(The following is an article I wrote for "Tennessee Sport & Fitness Journal", Volume 1, Issue 3, July 1995. I added to the end of it some thoughts I wrote on January 14, 2000)
Knoxville Ultimate has its roots in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Fred Baes, known as our "founding father", introduced the game to several enthusiastic high school students at Oak Ridge High School back around 1978. The game was played once a week in Oak Ridge, and many a post-practice get together was held at Fred's house. Soon after this, The University of Tennessee formed it's own Ultimate team and occasionally challenged the Oak Ridge team. It became clear that neither team had enough personnel to travel to tournaments as two separate teams, so the two teams combined and have played together ever since.
As the years went by, many of the University of Tennessee players graduated, and the "Frisbee Club" at UT became defunct around 1982. Since this time, Ultimate in Knoxville has steadily grown. The team searched for an identity, changing its name each time it traveled to a tournament. Some of Knoxville team names included: EATUM (East Tennessee Ultimate Machine), Tennessee Tuxedos, Volunteer Disc, Tennessee Bobs, The DT's, Visitors from Home, The Knoxvillians, just to name a few. The name we finally stuck with was Voodoo. It gave us a great opportunity to dress up small dolls to look like our opposing team and desecrate them. The name fit our players well: a bit controversial yet very spiritual.
The "Frisbee House" was a Fort Sanders dump where 4 or 5 Ultimate players lived from 1982 to 1991. The different people that lived there reads like a "Who's Who" of early Knoxville Ultimate. This was more than a place to hang our cleats. This was the nerve center of Knoxville Ultimate, the gathering place pre and post practice, and the information center for upcoming tournaments. We didn't always get along well, but we could always forgive and forget. We all had a goal: play more Ultimate!
Women's Ultimate in Knoxville is not as established as the men's team, but they too have a camaraderie that is stronger than most team sports. The women began traveling to tournaments to compete in the women's division starting in about 1985. They too have seen many changes, but the "glue" that bonds them together is still there. We enjoy traveling with them, and do our best to encourage their growth.
"Just a silly game" you are probably saying to yourself. Probably no one else in America plays it. Well, we travel to tournaments as far north as Milwaukee, Wisconsin and as far south as Mobile, Alabama. This fourth of July weekend marks the 12th Annual Smoky Mountain Ultimate Tournament (or SMUT as it is commonly known) here in Knoxville. Twenty-three teams from 8 different states will compete in this grueling 2 day event. If we had the field space and actually advertised our tournament, I'm sure we could see as many as 40 teams show up. Each team brings up to 25 or so players, and accompanying girlfriends, boyfriends and other non-playing people. This is not as big as some groups that come to Knoxville, but it does bring a lot of money into Knoxville every year.
The current state of Knoxville Ultimate:
Things are very encouraging. Some of the newest players are a group of University of Tennessee students which have re-established a club within the University. This time it is the "Ultimate Club" (compared to the "Frisbee Club" we formed many years before). It is very encouraging to see new blood get excited about the game. Their team is called BUTT, and they say it does not stand for anything; it's just BUTT! The "old school dudes" as they call them, Voodoo, are still around, although sometimes we need BUTT's help to have enough to travel. The women's team is currently called "Coven", and is trying hard to step up to the next level of competitive play.
What Ultimate means to me:
It is very hard to put into words. I have played Ultimate for about 15 years now. All of my best friends either are or were associated with the game. Because of the fact that there are no referees, it takes a special kind of person to play the game. One has to have a high level of decency to be able to play the game and not look like a complete jerk (calling yourself in when you were clearly out, for example). Perhaps Ultimate teaches honesty and decency to those who play it, or perhaps one has to already have these qualities before playing. I would say it is some combination of the two. Ultimate players are generally some of the nicest people you would ever want to meet. The game is so physically demanding, most players are in incredibly good shape. Being healthy also helps to make people happy and pleasant to be around. The game is a passion: we love it and will play in almost any condition: rain, snow, extreme heat and extreme cold. Any condition except thunderstorms. On April 10, 1994, Voodoo was playing a team from Atlanta in Nashville, Tennessee. Although play was stopped earlier in the day because of lightning, the next storm was just rolling in. A bolt of lightning struck our field, knocking everyone to the ground, and killing one of Voodoo's players, Shawn Adams. Shawn was from Chattanooga, but picked up with us many times over the years. A player on the Atlanta team, Carmen Lipoma was badly injured and was in a coma for several weeks. Carmen is still recovering, and may never completely recover. This incident, like any tragedy, brought those involved closer together. It was hard for me to imagine us being any closer, but it happened. During a game, those persons on the other team might be your adversary, but off the field we are all brothers and sisters. The entire Ultimate community across the nation heard of our loss, and behavior has changed.
