Guts and glory

CALUMET – Trash talk, acrobatics, beer, jeers, blinding backhands and raw emotion – it was another classic weekend of Guts Frisbee at the 57th Annual Coca-Cola International Frisbee Tournament at Agassiz Field in Calumet Saturday and Sunday.

And just like last year, the long running 16-team tournament – played between sides of five trying to whip a Frisbee through the hands of the other five in a sophisticated Red Rover, Red Rover sense – capped off with another classic between the Appleton Assassins (Wisconsin) and Boomtown Saints (Lansing) in the finals.

Widely regarded as the top two teams in the United States, the pair met last year with Boomtown recapturing their crown after a year away from the tournament. Appleton got the better of Boomtown in Marquette for the US Nationals, however, setting up an uncertain rematch.

Boomtown prevailed this time. Barely.

In a best of three, the Saints of Lansing dropped the first set 22-24, before recovering to win 21-19 and 21-14. It was another thrilling chapter in what has become a hot rivalry for the small but passionate Guts community.

“I love seeing these guys,” Boomtown captain Ryan Scott said after capturing their fifth IFT title. “We bring out the best in each other. We have to collectively raise our level to beat them, and I think they have to be at their best to beat us. And especially after what they did to us in Marquette last year for Nationals – they just smoked us – this feels amazing.

“I have so much respect for them. Off the field we are actually all pretty close, I talk to these guys all the time. On the field it can get heated, but I love seeing them.”

Scott said it was actually the tail end of the losing first set that made the difference between victory and defeat.

With the Assassins jumping out to an early seven point lead, the Saints clawed their way back to force an extended set, with win-by-two drama after the 21st points.

And though they eventually lost the game, the defense picked up after a sluggish start and gave them confidence heading in to set No. 2.

Scott in particular wowed the crowd with a sprawling kick save on the Frisbee to keep it alive, and the Saints worked well together to tip the rockets coming from the Tews brothers, Alex and Josh, to their own ace Mike Banghart, later named the tournament MVP.

“After a tough start, we started defending so phenomenally,” Scott said. “The guys just worked as a group to keep the Frisbee up, and that really carried us the whole way.”

While the Finals ended the weekend with excitement and drama, there was good news throughout the bracket.

Local team Luigi’s placed fourth and likely led all squads in good times had, while Beer City earned third place.

There was plenty of new faces at hand as well, with a mostly rookie team of Keweenaw Mountain Lodge and the Hancock-based Get A Life entering their first tournaments.

Get A Life, with members Will Blau, Jacob Norkol, Alex Nettell and Carter Nettell, placed 13th of 16 in their first tourney action.

Both Blau and the Nettell’s fathers played the game, passing on the legacy to their interested sons.

The injection of youth will be necessary for the IFT to carry on well past No. 57.

“That’s what everyone keeps telling us,” Blau said. “We heard all weekend that we could be the future.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean they weren’t welcomed rudely with the Appleton Assassins in the first game and the world-record backhand of Alex Tews.

“Yeah, that was something to see,” Alex Nettell said. “It was fun standing in front of that.”

Nearing sunset on Sunday, the tournament ended as it always does – with the winners drinking from the Julius T. Nachazel Cup.

“That is the best tasting beer anyone can ever have,” Scott said.

“It just tastes so pure out of the cup.”