Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Talking with Trainor- Kenny Dobyns


As teams compete in the annual UPA fall series, I sought an interview with one of the greatest players in UPA history.

At the urging of current players and great players of the past three decades, I made efforts to contact one Kenny Dobyns. One of the greatest players ever to play the sport, His career is best described with the following numbers:

Number of UPA titles- 6 Open, 1 Mixed
Number of World Titles - 4 Open, 1 Mixed

Ken Dobyns- 1991 Worlds

In ultimate's humble beginnings of the 1980's and 1990's, he was a rare charismatic star, one that continues to be discussed to this day. At a modest height of 5'7, he dominated taller opponents for years and lead NYNY with undisputed leadership and passion for the game. Many say he is one of the greatest players of all time, of any size or era.

Given his own ability to write, his separation from the game, and his new passions that keep him busy (see below for the scoop on the Tiki Foundation), I was very pleased to get such prompt and honest answers from Dobyns.

This interview speaks to all players chasing the plastic dream. Most importantly, it may speak to the very best players in the game, who balance the hero worship they get in the sport with everyday reality.

What's your greatest Ultimate accomplishment?

I'm not sure it qualifies as an accomplishment, but being fortunate enough to be an integral part of NYNY and through that association to grow as a player, teammate and leader.

What's your worst moment in Ultimate?

Blowing my knee out in the semifinals of Nationals 1985.

Favorite tournament city?

We used to have an awful lot of fun at Tempe, Arizona, but that was really because of the hotel, The Buttes. Overall I guess I'd have to say Boulder, Colorado, but Leuven, Belgium is a close second.

Favorite Opponent? (Team/Individual)

Easily Windy City. Great players who came together as an even better team, and played the game with a sincerity and commitment to competition that was exhilarating. Individually, I think the most fun I ever had was matching up with Bob Lobel.

Favorite Opponent or Team from Canada?

Andrew Lugsdin. I was honored that a guy with that kind of skill set and size would cover a little guy like me, and like all great players, he plays physically both ways, and understands what it is to be an intensely competitive sportsman.

Who's the best player in the game today (If you follow)?

I don't follow.

Who's the best ever?

Pat King, and it's not close.

What's better- Vertical or Horizontal Stack?

It's all the same to me. At its core it's a very simple game. All the strategy gives you something to talk about at practice and in the huddles, but when the game is on the line and all that shit breaks down, the best players on the team with the coolest heads only have to do two things: throw and catch.

What made NYNY tick?

Talent, intelligence, commitment, will, drive, and a collective value system that placed team accomplishment above personal fulfillment.

What made you step away from the game- Life, Injury or Pride?

It was time.

How does it feel to be a "legend" in a sport?

It doesn't feel like anything.

A documentary featuring you and your team was spoofed by ESPN. Compliment or shameful on them?

ESPN ran the documentary originally, and I give them credit for treating us like the committed, competitive, and highly skilled athletes we were. Cheap Seats spoofed the documentary 10+ years later, and I give them credit for treating me like the self-impressed, self-obsessed, egotistical blowhard I was. Not to mention making me laugh. We all need to laugh at ourselves a little more, me more so than most.

Should Canada get to compete in the UPAs?

Hell yeah

What did/do you love the most about the game?

The open architecture of it. The transience of it. An ultimate field is a perpetually blank canvas on which the most creative, daring players routinely create single point works of athletic art that are wiped away with the next pull.

What was/is the most aggravating thing about the game?

The fact that we had to share the field with finger-painting dullards.

Any final thoughts about the game itself or your experiences?

I think as the years go by I'm struck by how oblivious I was to what a special time my ultimate years were. Looking back, I wish I had a little more awareness. That or it was all a colossal waste of time. I can't decide.

Tell us about a little about your current endeavor.. Tiki Recreation. How did it come to be?

After teaching high school English in North Carolina for five years I was ready for a change. I had previously had a somewhat lucrative career in the business world, but I loved working with children and didn't want to give that up. I was hoping to find some way to keep working with children but make a decent living at it. At the same time, I knew that the current generation of children is sorely lacking in physical fitness and generally healthful well-being as compared to previous generations, and that the "hot topic" nature of that fact would provide fertile soil for a business endeavor if I could come up with one.

I went to NY to visit a friend (and former ultimate player) who was involved with Tiki Barber in an affordable housing venture, and came upon the idea of designing fitness oriented playgrounds to be installed in affordable housing complexes and underserved urban communities. Tiki liked the idea and we became partners.

Perhaps the best thing about the venture is that in Tiki I found a kindred spirit. We share a passion for improving communities and the lives of the children in those communities, but we also share a background as highly competitive athletes who walked away from our respective sports because we knew there had to be more out there. We work closely together, get along well, rarely disagree, and share a vision of how business should be run: focus on doing the right thing and success will follow, but never put the dollar before the deed.


Taylor said...

Nicely done Steven.

Hodge said...

Quote "All the strategy gives you something to talk about at practice and in the huddles, but when the game is on the line and all that shit breaks down, the best players on the team with the coolest heads only have to do two things: throw and catch."

Very well said!

Nice work Steven!