Monday, June 16, 2014

Disc + Students = Happiness

Exactly a year ago, I spent an afternoon tossing disc with three really great friends. We were at Bonnaroo, a music festival in Tennessee, and we’d been concert-going for hours. We needed a break, and we needed to relax a bit. All of us being ultimate players, we did what we do best- we found a somewhat unpeopled field between the festival stages and started opening up big, floaty throws to one another across dry and trampled grass. After awhile, others began to join us- there’s something about seeing a forehand huck in the midst of flower crown-wearing girls and sunburnt guys and knowing that you’ve found your people in a sea of strangers. We met players from other college ultimate teams and spent a glorious few hours throwing, catching, moving, and feeling completely free, if not somewhat dehydrated. 

I remember this afternoon with extreme clarity not because something tremendous happened, but because the moment filled me with such a sense of “this is how life should feel” that I’ll never again doubt the power that frisbee has to draw people together.

One of my goals this year was to play frisbee with my students, because DUH I knew they'd love it...who doesn't love tossing flat, circular plastic around on a hot spring day? Surprisingly, this was a really hard thing to make happen...maybe when I told them “it’s fun, guys!” they thought of the sort of “fun” I promise before beginning a mildly not boring class activity.

After a while, I dropped it. I stopped suggesting that students toss at a park with me, or that we try to organize a game together. I stuck my head down and got involved with other projects, focused on lesson planning. In my heart of hearts, though, I felt sadness. The knowledge that I was letting a really great bonding opportunity pass gnawed at me most of the year, but I just kept putting frisbee on the shelf (actually, on a tiny white hook in my entranceway, where it decorates my boring wall). 

Very recently, though, I decided give frisbee another chance. I figured the only way the young people would try frisbee would be to throw during our lunch break, even though my school's courtyard is a concrete lot and I knew that my disc was going to die a rocky, scratchy death.


It. was. FUN. In a way that English class will never be, in a way that cafe visits will never quite achieve, this short space of time was fun- the perfect way to gather with my students and share something I love with them. Because of frisbee, I've had real conversations with some of my younger students for the very first time, and because of frisbee, I feel like I can carry a guaranteed smile into school each day, provided I remember my disc.

Just last week, a small group and I headed to our nearby stadium and tried to play an actual ultimate game. Everyone played really well, but after awhile the organized event broke down into people tossing multiple discs, running for deep throws, break dancing in the grass, and just hanging out. I had such an incredible time, and I couldn’t help remembering that afternoon I spent at Bonnaroo with my best friends, connecting with random strangers and just living for the pure joy of living.

our stadium

(ain't it a great tree?)

There’s something about frisbee that brings people together. I don’t know if it’s the feeling you get when you release a smooth, long huck, or if it’s the fact that throwing allows you to connect with people wordlessly and from afar while simultaneously having time to reflect, to ponder on your own, in community yet in harmonious solitude. 

One of the most important things I’ve learned about myself this year is that I love community and I am really, really happy when I can help create connections within people groups. It's taken me a long while, but I finally feel like I've built community with my students and my school, and I know that this community will be the foundation for any great work that happens next school year. My little plastic circle helped cement together the communities I’ve been constructing all year.

If any future ETA's read this, please know that one of the best ways to impact your school is to share what you love with your community. When you are enjoying yourself, your passion will inspire others. Don’t be afraid to invite people to join things multiple times because we all need a little push every now and then. Be open, accept and give invitations, and you’ll have a really fulfilling year! Though this week is my last week teaching for the current term, I don’t really feel sad because I know that next year will bear more fruit and will be a continuation of all the goodness I’ve experienced thus far.


  1. The 7th and 8th graders at the camp where I'm working in San Antonio LOVE playing ultimate. We get groups of 40 kids scattered all over a field and they go wild with happiness.