A top-ranked ultimate Frisbee team from Eugene has traveled to Richmond, Virginia, to compete in the High School National Invite tournament this weekend. More than half of the 30-member South Eugene Gender Diverse / Girls Ultimate team identifies as gender nonbinary or gender nonconforming, including Arenaria Cramer, a high school senior and one of four captains on the team. Head coach Rachelle Depner says this is the first time that a gender diverse team or girls team from Oregon is competing in the national tournament which was canceled for the past two years because of the pandemic. Depner and Cramer join us to talk about the team’s achievement and their efforts to make ultimate Frisbee more inclusive and accepting.
Editor’s note: The South Eugene Gender Diverse/Girls Ultimate team won first place in the 2022 High School National Invite in the Girls division. They finished the season undefeated, prevailing 15-4 in their last match of the season on June 11.
Note: The following transcript was computer generated and edited by a volunteer.
Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB. I’m Dave Miller. Athletes from South Eugene High School are in Richmond Virginia right now with a national championship on their minds. The team used to be called the South Eugene Girls Ultimate Frisbee Team. They are now the South Eugene Gender Diverse Ultimate Frisbee Team. And they are ranked number one in their division. Arenaria Cramer is a senior, and one of the captains of the team. Rachelle Depner is the head coach. They both join me now. Welcome to TOL.
Guests: Hello! Thanks for having us.
Miller: Thanks for joining us, Arenaria. When did you start playing Ultimate Frisbee?
Arenaria Cramer: I started playing in sixth grade at my local middle school, because Eugene actually has a middle school league called the MSU. But I started playing with South pretty shortly after that, in 7th grade, and we’ve been growing and building ever since.
Miller: Can you describe how the game works for people who haven’t played it or haven’t seen it?
Cramer: For sure. I guess you can picture it as a combination of soccer and football and, who knows, I guess basketball. But you’ve got a long field, two end zones. Each team has seven players who are trying to score in the other end zone. It’s definitely a growing sport, but more and more people play it for fun and just everywhere.
Miller: Rochelle, you’ve been the head coach of the team for six years now. How did it go from being the girl’s Ultimate frisbee team to the gender diverse team?
Rachelle Depner: For the first couple of years we were the girls Ultimate team.
And just as more players came onto the team with different gender identities. I at least have a player, Soju Hakari,who was a great player on the team. And after a couple of years, Soju and I were talking, or Soju came to me and said ‘you know, this doesn’t really fit our team anymore’. And I agreed. And then we just kind of talk through what to call it. Some of that our language is kind of limiting, and we started out, we went from the girls, to the girls and non-binary, or non-binary girls team and even after that for a year, it didn’t seem quite inclusive of everybody on the team. So we were just trying to brainstorm what to call it, and we came up with a gender diverse term.
Miller: Did you also have to come up with some kind of gender inclusion policy on the team in terms of who can be on the team, or is it basically anybody who wants to?
Depner: Well USA Ultimate, that’s kind of the governing body of the Ultimate teams in our country, they have a gender inclusion policy that states that any player can play in any in any division that they feel most comfortable and safe with, regardless of the sex they were assigned at birth. And so, that is itself a policy, but also we did end up this year writing [our own]. Arenaria came up with a policy, and Jane Cramer came up with a policy, and I also helped with that, for our own team.
Miller: Arenaria, what does it mean to you to be on a team that explicitly embraces and celebrates, it seems, gender diversity?
Arenaria: To me, that kind of team in that kind of culture is absolutely world changing, because so often we need to run, we need to move our bodies to feel okay in them, to feel okay in the world. And in a time when trans people are constantly ostracized and constantly discriminated against, especially in sports, now is just a really big time for us to have a safe place, and a safe community to excel in, and to be exactly who we are in.
Miller: It seems like your team is a safe place where you can excel, and you are collectively certainly excelling. But how safe does it feel when you get out to other schools to other communities? I guess I’m wondering if you’ve encountered transphobia on the field from other players or parents, spectators? How safe it feels when you’re not just among your own team?
Arenaria: So there’s transphobia everywhere in the world today. There’s overt transphobia that you get from angry parents, and every once in a while, angry players. And then there’s just subtle ways that the world discriminates against the trans identity. And we’ve had to meet some of that with different policies and by going over and talking to coaches, by facing up the gender inclusion policies of specific tournaments. But in general, because Ultimate is such a, I would say relatively new, and definitely more countercultural sport, I think we find people are much more willing to adapt and much more willing to accept and change their perspectives than they are in a lot of other sports.
