Neal family reunion is Marvellous

Sean Colfer spoke to six of the Neals to find out what it’s like being at a tournament with your family.

One of the best parts of covering any international tournament is seeing the joy relating to anything outside of the Ultimate. The new friendships that are forged, the unforgettable moments experienced between games and the pride of representing a club, team or country on such a stage are all indelible parts of any world championships. One aspect that’s always been a personal favourite of mine; watching parents enjoying their children’s games.

There are several kinds of Ultimate parents. There’s the parents that have played themselves; those are pretty rare. There’s the kind that have absolutely no idea what is going on but find the mix of athletic prowess, throwing skills and raucous team spirit intoxicating and enjoy it nonetheless. There’s usually quite a few of them. And then there’s an increasingly common kind – those who have seen so much Ultimate that they take on some knowledge by osmosis and begin to understand exactly what they’re watching. Two parents that fit very snugly into that bracket are Terry and Raymond Neal.

There are three Neal siblings on the New Zealand-based Mixed team Marvellous DC (known here as MDC). Brother Aaron, the third of four kids, is the captain of the team. His wife, Sally, is also one of the founding members, adding a bonus fourth Neal. His sisters Bekah, the second-eldest, and Marah, the youngest, have joined the team for WUCC while eldest brother Andrew was part of the team that qualified for WUCC last year but has stayed home in New Zealand this time around.

The Neal family here at WUCC – Marah, Bekah, Terry, Raymond, Aaron and Sally (from left to right). Photo by Andy Moss.

Terry, who’s sitting wearing her own Marvellous DC jersey, says that she and Raymond enjoy coming to tournaments to watch their children:

“We really love watching our kids play Ultimate. We travel more outside New Zealand to watch them but we’ve never had all of them at the tournament. We feel like we have six children that play; we have our four blood children and then we have Sally and Josh (Broughton, who’s playing here with Kiwi Men’s team Wildcats), Marah’s partner. There’s five here, and it’s a lot easier to have so many of them on the same team rather than on different teams! We’re actually living in China at the moment so we’re here mainly to see these people. There’s also a group of parents that are at every tournament that hang out together, so that’s really fun.”

Bekah has lived in London for the last three years, and Marah has lived there for the last two as well. They explain that it’s been a rewarding experience being together again to play in Cincinnati. Bekah says:

“It definitely makes it more meaningful being here as a family. I don’t think I’d be here if it wasn’t for these guys, it was a big reason for coming. It’s the only chance we have to have a family holiday these days!”

One thing that playing together has meant is that the siblings have all grown close in a different context to the usual family environment, something that Raymond (who also has his own jersey) has found particular enjoyment in:

“For me it’s wonderful watching your kids play, and the fact that they all play the same sport, they know the same people, and have done for ten years has meant that they have become each other’s best friends as well. As a parent that’s wonderful to see.”

Sally Neal makes a catch. Photo by Andy Moss.

From a playing perspective, all of the family have found it easy slotting back in together. Bekah and Marah haven’t played with the team specifically before but have played with their teammates in various ways plenty of times through the years. Aaron explains the genesis of the team:

“Marvellous started in 2013 when a group of us who went to Toronto for under-23s became friends and decided we were pretty good and wanted to make a Mixed team that could win New Zealand Nationals. That was partially because we wanted to play with each other, and partially because we thought we could be better than other teams.

“We played Nationals for the first time in 2014. We’ve lost a few players and gained some over the years, but the same core of maybe six or seven is still there. Me and Sally were on the first team, but Bekah and Marah have never played with us before, but a lot of the team had played with them before they moved to London.”

Being back with such a familiar group is welcome for both Marah and Bekah, who described the team as a whole as her ‘family’ as much as her actual family. She adds:

“You don’t forget how they play, the chemistry doesn’t disappear after being away for a couple of years. It’s been really fun and a bonus to catch up socially with everyone as well.”

Marah has enjoyed the reunion too:

“I never stopped playing New Zealand Ultimate so coming back to a team where everyone is playing the same style that I naturally want to play, and that I learned to play, has been really easy.

“The off-field side of it is easier, too. Since moving to London it’s not been too hard on the field but off the field I’m surrounded by 20 people I don’t know that well. I’ve changed clubs every season since I moved to London so it’s always been that same story. Coming back and being with people I’ve known for ten years, or six years, or my whole life, it’s been really easy both on and off the field for me.”

Marah Neal gets a block against Shinshu Loose. Photo by Andy Moss.

Despite the slight awkwardness of the situation – being interviewed for an article is a surreal experience for most people – it’s clear to see how comfortable and relaxed they all are around each other, and how much everyone, particularly Terry, is relishing the experience. Despite the fact they’re here at WUCC for serious business – Marvellous play Reading today in the first round of Mixed knockouts – Terry reveals that there’s one cast-iron rule at the house they’re all sharing.

“There’s a lot of chat about Ultimate, obviously. But not at the dinner table. That’s an Ultimate-free zone.”