Sometime during the first day of the first official Goaltimate tourney in the history of the world, I found myself eaves-dropping on a conversation between Jim Herrick, one of the founders of the sport, and Tom Kennedy, one of the founders of the sport of Ultimate Frisbee, from which Goaltimate is derived.
Herrick was commenting on a conversation nearby; someone was discussing "what it would take to win" this prestigious tourney that San Diego transplant and deep-down Texan Rick Conner had sponsored to the tune of $30,000. Conner put out more money than that flying out Ultimate's present stars like Kenny Dobyns and Jim Parinella from Miami and New York to add cachet to the event. To win a tourney like this fostered what Herrick called "monkey talk." "There's some more of that monkey talk" was all he had to say to make his point to Kennedy, better known as TK. No one, not Herrick, nor TK, nor the eventual winning team from San Diego, with the moniker "Ground Zero," was sure what it would take to win the 30 Gs. But 130 disc players were interested.
At seven players per Goaltimate team to share the prize, this tourney promised the best payday these athletes had ever seen in their careers. Goaltimate players are first Ultimate Frisbee players. Ultimate players pay for their addiction to plastic with their own cash, and often with a string of failed relationships and truncated careers. That's not to say that just as many are doing fine, as it's also likely your average 30ish Frisbee stud has at least a university education or graduate degree.
The very best Ultimate players practice three to five times a week, sometimes for most of a weekend to get in the kind of ripped shape that allows them to run full speed nearly constantly for an entire "point." Ultimate points last from a few seconds to ten minutes or more, and subbing during the point is problematic; you can only sub out if your team burns one of its few time-outs or either you or someone else gets injured. Goaltimate allows subbing as play continues, similar to hockey substitution. Therefore, Goaltimate requires a different type of stamina and mindset. An Ultimate field is 120 by 40 yards, while a Goaltimate field is 45 yards wide by 30 yards long. Moreover, Goaltimate is a half-court game. You have a "clear line" about 30 yards away from the goal, which is a parabolic arch 11 feet high by 7 yards across at the base. (For exact standards, try Conner's website: www.goaltimate.com.)
Because all scoring happens in a small and cramped place, the 7-yard radius directly behind the goal, teams can ignore playing defense except in that narrow space. Having strong legs helps, but decent legs (and lungs) will work if you're savvy and you can throw a disc in ways that an Ultimate player would never attempt during a competition. Ground Zero was the savviest bunch of junk throwers and catchers at the Rancho Santa Fe Polo Club all weekend.
Mike Blackard, who threw the winning goal to Jim Ingabritsen (Jim Daddy or Inga to all that know him), had told me a few weeks previous that he had serious doubts about the legs of some of his fellow teammates. Inge doesn't play much disc, Ultimate or Goaltimate anymore, favoring basketball instead. Greg Pinz (Pinzer or just Pinz) was in the same category and had only recently been practicing with the team. Frenchy (Mike Boisvert) and Fergie (Steve Ferguson) were playing a lot, as was Cliffy (Cliff Smith) but the seventh man made everyone a little nervous. John Cione (Bullet) is known citywide as a man capable of the most dramatic meltdowns. Screaming epithets at his fellow teammates, mocking their reason for playing, and questioning their fundamental character -- this was Bullet's MO. Herrick refuses to play with Bullet. I enjoy playing with him; for those of us who need an emotional jolt, having Cione sandblast your ears can be beneficial. But for most old-school players and tenderhearted young guys, Bullet can be a handful.
Most disc players make some concessions to the founding dogma; to a special Ultimate "Spirit of the Game" in which competitors temper their selfish urges with a code of honor. This inner governor, SOTG, was thought of as the aspect of the sport that separated disc players from their baseball, football, and basketball counterparts. Ultimate Frisbee just recently added referees to their competitions. The refs in Ultimate are not active; they only make calls when they are asked to and generally only in big games, like the finals of a major tournament. It was from the position of an observer/ref that I participated in Conner's promotional extravaganza.
Conner has hopes of turning this photogenic sport into a league, if he can get some corporate sponsor to buy into this "sport of the new Millennium," as he has dubbed it. Before he can do that, he will have to convince many dubious Ultimate players that Goaltimate is worthy of their respect. Most of the players who participated in the tourney in Del Mar last month enjoyed the quality of the event. But for all the great players who came out from Seattle, San Francisco, New York, Boston, Miami, Indiana, Vancouver, Texas, Los Angeles, and Santa Barbara, few of them look like Goaltimate players yet. Even though only one team from San Diego did well, and there were three -- including an over-40 crew led by Herrick -- Ground Zero dominated the younger, more athletic teams with fast-break give-and-go that left few of their matches in doubt. Only the Founders, a Boston-based team led by a nucleus of Death or Glory Ultimate players (five-time National champs) had any real strategy for dealing with GZ. The Founders, named after those who (like Herrick) played in the first Goaltimate games that took place back in 1978 at Wellesley College, executed a zone defense in the mouth of the goal that looked insurmountable to an untrained player.