It’s the third day of competition in Portimao and the Great Grand Master’s division’s debut at EBUC is well underway. Today is the penultimate day of the round robin which is to be followed by semis and a final come Friday. During the first two days of the tournament Austria and the Dutch topped this division with Sweden coming in just behind. Earlier, Austria and the Netherlands went head to head and the Dutch managed a tight 10-8 win. Sweden remained unbeaten until they lost to Austria this afternoon. They are still to play the Netherlands but given the current results, a victory in their final round robin game seems unlikely.
Many of the players on these Great Grand Masters teams have, prior to EBUC, represented their countries throughout the age group divisions and have played for some of the top teams in Europe. Most have come into EBUC off the back of worlds (2017) and club worlds last year. Watching the teams, it is clear players are not only very comfortable with their teammates but have also formed strong friendships with opposition players too.
After their win today, I spoke to Netherlands captain, Jeroen Oort about what it’s like to play in the relatively new Great Grand Master’s division. He told me, ‘It’s really nice to be able to play at our age, at 55. Two years ago, I played with the Grand Masters division against guys that were 20 years younger [than me] so I’m glad we have a solid Great Grand Masters division now.’ The Dutch team is predominantly formed by members of Red Lights, a team based in Amsterdam which was very successful in the 80s and 90s in Europe. For the last fifteen to twenty years, Oort adds, this team has for the most part, transferred from grass ultimate to beach. Thus, most of the Dutch players have a lot of experience on the sand surface and with each other. Their chemistry on pitch as a result of this shared experience is unmistakable. At the end of our conversation Oort comments on the unbeatable atmosphere of the Great Grand Masters Division which is facilitated by the Ultimate community.
This sentiment is shared by members of Great Britain’s Great Grand Master’s teams. After playing the Dutch, David Eastman commented on the camaraderie shown during the game: ‘we’ve all been playing a long time, the biggest tournament used to be in Rotterdam, called The Harbour and a lot of players know each other through that so our games are always going to be a bit friendlier’. Watching this game was a pleasure. Despite the score difference, the game entertained via acts of sportsmanship. Players resolved calls with ease, laughed and congratulated each other on the side-line and even sung for each other after the game. Members of both rosters clearly cared for their opposition players; they weren’t simply abiding by spirit.
Another special aspect of the Great Grand Master’s Division (and often other master’s divisions) is the presence of entire families supporting teams at the tournament. During the Sweden v Great Britain game this afternoon I spoke to Julia Lawrence, Timmy Lawrence’s wife, who was watching over their children. I asked her what it’s like to experience the event as a family. They’re having a great time in Portimao, she says. The children love coming to watch their dad play Ultimate and the spirit of the game sets a great example for them when it comes to resolving issues in their own lives. Sometimes it can be a difficult to maintain a barrier between the children and the game, especially being so physically close on the side-lines as often they want to run onto the pitch whenever anything exciting happens. However, she says overall, it’s a wonderful experience for the whole family.
If there’s anything the division is exceptional for, besides their spirit, it’s showcasing that players over the age of 50 and 60 can still run the beach. Layouts, sky blocks and endzone to endzone scores do not go amiss in Great Grand Master Games. Watching and speaking to members of the Dutch and British teams clarifies that it is their sportsmanship which will keep the division as competitive as it is now for generations to come. I hope too, for my own sake, that it will remain just as friendly.
Jeroen Oort, Dutch captain, will soon be climbing Kilimanjaro to raise money for women empowerment projects in Tanzania. If you would like to donate to his cause, you can do so here: http://pif.one/joort