. Students and professors alike enjoy branching out and competing across academic lines, with the Frisbee field as a means to breaking down traditional barriers.
“I always have a lot of fun playing against professors,” says Ari Jacobs’12, a Frisbee athlete and coordinator of this year’s intramural Ultimate season. He especially enjoys squaring off against Massey. “I won’t say it’s a rivalry,” Jacobs says of their relationship on the field. “But it’s sort of a mutual understanding that we’re going to battle each other till blood runs—that sort of thing.”
For his part, Massey enjoys the competition as well. “One of the things I like most about playing Frisbee at Beloit is the chance to interact with my students outside of the classroom. It makes me play harder.”
When it comes to his faux-rivalry with Jacobs, Massey—perhaps to maintain a professorial veneer—makes no mention of bloodshed. He only smiles and chuckles quietly. “It’ll be fun to see how that plays out next year.”
Each Frisbee face-off with Old School is a striking reminder that students and faculty are more similar than either might think.
“It shows that we’re connected in yet another way, beyond the classroom and beyond the student-professor relationship,” says Westerberg. “This is something that Beloiters do. And we love it, and we’re all together on this.”
Steven Jackson is pursuing a self-designed culture and cognition major, with a journalism minor. He is an editor for the Round Table and currently works for the college’s Office of Communications and Marketing.