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Us vs. Them

by Tully Beatty

In 2001 the WUFF Warriors defeated FBI from Portland, Oregon 11-6 at Chicago Tune Up. That win was probably the biggest win for a Wilmington club team since the Slickers defeated NY Graffiti at Worlds in 1993 [one could argue that the victory over Philly in the regional final in ’95 was larger, but I’ll take ‘93]. Later that weekend the Warriors defeated Ring of Fire 11-10; the first win over Ring for a Wilmington team since 1996 [though in ’96 they called themselves En Fuego I believe]. A week a later at Sectionals the Warriors defeated Ring again, this time 17-14 in a game that was never close: Two wins vs. Ring in a week’s time and the first North Carolina Sectional championship for a Wilmington based team since 1996, the Us Against Them mentality was alive and well and producing wins. Obviously, no one embodied the culture of Us against Them better or more passionately than Warrior founder and leader Mike Gerics. Whether it was the black socks, red shorts and black shirts; the Warrior flag; the team name; or the two catch phrases: Battle, and WTMB; the team’s identity started and ended with Gerics. He was the epitome of Walk It Like You Talk It. 

Us against Them was nothing new for a Wilmington team. Before the Warriors, the Slickers did it, and before the Slickers arrived on the scene the UNC-W Seamen cultivated it better than anyone around. For them it wasn't only an Us Against Them swagger; the identity was also largely what those of us around at the time liked to call being Dreader than Dread; it meant being always in the constant huddle. That sense of being was even with the Warriors years later who in August 2002 rode 13 deep in a van to compete at Purchase Cup: The Warrior leader behind the wheel the entire drive, bringing us down the West Side Highway at dawn and in awe of everything he had never seen. 

The common thread among the three teams listed above was without question an Us Against Them culture. While that works for a while, it can get to be incredibly exhausting and a degree of arrested-development sets in. While the Seamen won at title in 1993, they should have won four straight. In a team life-span that lasted from 1992-1996, the Port City Slickers’ biggest victories were in their first two years: the backdoor game to nationals over Gimme Five Bucks in 1992, and the victory over NY Graffiti at club worlds in 1993. In the meantime they beat everyone they were supposed to beat, didn’t beat anyone seeded above them and chose to jump up and down screaming Swear Allegiance than get any better. In 1996 the Slickers went into nationals in Plano, Tx seeded 3rd out of 12 teams, won one game and had essentially imploded by the end of the weekend. In the estimation of the then captain Ed Wagenseller, the implosion was the result of a group of individuals who were not willing to sacrifice their own personal agenda for the common good of the team. This is where youth and immaturity came to a head; everything from play time to wanting to stay away from the team with family and friends at nationals instead of the team hotel. This divisive behavior led to the ultimate downfall of one of the most athletic and mentally unstable teams to have ever graced the pith in the mid 1990’s. And that individual decision to stay away from the team hotel took us out of our constant huddle and thus set things spinning in the wrong direction. Steering your team in a unified direction doesn’t end at practice, or once you make nationals. Part of your identity is how you go about business once you’re there; this is why Furious George and Fury have always intrigued me. 

By the time the Gerics led Warriors arrived on the scene and began attending tournaments like Chop Tank and Tune Up and moving away from tournaments like Toss in the Moss, the Slicker debacle from ’96 was not the too distant pass. While you arrived at Midway on Friday, your rep had arrived on Wednesday. At the time, we didn’t hesitate identifying this and we thrived in it. However as mentioned above, it’s exhausting, especially for players not use to the long haul of the open season; and what becomes most exhausting is the doubt: Are we good enough, am I good enough? A late lead over Ring in the semis at regionals in ’01, quickly diminished and we found ourselves playing up from the bottom for the 2nd and 3rd bids. Later that season at nationals, the Warriors upset Florida Combo in the first game, and had to disc to win on the upwind goal line versus New York Ultimate. The next morning we gained short-term revenge on a less than interested Ring, and in a chance to make pre-quarters the next round versus Madison, the dogs were called off and the twelve packs were brought out. What else better than alcohol to assuage self-doubt? When you’re not expected to do much, no one in turn is disappointed. 

Identifying your team’s culture can be tricky and in large part you can mold around your teams long term and short term goals. Of course team doesn’t happen over night; you don’t go from a collection of individuals at practice 1 to a team by practice 2; you need time to embrace the peaks and valleys as a group. More often than not, a team’s short term and long term goals – setting themselves up for the big let down – can get in the way of [finding] their identity/culture. Returning to Ring in 2007 after year’s hiatus, we stripped down the objective from winning it all, to stopping the other guy from winning it all. It wasn’t a popular change of direction and not everyone bought in, but emphatically explaining your goal is to win nationals can lead to quick finger pointing when that goal isn’t accomplished and you begin to wonder who your team really is. Players develop an overblown sense of what they bring to the table and it rears its ugly when they come up short; but if your team identity is firmly in place, there’ll be no need for such theatrics when the chips fall the other way. A lot can be said for those teams who simply play the game in front of them, and then suddenly, there they are. Having your team put down their own agenda and buy into what you define as your system can be a delicate step, but with strong leadership and clear understanding of what your team is about, that system slowly becomes the abiding culture. 

Who are we and who is our competition: In 2010, the UNC-W Seamen made a collective effort to lose the "vs. Them" and focus on the "Us". We left the effort to sustain the Us Against Them mentality to our opponents and worked on vaccinating ourselves against 2nd tier teams and complacency. We already knew how we would be perceived and received, so we decided to let them waste their energy on it. In turn, we took that inward focus to create a Small Axe mentality; very similar to what it was prior to College Nationals in 1990. As the post-season arrived, we put up wins against UNC; UVA; UGA; Illinois, Iowa; Harvard*, and Colorado. Had we not made the effort to take the chip off our shoulder yet keep the underdog mentality, it’s safe to say many of the wins vs. the larger state school would not have happened. And adding to that, much of our re-focused identity had to do with how those teams faired after they played us. After nationals we were 37-10. 18 of the teams we played went on to lose their next game. The tune was an old rebel one. 

Teams I’m intrigued by: 
New York, New York; Boston Dog: Furious George; Seattle Sockeye; Riot; Fury; CUT; Wisconsin Hodags; Wisconsin Belladonna; Colorado Mamabird; Chad Larson; Middlebury; Stanford Superfly; Florida Ultimate; Santa Barbra Condors; UCSB Black Tide; UCSC Banana Slugs; UNC-W Seaweed; UCSB Burning Skirts; Oregon Fugue; UNC Pleadeis. 

huddle issue032

Thu March 31st, 2011
Us vs. Them
by Tully Beatty

Find Your Spirit Animal
by Tyler Kinley

by John Korber

Nurture What You Like, Overcome What You Don't
by Peri Kurshan

Team Identity
by Ali Lenon

Self-Sustaining Team Culture
by Matt Mackey

Key Team Culture Moments
by John Sandahl

Work Together
by Charlie Reznikoff

It Will Change Every Season
by Miranda Roth




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