The teams from Yahoo and Evernote were facing off in
Ultimate Frisbee. Meanwhile, the data analytics guys from Palantir Technologies
were winning at the ancient sport of tug-of-war, with a chant of "One-two,
pull!" that seemed aimed at sending chills down the backs of opponents from the
e-commerce site Zazzle.
For the past eight weeks, amateur athletes from some of Silicon Valley's leading tech companies and little-known startups have been duking it out in contests ranging from volleyball and kickball to softball, soccer and even duck, duck, goose. The competition in the fledgling Silicon Valley Sports League has been building to a battle royal at Candlestick Park on Wednesday night that will pit a dozen tech teams from the South Bay against 12 more from San Francisco.
The contests can be fierce, but also fun. And in keeping with the ways of Silicon Valley, where today's competitors are often tomorrow's business partners, contestants say the league has been a good place to network with people from other companies who might someday become their employer, startup investor or co-worker on a joint project.
"Some of these guys are really out to win. I'm out to compete, but I'm also meeting people, learning about other software and having a good time," said Troy Ray, a tech support worker and co-captain of the team from Marketo, the San Mateo business software maker that went public earlier this year.
While few of the contestants
at Palo Alto's Mitchell Park on Saturday fit the stereotype of a nonathletic tech nerd -- "slightly out-of-shape weekend warrior" would be a better description -- several could be heard introducing themselves and asking each other about their companies. League co-founder Russell Klusas says he knows of "at least a couple" of business deals that grew out of conversations on the sidelines this summer.
"It's a great networking opportunity and also a way to get sweaty and fit," said Victor Jiang, an entrepreneur who started SkillSapien, an online service for hiring professional workers, in his native Australia and is now looking to expand it here.
"Who knows if a connection will turn into anything in business? It's still fun," added Chris Drew, founder of online educational platform Parent University. Both Drew and Jiang were competing for the team fielded by NestGSV, a Redwood City "startup incubator" that provides office space and other support for new companies.
They spoke during a pause between tug-of-war contests at Mitchell Park, one of two sites where teams from various tech companies have been doing battle on each of the last seven weekends. The other site is St. Ignatius College Preparatory school in San Francisco.
Klusas and his fellow league "commissioner" Misha Chellam are self-described serial entrepreneurs who said they got the idea of forming an amateur sports league as they were gearing up to launch a new business that will offer training for nontechnical workers -- people who hold jobs in sales, marketing or business development -- in the tech industry.
The idea of getting workers from a variety of tech companies to meet on the same playing field "seemed like a great way to expand our own networks while doing some good at the same time," Klusas said.
Since most of the league's expenses are covered by participating companies and corporate sponsors, he explained, proceeds from selling tickets to the championship will
be donated to the Special Olympics organization.
Klusas and Chellam say they launched the league this spring by emailing friends at different tech companies. As word spread, Klusas said they soon had enough people for more than 40 teams, each with nine or more players competing under a variety of corporate flags -- including the Internet giants Google and Facebook, rival transportation apps Lyft and Uber, and online software companies like Evernote and Box.
Teams competed to earn points from victories in a different sport each week, starting with volleyball and ending last weekend with "Field Day," a hodgepodge of games like the sack race that you probably played in elementary school. Saturday's competition also included a trivia contest -- sample question: "Name the three co-founders of Apple Computer."
"Like most people in Silicon Valley," Klusas said, "we like sports more than we are good at sports."
But that doesn't mean the players aren't serious about their games. "I'm more interested in soccer and softball than duck, duck, goose," said Monica Aitken, who works in finance at Zazzle and played sports in college. But, she added, "it's kind of a fun way to meet people."
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