The MLU Western Conference Spirit Award winner for 2013 is San Francisco Dogfish defensive cutter Patrick Baylis. The award was decided by a vote from other players in the conference.
When he learned about his win, Baylis was surprised. “I didn’t even know that the MLU had this kind of award or that it was associated with a substantial philanthropic donation [Baylis receives $1,000 to donate to a charity or youth Ultimate program of his choice]. On a personal level, I’m humbled to be selected.”
In fact, Patrick was quick to give credit to Dogfish Head Coach Justin Safdie, who set the tone at the beginning of the season for the way his players should behave in the league.
“Spirit of the Game is at the heart of Ultimate at every level,” said Coach Safdie. “It was what first drew me to the sport and is a huge part of what makes this sport appealing both to its players and fans. I have stressed all season the importance of winning with integrity and honor, and I’m proud that the spirit award was won by a member of the Dogfish.”
Dogfish team captain Ryo Kawaoka was not surprised by the selection of Baylis for the award. “Pat Baylis embodies several qualities that not only make him a great teammate and friend, but also a great opponent. He has the courage to take on the toughest matchups on the fields, but does not let that get in the way of playing fair. There are many moments throughout the season where individuals have the choice to play through a foul or continue play because a referee did not catch a call. Pat Baylis consistently showed that there are rules of sportsmanship that go beyond what can be caught by a referee.”
Baylis has a particular method for keeping positive spirit in high-level play. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that it is a lot easier to dislike a team if you don’t know anyone on it. So I’ve tried to get to know my opponents, particularly guys that I match up with frequently. When there’s a mutual respect, the game is cleaner and the matchup is way more fun—there’s nothing better than trying to beat your friends.”
Keeping the Spirit of the Game alive as the level of competition increased was a much-discussed topic in Ultimate circles even before the advent of a professional league. With new rules and official referees, Baylis admits, “to be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of sportsmanship when I signed up to play this year.” Now that he’s been through a season, he’s seen where things could go wrong, but have continued down the right path.
“Our refs have been great, but the reality is that refereeing Ultimate is really, really difficult. Downfield contact strips, and marker fouls in particular are hard to call, and that leaves a lot of room for players to take advantage of the rules in those areas of the game. But there were multiple episodes during our season where players and teams stepped up to do the right thing when the refs missed a call in their favor.”
Looking back on the season and how other players have demonstrated good-spirited play, Baylis notes, “It’s a good reminder that the MLU was not born in a vacuum—it brought in high-level players with a genuine respect for each other and the game that was developed, in part, from playing a self-officiated sport for so long. And I think the MLU did the right thing by encouraging that culture.”
As for the future, he thinks that “as the sport evolves there are certainly going to be incentives for that culture to fade away. It’s going to require thoughtful and active intervention on the part of players, coaches, management, and fans to keep the ‘win-at-all-costs’ attitude at bay that plagues so many other sports.”
To encourage the idea that high levels of performance can go hand in hand with high levels of spirit and sportsmanship, Baylis has chosen Students Run Oakland (SRO) to receive his $1,000 donation. He says, “I believe strongly in the importance of sports and fitness in personal growth,” which fits with SRO’s goal to help youth from underserved communities use structured fitness training to build values and skills they can use throughout their lives.