If you were to ask most Jews from around the Twin Cites what they think of Ultimate Frisbee, a fair amount of them would likely categorize it as a Jewish sport, and understandably so. Whether you go to camp and play it there, play on another school or club team within the area, or are simply a spectator of the sport, it always seems to be a large talking point within the Twin Cities Jewish community.
However, Wyatt Mekler, one of the captains of the U of M Ultimate Frisbee club team which just won the national championship, the Minnesota Grey Ducks, gave us a different perspective on the sport after playing for years.
When did you first start playing Ultimate?
Competitively I started playing in eighth grade through school on the Hopkins JV team. But for fun probably in fourth or fifth grade at Camp Chi.
Why did you want to play for the Minnesota Grey Ducks at the U of M?
I guess because it was the highest level of Ultimate that I could play. There’s a lot of people from Hopkins who went there previously, and I knew it was a good team.
Did you start playing with the Grey Ducks during your freshman year?
I actually took a gap year in Israel, so my first year at the U was my sophomore year and I started playing then.
When you were in Israel, did you continue playing ultimate or did you take a break from it?
I played a little bit for one of Tel Aviv’s club teams and then in Jerusalem I played in a Friday morning league with a bunch of religious guys and non-religious people; it was a pretty diverse group. [Ultimate] is definitely less know in Israel than it is here, but it’s also one of the fastest growing sports in the world, so it was definitely taking off. You could see more people becoming dedicated to it in Israel, so that was pretty cool. The Jerusalem league actually had been going on for, I want to say, 25 years or more every Friday morning which was also really cool.
How does it feel to be national champions after winning at the national championship tournament two weeks ago?
It feels pretty great. It’s just incredible. We played Harvard in the finals and ended up winning out of the 20 teams competing there.
After playing Ultimate at Camp Chi and knowing about other people playing it at other Jewish camps, do you think the sport of ultimate tends to have a Jewish affiliation?
I think anyone who is Jewish or anyone who goes to camp thinks that, and they have pretty good reasoning especially considering how many kids go to Herzl and love playing because it’s like the biggest thing in the world at Herzl. But as far as the Ultimate community in general, I would say not at all really. Last year I was one of two Jews on the Minnesota team, and this year there were three: two of them went to Herzl, plus me.
You were one of the team captains this year, and are continuing in that role again next year. Although the team just won the national championship which is pretty hard to top, do you have any goals for next year’s season?
Yeah, I guess every year towards the middle of the season we’re kind of realizing that a lot of people are going to leave, and that was even more so this year because we have so many older players that are leaving. But as this year came to a close, we also realized that a lot more people are coming back and we have a really strong group of freshmen coming in too, so we’re focusing on being even better, working even harder than last year, focusing more at practices, and we think we can do it again.
As the season goes on do you feel that you bond closer as a team, and does that affect how you all play together at all?
Definitely. And that’s actually something we try to focus on too, because the more time you spend together, the closer you are and the better you’re going to play with each other. I think that goes for any sport. You’re just kind of more on the same page. We end up spending a ton of time together just practicing and playing but we try and make sure that everyone’s hanging out too, you know, just having fun or getting food together, that’s pretty important.
You’ll be graduating after this year. Do you have any plans to continue playing ultimate after college?
Yeah but I don’t really know what level I want to play at. It’s just a lot playing in college, but you know, when you love something it’s hard to let go, so who knows.
How did you guys come up with the name the Minnesota Grey Ducks, and do people ever ask you about it at tournaments?
So if you’re from Minnesota you know that Duck, Duck, Grey Duck is a Minnesota thing, and everywhere else is Duck, Duck, Goose, so that’s the origin. And yeah, people definitely ask us about it here and there.
Favorite Jewish food?
Probably matzah ball soup.
Favorite Jewish holiday?
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