Students praise Tunnell as role model, ultimate ‘hero’

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Students praise Tunnell as role model, ultimate ‘hero’

The Southerner

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The surrounding players watched in awe as Dylan Tunnell leapt off the ground to catch a high throw. He snatched the disc out of the air and hardly made a sound when he landed. Tunnell has been the co-coach of the Grady boys ultimate team for the past five years. His players said his loyalty to the Grady team and his experience as a skilled player have earned him their utmost respect.

Tunnell has played ultimate since his freshman year in high school in 1999, totaling 13 years. He attended The Paideia School, which already had an established ultimate team, and one day he decided to try the sport. He said he hadn’t anticipated the immense impact that those few hours on the Frisbee field would have on the rest of his life.

“I love ultimate not only because of the spectacular dives and high-flying catches, but because it’s also a self-refereed sport,” Tunnell said. “Instead of trying to get away with as much cheating as possible, players generally play with sportsmanship and honesty.”

Tunnell is married to Amanda Strout, the Grady girls ultimate coach, and the couple is expecting their first baby in June. He also serves as a firefighter for the city of Atlanta, but even with a growing family and his other job, both of which demand a lot of attention and time, he said ultimate remains a very important part of his life. Co-coach and Grady literature teacher Susie Mercer agreed.

“He is the epitome of the best ultimate player,” Mercer said. “Not only is he a conscientious citizen but also a phenomenal athlete who cares about the sport and the other players.”

Tunnell can’t imagine what his life would be like now if he hadn’t showed up at that practice 13 years ago.

“Ultimate has been the source of nearly all of my friends, and it’s also how I met my wife,” he said. “[I wanted to coach ultimate because] I had such a great experience with high school ultimate, and I wanted to be able to bring that to others.”

After his high school career at Paideia came to a close, Tunnell rose to the pinnacle of his sport. He played on the U.S. national team that won the world championship in 2009 and was named 2011 U.S. Men’s Division Most Valuable Player. Tunnell believes ultimate has made him physically and mentally stronger as a person, and that’s why his players heed the advice of their nationally acclaimed coach.

“Dylan is very good at critiquing individual players and the team as a whole, and he’s always trying to improve our technique or skill,” senior ultimate co-captain Alex Glick said. “We listen to him and respect his decisions.”

Mercer refers to Tunnell as a walking dictionary of ultimate knowledge and said she defers to him in anything Frisbee-related. She believes one of the reasons Tunnell has made such a tremendous impact on the Grady ultimate program is the fact that he treats everyone with the utmost respect, earning admiration from his players.

“He’s taken us from a bunch of guys who like ultimate, running around on a field, to a championship-caliber team,” Mercer said. “[Tunnell] pours his heart into this program, and he cares about his players’ abilities and skill, but he also emphasizes the importance of having good character.”

Tunnell hopes the time and effort he put in as co-coach do more than merely advance the program.

“I want my players to learn that in life, if they work hard at something, they really will get better at it,” Tunnell said. “And I want to show them that being a part of a team that is striving towards a goal is a great experience.”

Former football athlete turned ultimate player, senior Caleb Shorthouse praised Tunnell and what he has brought to each player and the overall team.

“He’s taught us to all be leaders and try our hardest at everything we do in life,” said Shorthouse, who is also senior co-captain of the team. “I view him as a hero. He’s the best coach I’ve ever had.”

TUNNELL’S VISION: Tunnell (far left) takes time to explain plays during practice.

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