Photo by Alexandr Tikhomirov
It was work that took Michael McGuirk to Kenya for two years, but it was a love of disc that led him to help develop the Kenyan ultimate community and captain them at the recent World Beach Championships in Dubai.
McGuirk moved to Kenya in 2013 to manage a drinking water disinfection program for a nonprofit organization called Innovations for Poverty Action.
“Pretty much everywhere I go, I try my hardest to play ultimate. There was already a group of people playing pickup in the city where I moved,” he said. “I showed up and played a few times, and gradually people started saying that they wanted to practice and get better and form a team. So I took it upon my shoulders to try to develop the team and teach them skills and strategies.”
Although they didn’t start with a big idea of making a national team, it eventually developed into one, as players improved and the effort took on a life of its own.
“We had several goals; one was to win at least one game, another was to have some big upset because of the teams that were ranked higher than us,” said McGuirk about the team’s recent performance at the World Beach Championships in Dubai. “We definitely achieved everything that we went there to do.”
Another big goal was to do well in the Spirit of the Game category. The team came in second place for spirit, not only in the open division, but in the entire tournament of 17 teams.
“Most of the players on the team have been playing for about two years, so it’s a really impressive feat to get that high a score with so many inexperienced players,” said McGuirk. “Personally, I am super proud that I have instilled the spirit of the game in the players that I coached and helped learn the game, and they’re going to be teaching other players in Kenya. I just hope that this high level of spirit of the game lives on as the sport develops in Kenya and I’m confident it will.”
Now back in the U.S, McGuirk does fundraising activities on a volunteer basis for the Kenyan Playing District Association and the Kenyan National Team. He’s also readjusting his focus to play much closer to home.
In the Bay Area ultimate scene, many players know McGuirk’s nickname, “Prof,” but they may not know how it originated.
“Back in 2002-2003, there was a TV show called ‘Streetball: The AND1 Mixtape Tour,’ and on that show there was a basketball player called The Professor,” said McGuirk. “So when I started playing frisbee in my freshman year in 2003 at UC San Diego, my teammate said that I played frisbee similar to the way that the professor played basketball, so they gave me the name Prof.”
McGuirk is excited to play this season with the Dogfish at Yellowjacket Stadium in Berkeley in front of a home crowd that has always supported him. He is also excited about road trips, the opportunity to travel with teammates and getting to know them better.
“I am looking forward to a lot of things,” said McGuirk. “The home games are going to be really exciting for me because I am going to have a lot of familiar faces out in the crowd, and showcase this sport that I love and dedicate so much of my life to.”