ISTANBUL - Turkish Daily News
Walk past Boğaziçi University's Uçaksavar Sport Complex in Istanbul's Rumeli Hısar district on a Saturday evening and you might see a rather a perplexing sight: a dozen or so men and women wearing black jerseys with the words “Türk Kası” written on them and tossing around a “Frisbee” disc in a manner that bears a striking resemblance to that of an organized sport.
You would not be mistaken if you guessed that the enigmatic sight you had just witnessed was none other than a game of Ultimate.
Played with two teams of seven players, the goal of Ultimate is to score more points than the opposition by passing the disc down the field and scoring by catching it inside the designated end zone area.
Ultimate has taken off rapidly around the world since its evolution into an organized sport in the United States in the 1970s, and according to the Ultimate Players Association, or UPA, Web site it is currently played by hundreds of thousands of men and women in 42 countries.
In Ultimate, team names are important and according to Andrew Hochstedler, the 25-year-old American founder of Turkey's first and only organized club Ultimate team, there is a culture of coming up with a team name that is silly or funny. The team chose the name Türk Kası (Turkish Muscle), which is a Turkish idiom for a beer belly -- quite fitting considering the amount of alcohol that is consumed at tournaments, Hochstedler added.
The team practices at least once a week and has an open-door policy where everyone is welcome to play regardless of whether they are beginners who have never even touched a disc before or seasoned UPA veterans from the States.
“We've got some people in their 30s playing; we've got teachers, people working with banks, auditing firms, foreign businesses -- a lot of young people who are not married yet,” said Hochstedler.
Türk Kası's roster draws from a community of approximately 40 to 50 people, who play with the team off and on for tournaments and other events depending on the time of year. Approximately 60 percent are Turkish nationals and the other 40 percent are foreigners.
Self-officiated and co-ed
Ultimate is unique worldwide for having no referees and for holding both co-ed and separate men's and women's divisions at the highest international levels.
Turk Kasi has used these traits to set itself apart and attract players in Turkey, where self-officiated, coed sports are virtually unheard of.
When asked what he thought initially attracted so many people to the team and the sport, Hochstedler explained that, while it varied from person to person, most of Türk Kası's squad, even if they're athletic, could have been more competitive and more effective in a sport they already knew. The biggest draw for most was the community atmosphere.
“They didn't need another sport, but what they saw was a lot of good people having fun,” said Hochstedler. “And to add to that, you have guys and girls playing together with no referee and it's still competitive … I would say that it's that community, friendship-based atmosphere, while at the same time being competitive.”
“That's a completely new experience for most people; not just in Turkey but in most cultures,” he added.
Friendship comes before sports, according to 31-year-old Ferdi Dibo, a chief inspector at the Istanbul Stock Exchange and a Türk Kası player.
“Ultimate requires friendship before competition,” said Dibo. “Whether you win or lose is not most important. To enjoy the game and friendship are the most important things in Türk Kası and in Ultimate.”
Standard tournament play in Europe involves both teams huddling together in a circle after a match. Captains exchange comments about the game before each team leads the other in a short competition, dance or song.
Andrew Hochstedler is the founder of the team and one of its unofficial captains. Born and raised in Istanbul, Andrew graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 2005, after having played three years for the school's Ultimate team. He also played for a team in Innsbruck, Austria during his junior year while he was studying abroad.
Upon graduation, Hochstedler moved back to Istanbul to work as a journalist. An Ultimate addict four years in the making, the Notre Dame alum found it hard to just stop playing altogether and began tossing a disc with a few of his American roommates once or twice a week on Boğaziçi's campus.
“We'd go and throw and try and get other people to come and play with us,” explained Hochstedler. “Eventually, we were able to get enough people that were interested to start organizing a regular weekly game.”
The team, which at that point consisted mostly of Americans and a few Turks, began practicing once a week at Roberts College in August 2006.
The small group grew over time by word-of-mouth, according to Hochstedler, who said that, in general, the team had to rely on people bringing their friends to practice.
Some players, like Anne Schluter, a 31-year-old American teacher at The Koç School, found out about the team via a Web site for ex-patriots in Turkey.
“It's a cool way to branch out and to be with Turks who speak English,” said Anne, who played Ultimate in the United States for eight years at both the club and college level. “[It's] great for my Turkish.”
Expanding and gaining recognition
Having already gained recognition by Boğaziçi University as an official sports club, the team is looking to gain accreditation as a sports association under the Turkish Directorate of Youth and Sports, or GSGM, in the near future.
Last April, the team received a UPA innovation grant that allowed them to run two-day ultimate clinics for students at Çukurova University in Adana and Dokuz Eylül University in İzmir.
Close to 60 students came out for the clinic in Adana, which consisted of basic training in the fundamentals of the game, drills, scrimmaging and a variety of seminars.
Gizem Türkarslan, a student at Galatasaray University and someone who has been with the team since its earliest days, said the feedback the team got after the clinics was amazing.
“Some of the teachers were like, ‘This is amazing! We need to spread this to the rest of Turkey,'” she said.
Türk Kası has also been to three European Ultimate tournaments over the past two years. While the traveling lineup for the first tournament in Baden, Austria in the spring of 2007 consisted of 14 players, most with no previous tournament experience, the team still managed to pull off one win, finishing 15th out of 16 teams.
“I wasn't expecting us to win any games,” said Hochstedler. “[But] we came out and tied one game, lost several by one point and won our last game … we felt like we had won the tournament.”
[H] The future of Ultimate in Turkey
Although he is leaving Turkey soon, Hochstedler is fairly confident the team will keep going on its own, especially since several key Turkish players have begun to take ownership of both the team and the sport and have assumed leadership positions.
Türkarslan added that while the departure of the team's founder is a big loss, Türk Kası has no plans to slow down in its enthusiasm for the game.
“We have so many people on our team that are into this and they would love to keep this going,” she said. “We are planning to make other clinics.”
“We want to make this a Turkish sport [and] we want to make this a coed sport,” said Hochstedler. “We've always played co-ed at Türk Kası because that's what makes us unique; that adds to the spirit of the game and that adds to the fun.”
COULD BE A SIDE BOXX BOXXX BOXX
“Combining the non-stop movement and athletic endurance of soccer with the aerial passing skills of American football, a game of Ultimate is played by two seven-player squads with a high-tech plastic disc on a field similar to football. The object of the game is to score by catching a pass in the opponent's end zone. A player must stop running while in possession of the disc, but may pivot and pass to any of the other receivers on the field. Ultimate is a transition game in which players move quickly from offense to defense on turnovers that occur with a dropped pass, an interception, a pass out of bounds, or when a player is caught holding the disc for more than ten seconds. Ultimate is governed by Spirit of the Game, a tradition of sportsmanship that places the responsibility for fair play on the players rather than referees. Ultimate is played in more than 42 countries by hundreds of thousands of men and women, girls and boys.”
-- Ultimate Players Association Web site