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'Spirit of the Game' Fuels State College Frisbee Pro

by on June 02, 2012 6:00 AM

Bruises, blood and scars are all over his elbows, hips and knees, but he loves the sport. He loves his team. He loves the “Spirit of the Game.”

Ian McClellan, 32, of Houserville, is a professional Ultimate Frisbee player for the Philadelphia Spinners.

He discovered the sport 18 years ago, while playing trumpet for State College Area High School’s Marching Band.

“I think it was during the second week of practice that an Ultimate Frisbee game was organized as a post-practice event. Up until that point I knew nothing about Ultimate, but it was quickly explained that there was a traditional rivalry between two pre-made teams. It was probably the ugliest game of 50-vs-50 ever played, but it was also probably the most fun I have ever had. I was absolutely hooked,” McClellan said.

He was so hooked, he shamefully admits he skipped two or three classes his junior and senior year, and every study hall to go play out in the schoolyard. Between the marching band games and a local pickup game on Saturday mornings, he was playing Ultimate at least once a week.

By the time he graduated from high school, he was playing in a summer league organized through State College Ultimate League, and then trying out for the Penn State team in the fall of 1998. He graduated in the spring of 2003.

As a math major, it didn’t take him long to add long hours, plus hard work, soon equaled making him captain of the team from 2001-2002.

“I have been playing competitively for 14 years, ever since I joined the PSU team. Besides the college league, there is an enormous club league too, which is why so many Ultimate players don't stop playing once they graduate from college,” McClellan said.

“I didn’t want to be captain in my fifth year (2002-2003), but I did play, and that was the year PSU made it to College Nationals. It’s considered a college 'club’ sport. It is not (an) NCAA (sport) anywhere."

According to McClellan, in competitive Ultimate, each team has seven players on the field at a time. One team will “pull” (kickoff) to the other team and play begins. The offense will then try to pass the disc between each other until someone catches it in the end zone.

"You are not allowed to run with the disc once you catch it, and you must throw it within seven seconds of catching it. A game to 15 typically lasts between one-and-a-half and two hours."

As a result, McClellan describes the sport as “a crazy amount of running, jumping, diving, catching, and throwing.”

Although Ultimate Frisbee is a unique sport, McClellan will tell you it is a sport with deep traditions.

Since 1968, Ultimate was designed as a self-officiated sport, and the majority of the massive Ultimate community has grown up learning to play while honoring sportsmanship, fairness, integrity and mutual respect between players as highly as winning and losing. The Ultimate community calls it ‘Spirit of the Game,’ and it's ingrained deeply into every Ultimate player world-wide.

“No one just joins an Ultimate team somewhere and gets to ignore it. It's not how it's done,” McClellan said.

Because most Ultimate games are self-officiated, every player on both teams is responsible for a bad call. If a player does something wrong, both teams will discuss and explain what the right call should be and then they teach the player how to make the right call next time.

According to McClellan, every player learns ‘Spirit of the Game’ and its proper implementation as thoroughly as they learn the basic rules of the sport and the skills of throwing, cutting, catching and defense. The resulting benefit of this system is a community and culture of the sport that demands a balance between intense competition and integrity.

“It is a character-shaping experience to grow up playing Ultimate in this way,” he said.

This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.
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