It’s really hard to sum up Ultimate Peace camp. A lot of what happens here is emotional and difficult to articulate anyway, but some of what happens here just sneaks up on you, leaving you totally speechless. I’ll try.
This was our first “training” camp as opposed to the previous “summer” camps that we’ve organized. About 90 kids who have been training throughout the year were recommended by their mentor coaches to participate in this more focused, higher skill level camp. Coaches from some of the most competitive teams in the world fundraised for months and took time out from their jobs and training schedules (even missing team practices to prepare them for the World Championships in Japan next week) to come and share their unparalleled knowledge and experience with us.
What were the differences? First, kids knew how to play ultimate. You could say words like “dump” and “swing” and “cut” and “mark” and they knew what you were talking about. They wanted to play. They’ve already competed both with each other and against each other. They wanted to win and they were willing to work for it.
Second, they knew what Spirit of the Game looked like. Every bid for a disc that resulted in someone on the ground (which was a lot of them), was followed by a helping hand from a teammate or an opponent– whoever was closest. There were no disagreements about calls that required a coach to get involved. I didn’t see anyone yell at anyone from their own team when they had a drop or made a poor throw. Turnover? Heads up. We’re on D.
My team had a couple of kids whose level of play was not where the rest of the boys were. I had this issue last year and so during the tournament, these less experienced and smaller players were sometimes discouraged by their teammates from taking the field or ignored when they did. I saw none of that this year. Our younger players were thrown to when they were open and were never called off a line. And we didn’t have to say anything.
Third, and this is the part that just snuck up on me, we’re becoming what we’re striving to become: a single community. I’ll give you some examples:
After an intense game, Yaron from Ra’anana (Jewish neighborhood) did the talking in the spirit circle. After the usual congratulations on good play he said, “And where’s Samir? Samir, you nearly killed us! You are FAST!” Samir, needless to say, is from an Arab village in northern Israel. But no one cared about that. It was his speed that they noticed.
And another: As the girlsteams prepared for the tournament finals, the Nature Mamas started their warm up jog. Out in front were team leaders Asmaa, an Arab from Tamra, and Shakhar, a Jew from Sde Boker.
They ran side by side heading up the army style pump up cheer as the girls made their laps. Both of the girls mentioned to me what great chemistry they had together on the field. Neither of them mentioned the fact that one of them was a Jew and one of them was an Arab. They’ll be playing together for the Girls Israeli National Team at the Youth World Championships in Dublin this summer, too.
And another: The Coaches In Training (CIT) monthly meetings are often held in Akko, the site of the camps, which is in the most northern part of Israel (you can see the Lebanese border on a clear day). One of our CITs, Hamzeh, lives in Jericho which is in the West Bank. Getting through the Israeli checkpoint is rather unpredictable, so he’s started coming the night before so that he can be sure to be on time in the morning or sometimes staying overnight if they finish after the checkpoint closes. When he does this, he stays with Karim, a UP player who lives in Tamra. Though they have a language in common, the lives of Arabs in Israel and Arabs in the West Bank are actually quite different. But these boys can’t keep their hands off each other. Not a day went by when I didn’t see them holding hands or hugging each other. (One of the most beautiful parts of Arab culture is the public affection that men show each other. You often see them walking down the street arm in arm. It’s totally normal with no implication about sexual orientation.)
And another: One of the final activities at camp is team debriefing. We have an opportunity to talk about our experience together and to say our goodbyes. Yusef from Tuba, one of our youngest, started to say something in Arabic and then just broke down crying. All the other boys on the team, Arab and Jew alike, just smiled affectionately. There was no eye rolling. Yusef was the emotional heart of our team and we all knew it.
And another: During both the boys and the girls final, not only the crowd, but the opposing team, too, started up cheers for whoever was losing. Can you imagine caring more about the experience of your opponent than you do about winning? Don’t get me wrong– they want to win, but not at the expense of demoralizing each other. Let me say that again. Not at the expense of demoralizing each other. And we coaches didn’t have to say ANYTHING. It just happened. It’s just what they know.
And these are just a few of these moments that I noticed while running around like a headless chicken with little sleep and little food and little power of observation. The novelty of meeting a Jew or an Arab and actually having something in common with them– or even actually liking them is over. We’re now fellow athletes, fellow ultimate players guided by Spirit of the Game. When did that happen? I have no idea.
We were all together for closing ceremonies in the auditorium and David suggested we sing our camp song this last time for Fadi, a CIT who was hit by a car in February on his way home from an all day CIT meeting. He is still in the hospital and has only had brief moments of consciousness since then. I happened to be sitting next to his best friend who got so emotional during the song that he couldn’t finish it. We all miss him. And that’s just the thing. We ALL miss him. I looked around the auditorium at arms around each other and tears in our eyes and there it was: community. Sneaky little thing.
-Sarah VanWagenen, Year Round Mentor Coach