I moved to LA in January 1999 and not joking, the first thing I did when I got here was to see if there was any local Ultimate. I had found the game at Prospect Park in Brooklyn in ’98 but had no clue it was a National thing. I was pretty naive and just hoping they’d heard of it on the West Coast. Silly rabbit. It’s been here since before I was born. And that’s not what you would call “recently”.
I found the LAOUT site, which had just become a thing the previous year so my timing was kind of money. And the closest pick-up game to my NoHo apartment was the 2PM Sunday game at Marshall High School. On the very first day I went, I met Seth, AJ and Cubby, who would all become groomsmen in my wedding. So that worked out pretty well.
I’m not gonna lie, I kinda dig this sport, and playing with Marshall has been the most important part of that. Check out this photo from Marshall pick-up circa 2000 or 2001. So young. So fake blonde.
Since Marshall matters quite a bit to me, so does Winter League by extension. So I thought on the 20th anniversary of my finding that pick-up game, I’d do a brief history of the last 20 years of Winter League champions to the best of my memory, and my own personal experiences just for kicks. (Focusing more on A champs for this article, but will mention B/C champs too in years where they existed.)
Winter League actually goes back to the 1980’s. I don’t know the back history super well, but some of you may have seen the old videos Jeff Landesman has posted on Facebook of the 80’s games. It’s freakin’ awesome. Those shorts!
So… I can’t tell you anything from the super old days other than Brent Russell once sent me a list of all the champions he could remember. I could copy it here, but without context or stories, it’s not as exciting I don’t think. And that’s what I’m here for:
All I knew about Winter League my first year was that a couple of the guys from our pick-up game played on a Hollywood team, but I was pretty clueless to all that stuff. Pick-up was good enough for me. At Marshall, I got to bleed from my knees and elbows every week from diving on that dirt field. True story.
I knew nothing of Quake. I knew none of the players at the time. But apparently they won the whole 90’s or something like that. And so no surprise they took the title in 1999 but I can’t tell you anything about it. That’s a terrible way to start, but trust me it gets better.
Look, that’s young Jeff in the bottom right hand corner! I’m no genius, but from the disc they’re holding, looks like their third win in a row. A feat no Winter League team has accomplished since. (Although Skeeter will be attempting to do the deed this year. Not at all surprising Jeff is also on Skeeter. He’ll be in quite of few of the photos below.) It’s also notable Katie Mares was on this team, who played on the only team from Los Angeles to win grass Nationals, the women’s team Crush Club. Bet a lot of you didn’t know that.
It’s time for the big leagues folks. You can only play pick-up so much before you need a bigger challenge, so Marshall joined the league. We didn’t expect to win much, and those first few years we absolutely did not. Because I’m a crazy stat freak, I’ve kept accurate records of every Marshall roster since the beginning, with the result and the score of every game we ever played. I have a life, I promise.
Corey Sanford was the TD that year and according to my memory, he said he was sick of Quake winning all the time, so he put together a team specifically to beat Quake. That was Professor Booty.
Quake and Booty both went undefeated. They were supposed to play each other, but the game got rained out. Not at all surprising in the days of flood plain Balboa. It rains on Monday and you lose the entire week. Booty had four rain outs alone that year.
Unfortunately I can’t remember the tournament at all. We were just happy to be there. But my guess is Booty probably beat Quake in finals, cause I know Booty won, ending the 3-peat.
For the first time, Winter League was broken up into two separate but equal divisions. We hadn’t had A and B yet. Instead, they were called California and Pacific. Every team played each other, and there were a couple cross overs. This is when Damn first became a powerhouse in the league. Mike Bell told me he merged two teams together: a really great team…. and the one he was playing on. He said it was his smartest move. Agreed.
Damn took the California League title, and Quake won the Pacific, but it was Quake ultimately winning the championship, the last in their long storied history. They played two more years, and then disbanded. Did you know they never ever cheered the other team after games? Barbarians.
Matt Crawford took over Winter League. California and Pacific were renamed Norris and Smythe (somebody likes hockey) but the structure was the same. Two divisions of the same strength. Quake took Smythe. Bedford Mules won Norris. Bedford Mules was made up of a lot of players from the West Side, many of whom I remember meeting at the Saturday morning Will Rogers pick-up game. Also, that was Rich Hart’s team, the first person inducted into the LAOUT Hall-of-Fame. #currentevents
Quake also established the record for highest point diff in a season at 70, which has still not been broken. The same year Reservoir Dogs, a team of high school players, established the almost impossible to beat record low of -95. When we played them, they literally passed the disc between each other from inches away, practically handing the disc to each other. I kid you not.
