Get To Know SPANK: The Penn State Men’s Ultimate Frisbee Team
At Penn State, ultimate frisbee isn’t just some game people play as a leisure activity on a sunny day. Playing on the official Penn State ultimate frisbee team takes some talent, dedication, and hard work.
The team’s official name, SPANK, represents the aggressive, in-your-face playing style the team takes on during games. The members of SPANK treat their conditioning and training like they’re D1, sometimes spending hours in the rain and mud until no one can walk anymore. Working so hard at a sport that gives them no financial benefit or really any career aspirations might seem ridiculous — that’s the magical thing about it. These guys aren’t doing it for themselves, they’re doing it for each other.
The history of Penn State ultimate is one of legend. With no official source of documentation, history of the club sport has been passed down through word of mouth. Coach Jacob Smith and previous captain Jack Kelly gave us a glimpse.
Penn State ultimate started back in the late 70s. At the time, the team’s name was the Penn State Ducks and it played a game during the ’78 Rose Bowl. Upon its return, it decided to change its name to the Highly Enlightened Lords of the Valley — Lords for short. At some point in the 80s, this trend of goofy names continued and the group coined itself the Unwed Fathers. The goofiness was part of the ultimae community and was a hard identity to escape from. It’s no surprise the game is often associated with hippies and dogs.
At some point, however, ultimate at Penn State started to get serious. In the 90s it left behind the Unwed Father’s moniker and called themselves SPANK. The name still isn’t gravely serious, but why should it be? Since then, the sport in general has grown to new heights with competition improving every year on the youth, college, and club levels. For Penn State, major success came in the 2003-2004 season when the team made it to nationals. That was the last time SPANK made it to the big show, but it’s been extremely close a few times since.
It hasn’t been all smooth frisbeeing, though. Blatant miscommunication between Penn State Club Sports and SPANK resulted in the team being suspended for the 2005 and 2006 competitive seasons. Essentially, SPANK caused some damages to community fields while hosting a tournament in Spring 2005. This resulted in a major long term suspension. When the suspension was finally lifted, the program struggled to get back on its feet.
Since then, the team has almost worked its way back up to the national level. Coming one game short of qualifying on multiple occasions, SPANK is back on the right track. By the 2013 season, it cultivated enough talent to compete with other teams across the country, yet mental collapses caused it to repeatedly collapse during key moments.
“We lost many big games — not because we weren’t as skilled as the other team — but because we got in our own heads and didn’t fully play as a team,” captain Codi Graham said.
The team focused heavily on two things in 2014: improving its mental toughness and beating top tier teams. With an increased training regimen (lifting and conditioning twice a week throughout the winter), the team improved a bit, but youth held them back. 2015 was a different story. The younger players stepped up to the plate and concentrated on learning the team system. Everyone began playing for each other rather than for individual glory. These adjustments translated into results on the field.
“The brotherhood formed during this season was one of the most incredible team experiences that I’ve ever been a part of,” Graham said. “This brotherhood shared between the players helped us to reach new levels as a team.”
The upcoming 2016-2017 season has the team geared up to finish what it started last year. Many players return in hopes to continue the team’s legacy and elevate it. The members know Penn State ultimate is more than just a regional contender — it can compete nationally with the best of the best.
Whether it crosses that plateau and makes it to nationals this year doesn’t really matter, though. The members of SPANK are in it for the brotherly compassion. The pride of playing with one another is their main motivation, not trophies and medals.
“Somewhere along the line I think we realized that playing just to win isn’t enough because every team in the country wants to win. Now we train hard because it allows us to come together and accomplish something that we can’t do on our own,” captain Graham Walker, said. “I think that’s the idea behind amateur athletics that so many teams (in any sport) have gotten away from. It can’t all be about wins and losses.”
Ultimate helps teach these young men lessons they can carry with them for the rest of their lives — things that can’t be learned in a classroom. Some people like to spend their time in fraternities, sororities, THON Orgs, and other university run clubs. SPANK members like to spend it chasing around a piece of plastic with their best friends.
If you want to get involved or learn more about SPANK you can visit its website here.