The Spirit of the Game: Ultimate Frisbee Finals 2019

By Emily Ni (20S03C) and Huang Beihua (20A03A)
Photos by Kevin Lee (20S06T) and Geng Heqin (20S06S) of Raffles Photographic Society, and the writers

Raffles Ultimate seems plagued by cruel weather—just last year, they were knee deep in mud, and now, Mother Nature has so kindly bestowed upon them much lauded rays of sun. Still, there is nothing to be done: they fought in the rain, and will now fight in the sun. Do not cringe, just yet, at this reference to the school cheer: their final match will live up to every bit of the unwavering, resolved spirit behind the mantra.

It has been a nerve-wracking weekend for the competitors: both the J1 and J2 teams faced tough opponents in the previous day of competitions. Never mind that the match is not to start for another half an hour: be it warm-ups, some last practice, or final instructions, there are always more efforts that can be made, and Team Raffles will not spare any. After all, an intense two-day affair of non-stop head-to-head is to culminate in this final match, which will determine if the team is able to defend their championship title from 2018.

The match’s location in the far-flung NTU does not deter supporters as they line the perimeter of the playing field to cheer their CCA mates and friends on. The players themselves, meanwhile, bounce in anticipation, throwing around frisbees to relieve some of their nerves as they gear up for their final match of the day.

1a
Supporters coming down to cheer on the players.

Frisbee is primarily a self-refereed game, with the players acting as umpires. In a unique practice in sports termed “the spirit of the game”, the game’s integrity is reliant on the players’ own. Whenever the possession of the frisbee is contested, the game will give way to players’ passionate—but always civil—arguments, until a consensus is reached. 

 

1v
Much as they crave victory, they will not let fairness give way.  

The finals begin at 4.30 p.m., with Raffles Institution (RI) facing River Valley High School (RV). RI starts off strong, impressively scoring the first goal of the game—and then the second—barely ten minutes into the hour-long duel. Cheers break out as both teams try their best to prevent the other from scoring. One impressive instance sees RI intercept the frisbee in midair barely a hair’s length away from RV’s scoring zone—the crowd bellows, echoing the player’s celebratory cry.

 

1b
A player making an impressive catch.

RV tries their hardest, but RI’s rousing performance stands its ground. A whistle blows at thirty minutes to signify half-time, by which time RI has pulled ahead with the score at 5-1. As if on cue, the spectators rush canteens and bottles of water to the team amid torrents of encouragement. The team’s camaraderie shines through with pats and hugs, as the players ready themselves for the second half of what, judging by the score, seems like a certain victory. 

Except it is far from one—no sooner has the starting whistle faded than RV scores its second goal of the day.

And then its third. And then its fourth. And then its fifth. 

As RI’s once-impermeable lead crumbles, we find ourselves fist-clenched as the two teams begin to fight neck-to-neck. We are hardly the only ones caught in the nerve-wrecking tension that permeates the arena: a watchful suspense now descends on the field in a way not seen in the first half, punctuated only by coaches’ frantic gestures and boisterous cheering—that once was the reserve for successful goals—every time an interception is made. 

1x
A coach trying his best to help the team. 

And then, RV scores their sixth goal. 

We pay little attention to how the RV side of the field appears, overwhelmed in the dead silence here in the Rafflesian half. With barely ten minutes left on the clock, we message our editors, forlorn, asking for advice on sensitivity if Raffles loses. 

It is strange how, at this moment, those most impervious to nervousness are the ones whom we would expect to be the most afraid: the athletes themselves. Speaking to us after the event, team captain Leo Qi En (19S06S) revealed that even as “[they] fumbled” and as “RV managed to take the lead near the end”, “[they] kept their composure and managed to push through.” Disappointment can wait, shock can wait, but victory cannot.

1w
Teams hot on the heels of each other. 

With the countdown ticking toward zero, both teams fight hard as the stakes grow ever higher. RV sends the frisbee dashing towards the scoring zone and RI responds with a desperate leap right in front of the scoring line—the player’s fingers barely graze the frisbee, but it is enough to send the crucial goal out of RV hands. Without hesitation, the frisbee glides back towards RI, but a sliding save by our players is just one second too late after the precious plate has touched the ground. 

There is a brief time-out as the coaches of both teams enter the field for some encouragement and tips to the players, springing back to battle as soon as a team huddle is done. 

1c
Players doing a team cheer after a huddle.

Athletes from both teams dive—one intercepting and another scoring—but the frisbee drifts past all four hands. Picking up the frisbee, RI’s series of passes immediately pierces the length of the field with practised precision. RV makes repeated dashes towards the player in possession, but RI evades them in the nick of time—

RI scores! 

The Rafflesian supporters erupt in a sea of “GO RAFFLES!”, rejoiced and rejuvenated by a renewed hope for victory. With both teams tied once again as the remaining time dashes past zero, we enter a game of sudden death: whoever scores the next goal wins the championship. 

The game continues with ever-increasing vigour, with both RI and RV making increasingly bold moves trying to outdo the other for that crucial, final goal. Under the backdrop of near-constant cheers, breathtaking manoeuvres like dives and leaps are commonplace on the field, and so are hard falls trying to stop the frisbee in its path. It is clear that the players are fighting tooth and nail. In the midst of the action, we cannot help but notice the bandages on the hand of player #2, or the knee guard on player #20, but they, as do the rest of the team, fight on doggedly. 

1y
Every save counts.

We watch with bated breath as RI dives into the scoring zone, the player’s knees grazing the grass as his hands miss the frisbee by centimetres. We watch with a palpitating heart as RV makes a scoring attempt, only to be intercepted far into the field. We watch in fervent anticipation as the frisbee soars across the field, precariously past RV’s outstretched arms—

And we cheer with wild celebration as player #12 leaps into the air, landing with the frisbee—and the championship title—safe in Rafflesian hands once more. 

1z
Victory!

Supporters roar their joyous approval, rushing onto the field to congratulate our champions. With a final scoreline of 7-6 in our favour, the entire team embrace in ecstasy. After a brief celebratory cheer, the two teams line up and high five each other in a show of admirable sportsmanship. A few tears of happiness are seen, a testament to the overwhelming emotions felt by the team. Finally, in a show of gratitude, they link arms and walk  as a whole to the supporters, before taking a deep bow and saying a heartfelt “Thank You”.

Considering the rocky match whose result remained in suspense till the very end, this year’s Inter-JC match has no doubt been a veritable emotional rollercoaster for the team. They fought to the end with their determination and do not disappoint—it is truly the spirit of the team that allowed them to press on and win a hard-earned victory.

This is definitely an emotional match for the J2s, as it will be their last match before their graduation. Indeed, the inevitability of the team going separate ways only brings on longing for the time gone by; as Qi En puts it, “It’s bittersweet, knowing that I won’t be able to play on the same field as [my] teammates again”. 

However, the unity and teamwork will never be forgotten. “I’ve found people I can call family,” she says with a bright smile. The added dose of satisfaction from defending their title was not lost on the players—Qi En jokingly says, “Thank goodness!” But there is more to the victory than simply remaining defending champions: the real reward was working their way up through every stage and fighting as a team together. 

1d
Congratulations, Raffles Ultimate!

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