But it was Damn who ultimately made it to the Finals against Quake, and beat the defending champs 15-10.
This was an important year for me in a lot of ways. A knee injury forced me to miss almost the entire season. Because of that, I started taking stats for the first time. It gave me something to do rather than just sit there and be cold and wish I was playing, since I couldn’t even walk around much to cheerlead. Taking stats was something I did for many years, and included many teams in Winter League, Summer League, college and club. The first time I went to Nationals was in 2006 taking stats for Monster. And I had some of my favorite times doing stats for the USC Hellions of Broccoli, Criqet, Balls, Jaws, Bubbles, Elmo and Punky (who was Freckles then) and Kalle Tompros (who was Huggies. I love to remind her of that.)
It was also the first year Winter League was split into A and B. But it wasn’t listed like that in the standings. It was just known, but not stated anywhere. Like Google tapping our phones. Marshall, despite going 5-3 in 2002, and finishing 6th out of 16 teams, was pushed into B for ’03. The TD admitted he didn’t go off of record as much as his memory of early Marshall teams sucking. And that dear friends is why I started running Winter League in 2004. To make sure Marshall didn’t get screwed again.
Plum Sauce, a new team made up of top club players, who didn’t lose a single regular season game in their first three seasons btw, won the division title and went to finals against Bedford Mules, with Mules taking their one and only tournament win, 15-12.
This year was also notable in that it had one of the greatest upsets in Winter League history. 9 seed Homer’s Disc upset the defending champs in Quarters. It was the game that stopped Damn from a potential four-peat. Don’t remind Mike Bell about this. It brings up painful memories.
This was my first year running Winter League. Recognizable by the logo I used for many years.
Do you know how much time I spent putting that image together? It’s super low tech, but all I had was the MS Paint program, so I did a lot of pixel manipulation to merge several different pictures together to make this stupid thing. I was so proud.
First thing I did in ’04 was return Winter League to the separate but equal division format, removing A and B, which was a response to Marshall’s feeling snubbed by the whole A/B thing. They were renamed Angels and Dodgers division. (Someone is a baseball fan.)
Plum Sauce and Yoda won their respective divisions. For Yoda, it was the only first place finish in their 6 years. By the last year, Yoda was struggling to put 7 players on the line in several of their games, but was still winning. I remember them winning with 5 players once. I mean, c’mon people. You’re playing 7 on 5. I have three words for you. Spread the field.
But the team that broke through for the championship was Damn, defeating Plum Sauce 15-12, for their second win in three years.
The best story undoubtedly was DAMN changing their name to D*#N because they added Jill DeJager, a devout Christian who refused to play on a team called Damn. You gotta make sacrifices. Jesus did.
In personal news, I became the President of LAOUT when Chris Mundhenk stepped down from the position. There was nothing done officially. It just kind of happened when he asked me to run it and I said yes. Democracy works!!!
D*#N again took down Plum Sauce in finals. The game happened in a light rain and was one of the best finals we ever had with D*#N pulling it out 15-13 after multiple ties.
A few changes happened in ’06. The league expanded to 20 teams for the first time ever. Due to pressure from lower teams not enjoying getting blown out so much, I went back to the A/B format, splitting the league into 10 of each with crossovers. Jill DeJager left D*#N and they went back to being called Damn. The old Bedford Mules, who rebranded as Stuyvesant Peg Legs in 2005, split into two teams for the ’06 season, Thumper and Kong. Both of those teams ended up finishing 1 & 2 in the standings. And I started the process of making LAOUT an official non-profit, which didn’t culminate until two grueling and annoying years of dealing with the IRS later. That’s when I learned that having a Poker website sponsor your league makes the IRS question your non-profit integrity. So judgmental.
The Winter League tournament was a mess that year. The weather report was for heavy rain on Saturday, meaning Balboa laughed at us when we asked to play there. Our savior was Bryanne Knight, who worked at CSUN and arranged us to play there on Sunday. I will never forget that Saturday, looking at weather.com telling me there was a 100% chance it was raining where I was standing at that moment and IT WASN’T RAINING!!! (Really weather.com? 100% Give yourself a LITTLE breathing room.) It fact, it barely rained at all the whole day. So frustrating, after all the effort to move the tournament. And sure enough, you guessed it, it rained on Sunday. (I blame the return of “Damn”.) But thankfully CSUN came through when the sun didn’t. Kong, in another close finals, beat Thumper 15-13.