So you see, like any family, all times are not rosy. But what makes a family strong is the support we give each other when times are tough, and the willingness to continue to strive for a common goal. In our case, our goal is to play the game with intensity and respect for everyone on the field. "Life is short: play Ultimate".
If you would like more information about how you can play this wonderful sport in Knoxville, call me, Charlie Cwiek, at 579-9484.
Current State of Knoxville Ultimate, Written January 14, 2000
To this day, our founding father, Fred Baes, continued to practice with us from time to time. He is about to turn 50 years old, and he is an inspiration to all of us aging Knoxville players. From our humble beginnings in the late 70's, Ultimate in Knoxville has grown considerably. In fact, it has grown to the point where we don't need every single person in the Knoxville area that plays Ultimate to have enough people to travel to a tournament (like used to be the case).
The University of Tennessee Ultimate Frisbee Club, led over the past 4 years by Tim Halt, has established itself as a contender in Southeast College Ultimate. Tim has begun a new tournament tradition in Knoxville, the annual UTUT (University of Tennessee Ultimate Tournament), which had it's 3rd offering last November, 1999. This group of young Ultimate players have established their own identity, and now enjoy scrimmaging against the "old school" Voodoo players at practice. They also have their own, separate practice on Wednesday nights. I would say, over the long term, Voodoo wins as much as we lose to UT.
Voodoo is a very old name for us, and many of the original members of Knoxville Ultimate that were around when the name Voodoo was introduced are long gone. But, many members of the Oak Ridge High School group that started it all in the late 70's still play for Voodoo: Bruce Tucker, Gary Johnson, AJ Prassad and Larry Garrett. But, what is Voodoo? It's a name people recognize as Knoxville Ultimate. It's easy to write on the back of a disc, and we tend to get our discs back at tournaments when we leave them laying around. So many faces have come and gone, some of which are life-long friends to me now. Voodoo has accepted everyone that has come along, and I hope that is something that never changes. As long as that is the case, the team name Voodoo should survive.
But, with growth comes change. A new team from Tennessee, called Tanasi, is a collection of top-quality Ultimate players from Knoxville, Nashville and Chattanooga. It's sort of an "all-star" team. It has been difficult to see some of our better players leave Voodoo and go play at tournaments with Tanasi, but we respect what they are trying to do, and wish them luck. I suppose you could say that some of us on Voodoo have gotten to the point in our Ultimate careers that making a big push to "win nationals" is just not on our agenda. We want to practice with our friends, do well at tournaments, but are realistic that we are not willing to put in the sort of effort that it would take to even make it to nationals. For people in Knoxville that have this as a dream, there is a new place for them: Tanasi. We wish them lots of luck, and will cheer them on as if they were Voodoo.
The most recent development in Knoxville Ultimate has been a push to have a competitive co-ed team, called Moonshine Barbie. With the newly developed co-ed division in the UPA series, we feel our best chance to "make nationals" is to compete as a co-ed team. We had some good experiences as a co-ed team in 1999, and we hope to take Moonshine Barbie as far as we can.
Womens Ultimate in Knoxville, as usual, is in a state of flux. There are a bunch of University of Tennessee women excited about the game, and they will be teaming up with the more experienced Knoxville women at several tournaments this year (including MudBowl).
At last years SMUT tournament, there was a co-ed team made up of high school kids from Knoxville. So, there is Ultimate activity in Knoxville that we have nothing to do with. It makes me feel like, maybe, we have not been wasting out lives on a sport that had no growth potential. It IS growing, and will continue to grow in Knoxville, Tennessee.