One sport takes its name from a revered private school founded in England in the 1500's while the other from a late 1950's invention of the WHAM-O toy company. But whether it's rugby or Ultimate, the activity has found a home at Wesleyan and is flourishing as a club sport. Club sports differ from varsity sports in the amount of supervision and financial support they receive from the University. But this situation does not detract from the intensity of the action.
Rugby, which began in 1823 at the Rugby School as a variation on English football (our soccer), settled into Cardinal territory in 1960 according to the ~ and was played for about 14 years before making an apparent departure from campus. Oddly, the 1973 team celebrated an undefeated season with support from the likes of Peter D'Oench '73, Mike McKenna '73, Tom Kelly '73, and Jim Lynch '71, a former football captain, before talk of the: team's dissolution bandied about in the spring of 1974. But the team survived the talk and continued to play games each spring. The 1986 edition of the squad repeated the effort of the 1973 team, going 8-0 and taking a Little Three title.
Ultimate, originally called frisbee football or ultimate frisbee before the "frisbee" part was dropped for copywrite reasons, is supposed to have started in 1968 at Maplewood, N.J. High School as a competitive game based upon throwing a frisbee. It moved to Rutgers University and refined to an organized, national activity over the years with hundreds of teams representing colleges and regions on a club basis. The Ultimate Players Association
(UPA) governs the sport and developed a complete set of rules. Wesleyan's first team, called the Wes U Bees, was established in 1975 but it has since changed its name to "Nietzsch Factor," the nickname of a talented player who graduated in 1980. Wesleyan's Ultimate team has enjoyed continuous success and is regarded as a perennial power in the Northeast. As club sports, neither rugby nor Ultimate has a coach in the sense of a varsity sport...
Ultimate has captains -- the co-captains for 1986 were Scott Michaud '86 and Bill Wehrli '86 -- but no officers. The captains handle all of the duties for the team, including deciding who will and who won't be playing in a particular game. "The players determine 'whether they want to play with the "A" team or the "B" team," explained Michaud, a two year captain, "but the captains select the side for a game and call for substitutes..."
Scoring in Ultimate is less complicated. A point is scored every time a team catches the frisbee in its opponent's endzone. You cannot run with the frisbee. You may only catch it and then throw it. Defense is an important part of the game, but contact between players is not allowed. If the frisbee hits the ground or goes out of bounds, the team which threw the frisbee loses possession. Quick, sharp movement by the players into the clear and strong, accurate passes are the keys to the offense. Blocking the thrower's toss or knocking the frisbee out of the air before its reaches its mark are the defensive concepts.
Depth has been a strong point for Nietzsch contributing to their 16-2 regular-season record and 23-6 overall mark in 1986. "We can play 12 to 15 players even in the close games," said Michaud. "That keeps fresh troops on the field and runs other teams ragged."
Ultimate is played with seven persons on a side. About 50 people boast Nietzsch Factor T-shirts (which the player buy themselves), but only 30 are registered with the UPA. Wesleyan has been a powerhouse in its section year after year, winning the sectional title (covering southern Connecticut and the New York City area) this year. Ranked 11th in the preseason UPA national captains' poll, Wesleyan couldn't break out of the regionals, from which the top three head to the national tournament. Consistently in the top five, Nietzsch couldn't overcome Cornell and UMass, ranked one-two in the national poll. M.I.T. was the third qualifier from the region, despite a loss to Wesleyan, because it had a better record in the pool play than the Nietzsch Factor's 3-3 mark. In the three years since the national college tournament was established, Wesleyan has come close to making the trip but never close enough.
Receiving an $1,800 grant from the Wesleyan Student Assembly (\NSA) for its annual operating expenses, Nietzsch Factor might not be able to afford a sojourn to the national tournament. The 1986 affair was in St. Louis, Mo. The $1,800 covers a $200 fee to the UPA, equ1pment (only a 165-gram WHAM-O frisbee is acceptable for games), travel and accommodations. Nietzsch Factor recently petitioned the Physical Education Department for financial support, trying to take the burden off the WSA, which distributes funds from the College Body Tax to numerous groups on campus. To this point, the phys. ed. department only schedules Nietzsch Factor's use of fields and buildings for practice and games....
It should be noted that Ultimate is self-officiated, with unnecessary or flagrant contact called by the player who was "fouled." Each year, usually in the summer, the captains of the better than 20 college Ultimate teams in the Northeast meet at the site of the regional coordinator to discuss rule changes, general problems and set up schedules. Though it's difficult to make a schedule for the spring during the previous summer, especially when a team like Nietzsch Factor must coordinate field space with the powers that be and has no idea what its funding allocation will be, the captains at least exchange names and phone numbers to facilitate scheduling at a later time.
Few players on both the rugby and Ultimate teams had playing experience in the sport before coming to Wesleyan... Ultimate seems to be developing a core of high school participation, particularly in the New York City area. According to Michaud, eight Nietzsch newcomers played for teams in high school. With so little background or prior interest in the activity, what prompts someone to play rugby or Ultimate at Wesleyan? Both team put notices around campus, as well as in the Argus, announcing organizational meetings. "We don't cut anybody or turn anyone away," stated Michaud. His own story is a routine introduction to Ultimate. "I lived in West College when I was a freshman. After I was cut from the soccer team, I still spent the first semester playing soccer recreationally and in intramurals. About four of my hallmates played on Nietzsch Factor, so when I went 1ooking for a sport to keep me busy in the spring, they suggested Ultimate. I wasn't terribly skilled at throwing the frisbee and I still consider myself more of a defensive player. I loved the running and the competition."
"Ultimate players tend to be people who were disenchanted with high school sports but are generally athletic and uncomfortable with the conventional sports," said Michaud. "It's amazing that a college of our size can consistently come up with talented players, and some of the top players in the country are Wesleyan graduates."
In August 1983, the "Rude Boys," a Boston-based Ultimate club with five Wesleyan graduates among its 19 players, won the national open championship and first ever world championship. Ultimate games are usually played to a point total while rugby is played for two halves of a predetermined length. Both the point total ( 13, 15 or 18 most often) and the length of a half (30-45 minutes) are agreed upon by the captains before the game. They vary depending upon the number of games the teams are playing on the day. In a tournament situation, games tend to be shorter.
Though the collegiate season is reserved for the spring, both Ultimate and rugby are played at Wesleyan in the fall as well. The "open" championship in Ultimate is held in the fall so Wesleyan plays against some non-college clubs, which are of a higher caliber than most college teams... Ultimate takes its act indoors in the winter, playing mostly intra-squad games to stay in shape, but occasionally challenging a local college, like Yale, to an indoor match. "We're very proud of our record against Yale," Michaud boasted. "We've never lost to them in our history, making us something like 22-0 against them."
For teams that practice three times a week, the WRFC and Nietzsch Factor have given Wesleyan something to be proud of. They are not varsity teams and neither has any great desire to be varsity. If they were, they would be different. They'd have more money, maybe better equipment, a coach from the outside, perhaps a few more fans. But they wouldn’t be better organized. The success of these sports is as much a tribute to the University as a critically acclaimed concert or outstanding student art exhibit. Going the way of the varsity teams, rugby has had its ups and downs. The 1985 squad was 4-4 but from ~ accounts over the 27 years of Wesleyan rugby, a majority appear to have been winners.
Nietzsch Factor may be unparalleled by any varsity sport at Wesleyan for winning percentage, but the graduation of nine seniors from the ranks may bring it down a notch. "We've never lost this many seniors at one time," Michaud lamented. "But we never had as many talented underclassmen either." Hopefully a tradition will continue, but Wesleyan will be proud either way.