WL tournaments in previous years separated the top 12 teams from the bottom teams. The winner of the bottom bracket was sometimes, but not always, referred to as B. This was the first time there was a real B champion. Jarnspikar in their first season, took down the John McGuirk All-Stars.
Jason Trevor took over Winter League. LAOUT separated from the UPA, no longer requiring players to become UPA members to play in local leagues. And for the first time Winter League included a 4/3 gender option.
This was the rise of Empire. Look at that stacked line-up in the photo below, for those of you old enough to know everyone here. It’s amazing this team didn’t pull out the four-peat. They came just one game shy of the feat, and guess who stopped them from that? You’ll see.
Check out the Landesman kids with Kathryn and Jessie in front, and Danny, who just became an Aviator, on Jeff’s lap.
For the second straight year, Jarnspikar won the B tournament, over Caltech. Although it’s worth noting that in these years, there were 10 A and 10 B teams, but the top 12 teams went into the A tournament.
LAOUT officially became a 501c4 non-profit.
Empire again dominated the regular season. They would not lose a regular season game until their fourth year. But despite how good they were, there was another team, slowly making their way up the ladder for nearly a decade, who was finally ready to make their mark.
Enter Frosty Boy.
Marshall started in 2000. For the first five years, we didn’t get out of the first round of the tournament. But slowly but surely we got better and better, and that led to back-to-back semis appearances in ’05 and ’06, both times losing to the eventual tourney champ. In ’07, we took a step back, losing in quarters. And in ’08, we nearly dropped out in the first round again when we faced two-time B champ Jarnspikar in Quarters and had to come back from a big early deficit to win 13-11. That kind of shook our confidence, but we used that as a motivator to beat Pirates 13-8 in semis. And face off against defending champ Empire in Finals, our first ever appearance there.
Most of that game was a blur to me. I barely remember only a few moments of the actual game play, but the one thing I’ll never forget was the incredible support from the sideline. They knew how long we’d been together and saw all our early struggles. It was awesome to have them on our side. Minh Huynh was the unquestionable star of the game. The shortest player on the field, she was an unbelievable beast in that game, and no way we win that without her.
It was definitely the year for long-term teams to finally have their day as Oxy, a team that started two years before Marshall, won the B title over Joy Huck Club. For Oxy, it was a season in which they won only one game, but still pulled out the W. Then curiously, they were gone the following season. Win and walk away. Like a boss.
Sarah Davis-Weyman took over running Winter League. We also moved the tournament from Balboa to Van Nuys / Sherman Oaks.
2009 will forever be the year Jeff Chai said he was uncoverable. Best quote ever. Poor guy, that statement plagued him for years after that.
Empire, for the third year in a row, went undefeated in the regular season. They met up with Kong in the finals. That was the funniest game ever because Keegan Uhl almost single handily won the first half for Kong, and then almost single handily lost the second half, giving Empire their second title.
The B finals that year was the best comeback in Winter League tournament history. No exaggeration. Slow Children at Play, a team who went 0-5 the previous year, turned it around to go 5-3 and made it to finals against Caltech. With Caltech leading 14-7, one point from victory, Slow Children reeled off 8 straight points to win on universe 15-14.
The high mark for teams in Winter League at 21. For the first time, Winter League was split into three divisions, A, B and C. The tournament had to be played on multiple days because they wouldn’t let us play at either Balboa or VNSO that weekend. We were given Winnetka Recreation Center which didn’t have enough room to play the entire tournament, so we only did B and C there.
A Bracket ended up getting played during the week at Balboa, where Quarters was on Monday, Semis on Wednesday, and Finals on Friday. Despite finishing only 3-3, Empire held off Milquetoast’s close game in quarters, and made it to finals against first year team AFO (then known as a formidable opponent). The game was tied 9-9 when Empire pulled away to their third title in four years.
In B, Tarmac, who was a big proponent of the change-up to three divisions as they didn’t want to play at the bottom of A anymore after four straight seasons there, took down defending champ Slow Children in finals.
Abominable Snowmen, a first year team, was the C division champion, with a win over The Zoo.
Oh my God, this was the best, because it was the Call of the Year. Call of the Century to be honest. I’ll get to that.
For starters, the format changed again, back to A and B with 10 teams each. I did an analysis of point diff that year and wrote an article to show that the 3 division format actually created more lopsided games than the previous several years with two 10 team divisions. Math. You can’t fight it.
