On my bulletin board, next to Polaroid photos and to-do lists, hang three tattered pieces of multi-colored yarn. The faded pinks, blues, whites and purples are spooled around a few gold push pins. To the naked eye, the feature looks like a failed arts-and-crafts project. However, woven within the fibers are years of commitment and comradery (and maybe a little sweat too).
These pieces of yarn resulted from a team-bonding exercise, aptly titled “Yarn,” that occurs during one of the spring season’s final tournaments. Sprawled out across the bed, or couch, or floor of the hotel room, each of my teammates and I discuss the highs and the lows of the season, finishing our thoughts by passing the spool of yarn to a player who made an impact on us. Eventually, the yarn reaches every player, allowing for the quintessential “tied-together” team picture. The yarn is cut, and the bracelets are worn for the remainder of the season and into the summer, when they eventually start to deteriorate. However small, the bracelets represented my favorite component of ultimate: Spirit of the Game.
My first Yarn experience was in May of my freshman year at Radnor High School. I was on the soccer team that fall, so I had only played ultimate for a few months at this point. We were in Massachusetts, my first overnight tournament, and I had gladly taken the cramped middle seat on the drive up. After a long day of games, I remember receiving a message in the group chat from one of the seniors that Saturday night telling everyone which room Yarn would be in. A flood of crying emojis shortly followed. What is Yarn? I thought to myself. As a freshman, especially one that wasn’t on the team initially that fall, I had no idea what was going on. Little did I know, my life would change that night, as I quickly became aware of the monumental impact of this event.
Despite playing soccer with the same people for years, I had never really felt like I was on a team. I loved soccer, and I still do: the physicality, the intricate moves, the mutual disdain for referees, everything. Playing ultimate in the spring was fun, but I certainly did not have any plans of quitting soccer to also play in the fall. However, within the first 30 minutes of Yarn, I started to cry. Now, this was not unusual: people were starting to tear up before our coach even brought out the yarn. There were varying degrees of emotion each player on our team was expressing — as expected, the seniors had a lot to cry about. Me, on the other hand? I was still struggling to remember everyone’s name. As I looked around, however, I slowly began to realize that my soccer teammates would never be so vulnerable, so honest, so real. At that moment, I realized I could never go back to soccer. Ultimate would later bring me plenty of things: friends, introspection, responsibility, trophies, bruises, you name it. But, at that one initial moment, it brought me something I didn’t know I had been looking for: a team.
Fast forward to my sophomore year, the finals game of the Pennsylvania High School State Championships. Despite being up by a hefty amount before half, Lower Merion stormed back and tied it up to force universe point. I’m relatively cool under pressure, but when I’m tired and stressed, I usually start to cry. So, big surprise that I started to cry when our coach called the final lineup and I was on it. We had done Yarn the night before, and I remember spinning the bracelet around my wrist as I walked to the end zone, trying to stay focused and take slow, deep breaths. We huddled for what seemed like five minutes, but it was probably more like 20 seconds. Instead of yelling or critiquing previous plays, the seniors comforted us (who am I kidding, mostly me). Instead of the win-at-all-cost mentality I was used to, the seniors encouraged me to just do my best. Looking down at everyone’s yarn bracelets, I had never before felt more connected to a group of players. We pulled the disc, I stopped crying and we eventually ended up winning.
I took off my junior year yarn bracelet right before prom. I remember cutting it carefully and placing it on my bulletin board with my other two, excited at the thought of my next one, my last one. Unfortunately, 2020 would not allow for that. Instead of crying with my team, I was watching TikToks and making whipped coffee. However, even apart, Radnor Girls Ultimate Frisbee still practiced Spirit of the Game. We kept in contact with other teams, threw the disc while practicing social-distancing, served as activists for the Black Lives Matter movement, and organized surprises for players’ various personal accomplishments. While I never received my final yarn bracelet, I never lost the feeling of being a part of the team.