It’s common that when you fall in love, your first instinct is to share it with the world. Or in the case of ultimate frisbee, you might shout it from the field.
The Wellesley Whiptails, the ultimate frisbee team at Wellesley College, has a lot of love among its players. Their commitment to teamwork and friendship captured the heart of Monica Verity, the director of recreation at Wellesley College. She noted them as being the most organized and established club sports program.
Verity accounted their success to the bonds and friendships made by being so welcoming to new members. “Since being at Wellesley for six years, they have never had a roster under 60,” she said. “They take new members to the team who have literally never played a sport in their life, and by the time they graduate, they are looking for club teams to participate on in the city they are moving to.”
Playing by this motto has not only led them to an overflowing roster – it has fostered a love for learning as well. “Our program is designed for people who have never played frisbee before, or never played any kind of sport,” said Margaret Selinger, the ultimate frisbee co-president for the Wellesley Whiptails. “Because we assume a complete lack of knowledge about frisbee, anyone with any experience level can join and be confident they will be taught.”
The Whiptails have a specific strategy for welcoming and teaching new members and they even have unique titles. “We have dedicated mentors for our cookies (cute + rookies = cookies) called cookie bakers whose jobs are to teach the cookies from scratch,” said Grace Chen, the former president and captain of the Whiptails. “As a team, we all strive to pitch in and help out when possible, whether it be on the sidelines or tossing in practice to get our newer players up to speed.”
Additionally, the cookies have one special practice a week where they are taught basic field positioning and throws. During the other two weekly practices, the cookies and veterans –members who have played for more than one season – practice together. “For the cookies, it is a great bonding experience to learn together on the field, and it is wonderful for the vets to watch new players come into their own,” said Selinger.
Lily Xu, the co-president for the Whiptails, recalls her first experience with the Whiptails, stating when she first got to Wellesley, she had all intentions of playing water polo, not ultimate frisbee. “Fortunately, I had exactly one friend at the start of college and she convinced me to go to a frisbee open practice with her,” she said. “Long story short, I ended up joining.”
Xu explained she came with a friend but stayed due to the appealing spirit of the game. “You could tell all the vets who were helping out and teaching us how to throw wanted us to have fun and enjoy playing as much as they do,” she elaborated. “The Whiptails is an incredibly welcoming and inclusive team – we work hard to make sure everyone who wants to play can play and feels valued.”
As the semester goes on, the Whiptails split into two teams: a competitive team and a developmental team. The developmental team, or “tails” is for both cookies and vets and is focused on developing skills and fundamentals with equal playing time. “Often, new players start out on the developmental team, and after a year or two of learning, join the competitive team,” explained Selinger. “However, some players choose to remain on the developmental team to assist and mentor new players – you can get whatever you want out of your Whiptail experience.”
The competitive team, or “whips” is for experienced players looking to reach a higher level of play through competitions and does not guarantee equal playing time. “The whips focus more on honing their skills and playing mores strategically in order to place well in relation to other teams,” said Xu. “I find it far too simple to just label one as the fun team and the other as the competitive team. Frisbee requires a competitive nature and what’s the point of playing if you’re not having fun?”
Additionally, Selinger noted it’s never strange to see a fellow Whiptail around campus tossing the disc. “People see how much fun we have and want to be a part of it, as attested to by the fact that a quarter of our new players this year were students who had been at Wellesley for a year or more already,” she said.
The love for ultimate frisbee at Wellesley doesn’t stop after graduation. The Whiptail
alums are known for staying involved and helping out the current Whiptails. Selinger described a recent competition among the club sports to see who could reach the highest level of participation, relative to the number of players on their roster. “We reached out to our alums, and with their help, rocketed to first place with 141.3 percent participation, equaling 106 donations,” she said. “Alums emailed us back, happy to be contacted and thrilled to be helping the team.”
Also involving the alums, the Whiptails have an event at the end of each year called “Millyfest” – a fundraiser for Samaritans of Boston in honor of a Whiptail who committed suicide in 2001. The Millyfest allows all Whiptails to play together; then at the end of the day, they host a team potluck where everyone tells the story of how they got their Whiptail team nickname. “It was a very moving experience to hear these stories from the past and realize the Whiptails have been a place of friendship-forging and self-growth for many before you arrived,” said Selinger.
Cookie or veteran, current or alum – whichever Whiptail member you are – you are no stranger to the ultimate frisbee love. “The Whiptails is a place where you challenge yourself to do things you have never done before, and that builds confidence you can use in every part of your life,” said Selinger. “That is why the Whiptails and the game of ultimate become so important to our players – through going outside their comfort zone, mastering new skills, and continually pushing themselves, they learn how capable they really are.”