Marshall won the regular season with an 8-0 record, but lost in semis to Kong. But Kong was lucky to even be in that semis game. Their quarter-finals match against AFO had by far the most impactful and controversial play of the season when a time-out and an injury conspired to take AFO down. The game was 8-8 in hard cap, and both teams had already had a mid-field discussion and agreed there were no time-outs. But Kong, with the disc, forgot about that and called one. Automatic turnover. But NO… it wasn’t. Because Joe Forbes claimed he called an injury about 20 seconds earlier, thus negating the time-out call and giving the disc back to Kong, who scored the final goal to win. It was insane. Phantom injury call. (Keegan emphatically yelled “I HEARD HIM CALL IT” and after the game admitted “I never heard it”.) Kong went on to beat surprise upstart team Gesundheit (who upset Empire) in the finals.
This was the first time that the A and B divisions stayed true to their 10 team apiece nature in the tournament. Abominable Snowmen went undefeated at 8-0 and stomped their way to the B title with a win over the Huck & Chuck Show.
Mike Peebler took over as TD. There was no more Empire. (And with that, we no longer had to ever hear that commercial chant of 800-588-2300 Empire.) Gesundheit changed into Entanglement. And the reign of Retro in B began.
AFO led the regular season with an 8-1 record. But they fell to 5 seed Entanglement, the comeback kids, a team made up of Mojo Jojo players (the team that upset She Sells Sea Shells in the 2008 Beach League finals) and several Long Beach players who were on the rise and ended up winning Lei-Out the following year as SportsCenter. AFO was up 8-2 when Entanglement came all the way back to win.
Entanglement met Marshall in finals, where we saw what’s probably the second biggest comeback in Winter League history (after the Slow Children game from 2009). With Marshall leading 13-7 in a game to 15, Entanglement called a critical time-out. I will never forget AJ saying in the huddle, “this isn’t over, they COULD come back”. And we were all kinda like “yeah right”. And then they did. Ugh. Brutal. They scored 6 straight to tie it. And took it in OT 17-15. Two major comebacks in one tournament. Unreal.
In B, Retro dominated, 8-0 with a +62 point diff, only 8 points from the Winter League record. And they rolled through the tournament, beating the Huck and Chuck Show in finals. Despite the incredibly dominant performance, Retro refused to move up to A the following season.
Winter League again reached its highest number of teams with 21, and the format was tinkered with yet again, this time moving a couple teams down to B so there were 8 in A and 13 in B. ’13 was also the first year of Rooks. Yay Rooks!
Marshall won the regular season 6-0 but there was a new sheriff in town in Ninja Squirtles. (a-squirt!) Although the first year team grabbed 3 players from the departed Entanglement, and 3 more broken off from AFO, the rest of the team was largely made up of players who didn’t play the previous year in Winter League. Of course, back then Squirtles was known for rostering players who didn’t even live in LA, most notably the Bay Area’s Lisa Pitcaithley. I don’t recall her ever actually playing a game. #wishfulthinking
Squirtles beat AFO in what was one of the greatest WL finals as neither team had a lead more than one point until the final score of 15-13.
In B, Retro spent the year proving they didn’t belong in A afterall as they plodded through a season that saw them just barely finish above .500. Meanwhile Top Shelf, who was spending their first season in B after 5 years as an A team, led the division with a 7-1 record and made it to finals to play against the defending champs. Retro upset the 2 and 3 seeds, and then ultimately upset Top Shelf, the team that beat them 15-8 in the regular season. Retro, like life, finds a way.
This was the wonky year where A became Elite, B became A, and C became B. Because only 5 teams wanted A, 15 wanted B, and nobody wanted C. So we just renamed everything, and poof, it all worked out. 5, 7 and 8. #mindtricks
Kong won the regular season with a 6-1 record. But it was Marshall and Ninja Squirtles making it to the end and playing another epic finals that may have even bested the year before. Ninja came back from a 12-8 deficit, and ultimately took the lead 15-14, but Marshall scored the final two to take it on universe 16-15.
But the real story in the tournament that year was what happened in B division. Excuse me, A Division. The REAL B, but called A. I’m telling you, it was super confusing that year. Retro again dominated the regular season 8-1. But they lost in semis to Top Shelf 13-6. That was, until it was discovered that Top Shelf was playing with an ineligible woman from Germany, who had just come to LA but hadn’t played in the minimum two games.
