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Column: Competitive participants, rain make for eventful Frisbee tournament

Dark Bandits player Travis Salo knocks down a Frisbee disc in a game against the Firehawks. (Photo by Clara Hatcher)1 / 2
Team Rainbow Fever lines up for a picture after winning the championship game at the Northland Frisbee Invitational. (Photo by Clara Hatcher)2 / 2

More than 150 people flooded the Hilltop fields of Cloquet last Friday. I was one of them.

The Northland Frisbee Invitational (NFI) kicked off last year on June 29, 2012. Due to the general lack of Ultimate Frisbee tournaments for non-college students in northern Minnesota, Cloquet Pine Journal intern Luke Heine, a fellow Pohlad Internship recipient, created the tournament.

It was a hit.

Last year, more than 116 participants from 20 schools in three states competed, raising $1,000 for the REACH (Recreational Experiences Achieving Community Harmony) mentoring program.

I found out about the tournament through Luke at a weeklong leadership forum last June. From there, the motley team called DiscGo Fever (it's a pun) was created. We ended up getting fifth place overall, but we stayed to watch the Oogway Turtles play the Northern Lights in the championship game. Friends, and weird tan lines, were made that day.

This year, my good friend Christine Peterson and I were not messing around when we made our team. We called up our most talented Ultimate Frisbee-playing friends, and from there the Dark Bandits were born.

It's hard to describe the energy at the NFI. Everyone is buzzing with excitement, but there is also a feeling that no matter what team you are playing, you know that they are just genuinely enjoyable people. The types of teams competing run the gamut from intense club teams to people who just want to throw a Frisbee around and have some fun while DJ Infinity rocks out on the main field.

In the tournament, everyone is guaranteed two games. This year, 21 teams were split into seven different bracket pools that played each other round-robin style. The top two teams in each pool advance. Third and fourth places are decided with a dance-off, just to mix things up a little. The championship game and dance-off both take place under stadium lights at Pinehurst Park in Cloquet. Official Ultimate Frisbee referees attend each game, and absolutely no cleats are allowed.

The games started off with a beautiful, partly cloudy day, though it wasn't long before the rain hit. Hilltop seemed to be encircled by storm clouds, though no one seemed to mind when it started pouring -- it just made the games more exhilarating.

The Dark Bandits crushed our way through the first two games, against the Firehawks and the Azul Waves. After those two wins, we succeeded over Utopian Slingshot and Miracle Whipped, which secured my bragging rights against all of my friends on MW. Since the rain hit pretty hard, the Golden Pythons didn't get a lot of playing time, so we decided to play for third place rather than dance for it. Yes, the Dark Bandits won, and we got some pretty great medals to show for it.

One of the best parts about the whole thing was that, yes, we all wanted to win, but no one actually minded if their team lost. We all loved Ultimate too much to get mad. Almost all of the remaining teams gathered around to watch the Northern Lights take on the University of Minnesota Duluth Club Team, Rainbow Fever, in the championship game under the lights. Everyone was dancing, cheering and mingling with the new friends that they made throughout the seven total hours of Ultimate Frisbee fun.

In the end, pictures were taken and first place medals were given out to the new champion team, Rainbow Fever. Minor injuries were accounted for, including Rainbow Fever player Alex Tunell's gashed eyebrow that would be needing stitches, and everyone's sore legs from a day of nonstop running; but no matter where you looked there were happy faces and no regrets.

One thing's for sure, it doesn't matter who you are or how good you are, you will always be welcome at the NFI.