Miller: Rachelle, one of the confusing things here is that, as you noted, the national organizing body does have, it seems, very inclusive rules in terms of who can be on what team. But it also seems that a lot of the team names, the boys team, or the girls team, stick with the old binary. Does that strange dichotomy present issues or problems?
Rachelle: Obviously it does. They go by those terms. They used to call the boys division the open division, because anybody can play. The girls can play in that division, women can play in that division as well. And then they went back and so there was that. But yes, it’s like they were saying everybody is being inclusive and they can be recognized and they can be respected, and they should play where they feel safe. But then they go back to those terms that don’t include everybody. I talked [to] the youth club championship equality and inclusion person, and they said that they’re working on it, and they said that they’re trying to find language that everyone can agree on, but yet they haven’t changed what they’re currently doing to make it even a little more inclusive of everybody. And so it’s kind of ironic that they have that. So it’s not perfect. People are still learning and evolving and trying and being educated.
Miller: Arenaria, you’re a senior, as I noted, and you’re the captain. What does it mean to be one of the leaders of this team?
Arenaria: I would say it is one of the most important things, and definitely feels like one of the biggest things, I’ve ever committed myself to. Because every single player on our team is bringing something crucial to our success. And I think that part of — a really big part — of why we’re so successful on the field and off the field, as friends, as even a family, in a lot of ways, is that we have a lot of shared experiences in our non-conformity and in our trans-ness that kind of bring us together. And [in a] very material way we support each other on and off the field. So we protect one another.
Miller: As I’m sure you know, so much of the national conversation now about transgender participation in sports boils down to arguments about fairness. And I’m curious how you think about that word, what fairness means to you in this context?
Arenaria: So fairness is a world where people get what they need, and people are treated with respect regardless of what gender they were assigned at birth. And I think that one really important thing about how supportive our team is, is that we don’t just say we’re gender diverse because despite the fact that you’re trans, or in spite of the fact that you don’t conform, we accept you. It’s more like we really embrace that kind of self expression, and that kind of be-yourself-ness, that makes people feel at home, and puts people in a place where they feel like they can excel, and they feel like they can give this their all, and they will have a place where they fit in.
Miller: As I noted, your team arrived there in Virginia ranked number one in your division, which I can imagine is a kind of double-edged sword. It’s a mark of how good you are, but it’s also a kind of target on your back. How are you feeling as you get ready to actually start playing?
Arenaria: Yeah, there are a few layers to that. Because in one way it’s just the worst. We are a little jittery, a little nervous type of kids who just want to play sports. And in another way there is just a natural nationwide worldwide conversation about fairness, and oftentimes trans people who dare to be exactly who they are, are feared and openly attacked for daring to excel and succeed in sports. So I think one reason we want to win so badly is that we want to show that our ability to support each other is bigger than any fear or any kind of petty arguing about hormones, or any other kind of transphobia the world can throw at us.
Miller: Are you going to be able to sleep tonight? You have three matches tomorrow. Arenaria: With a little Melatonin and my friends, we’ll figure it out.
Miller: Rachelle Depner, what do you think makes this team so good?
Rachelle: This team. I mean I think Arenaria spoke a lot, this team, the group of seniors that have been playing together since sixth grade. I brought them on board to the high school team when they were seventh graders, honestly, because I needed the numbers. When I came and first started coaching, I had 11, 12 players on the team, and I needed more players. We couldn’t even play seven v. seven at practice.
Miller: So that was just numerical desperation at first, but it seems like you were able to mold young athletes into the team you wanted over time?
Depner: They were just such a good friend group. They played Ultimate all the time together and Arenaria is absolutely correct when they say that this is their community, the team is like a family. They know each other so well and that just translates to being such a force on the field. It’s spectacular to watch.
Miller: Well, best of luck to you tomorrow and thanks so much for giving us some of your time.
Guests: For sure, thank you so much. Thank you for having us.
Miller: Rachelle Depner is the head coach of the South Eugene Gender Diverse Ultimate Frisbee team. Arenaria Cramer is a senior and one of the captains on the team. We spoke yesterday.
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