The story goes, while at Trouble in Vegas the previous weekend she met David Reed who told her “don’t worry about it, just pick up with a team, it’s not a big deal. Nobody will care.” So she joined Top Shelf, who promptly beat Reed’s team in quarter finals, and then suddenly Reed cared. He half-jokingly requested Top Shelf be disqualified for that game. But Retro wasn’t joking at all when they called me in to make the final call. I stood between an angry Retro and a Top Shelf that was pointing fingers at each other, and made the decision to disqualify Top Shelf, leading the way for Retro to beat the Huck and Chuck Show in finals and win their third straight B title. #asterisk
The bottom division saw Ministry of Silly Hucks take the regular season 7-0 and win the tournament over TIE Penguins. No drama there.
I came back to run Winter League again and instituted the ever controversial Dynamic Scheduling. The inaugural year I admit Dynamic Scheduling was a bit of a trial and error approach and mistakes were made for sure. USAU’s RRI algorithm was employed to help with final standings. This was also the year LAOUT adopted a Board of Directors.
Ninja Squirtles was the powerhouse team of the year, going 7-1 with a +56 point diff, and flying through the tournament, beating Kong in finals in a relative blow out, and there were calls to break up Squirtles.
B Bracket and C Bracket were essentially 5th place and 9th place respectively, due to the whole Dynamic Scheduling thing. Retro beat Huck and Chuck for their 4th consecutive B title. How many times is Huck and Chuck mentioned as losing in finals? Always a bridesmaid…… And C was won by Honey Badgers over Tarmac. The Beer Bracket was won by Kapow!
A good portion of Ninja Squirtles broke off to help form the new team Skeeter. And AFO was no more.
The top of A proved to be remarkably balanced as three teams finished 5-2. In fact, it was a very rare season where no teams went undefeated or winless. The top two seeds according to RRI were Skeeter and Marshall, and they did in fact meet in an incredibly windy finals at Field of Dreams in San Pedro.
It was a strong up-down wind and every single point in that finals was scored downwind. It honestly came down to the initial flip that decided the outcome. Marshall won the flip, and then won the game on universe.
Everything about that game sucked. Except when you were playing defense going downwind. That was fun. Everything else sucked. Including Evan Valdes getting his car locked in the parking lot after the game. Oh Evan.
Retro, who opened as the 8 seed, upset both Animal Style and Kong to take the B crown for the 5th consecutive time. Retro is like a magnet to B title. They should be called Bretro.
C was won by Sky Life defeating Tarmac.
A series of firsts. This was Dan Perahya’s first Winter League at the helm. And for the first time we had turf fields. No more dealing with all those gopher holes at Balboa and no more rain outs. (Just the occasional game cancelled by lightning. WTF!!!) The tournament was also at Santa Clarita for the first time.
Kong bowed out after an 11 year run and two titles. Their 53 regular season wins is second most in the recorded history of Winter League. (I’m sure Quake won more, but who would know, it happened before anyone used the internets.)
Skeeter ran the table with a 7-0 year and had a relatively easy tournament win, with two not so close wins, and then defeating Ninja Squirtles 15-11 in finals.
Shockingly Retro didn’t win B this year. A hole opened up in the Earth and pigs started flying. Their 5-straight titles was broken by Tsukemen and Women, who took the title in a win over Tarmac.
C Bracket was won by Animal Style over Sky Life.
My time as President of LAOUT came to an end as I passed the torch to Remy Schor. Over a decade in a position I never earned by vote. Sort of like Frank Underwood but with a lot less murder. Remy is already doing an excellent job and I’m happy and confident to have her in the position.
It was a little rainy at the tournament, and I had to take over at the last minute for Dan who was busy becoming a father for the second time. NBD.
Ninja Squirtles took the regular season title. But they were beaten by Marshall in semis. Skeeter made it to finals, and in one of the largest victories in a finals that I can find, 15-8, Skeeter took home the very first LAOUT Winter League trophy.
Retro reclaimed the throne of B with a win over Semicreatively Named Team. Not technically B though as it was just called 5th place at the tournament, and on the website. But after the fact was called B, because you know, it’s Retro, and they win B. #bretro Now the world is right again.
After Party took C by a forfeit win over Sky Life in the battle of teams that would rather drink than play out loser’s brackets in the rain, and I raise a glass to both of them.
And that finally brings us to this year. Ninja Squirtles is again winning the regular season, but as we’ve seen many times the regular season champ doesn’t always win the tournament. So it’ll be fun to see how it plays out. Fingers crossed for Marshall. I may have selfish motives.