Player Profile: Kevin Pettit-Scantling
The Radicals' young star has a flair all his own
By Adam Ruffner and Caitlin Cieslik-Miskimen
At the time of his first Madison Radicals combine in 2013, defensive playmaker Kevin Pettit-Scantling worried he’d go unnoticed. Only 20 years old, the mangy kid from Racine, Wis., already possessed the beard and hair of a post-hibernation Rip Van Winkle. Sure, he was an unknown within the Madison ultimate community as far as his talent for ultimate. But he stood out to nearly everybody from the moment they laid eyes on him.
“He wore this goofy multi-colored trucker hat which barely covered his long, mangly blond hair and this giant beard of his,” said Matt Weber, a stalwart defender on the Radicals and fellow impressively bearded man. “My buddy turns to me [at the combine] and says ‘Wow, his beard is better than yours.’ I was so upset—I had never heard that before.”
Pettit-Scantling didn’t hear any of this kind of chatter. Reserved and thoughtful, he focused on heeding the advice a solemn voice in his head kept repeating: Don’t mess up.
“Normally, I’m really relaxed, but I wanted to impress people at that first combine,” Pettit-Scantling said. A natural athlete with a decorated background in swimming, he was able to run faster and jump higher than most people from the time he first stepped (barefoot) onto an ultimate field. He also knew his limitations with the disc in his hands - he wasn’t a very skilled thrower at the time - but still, Pettit-Scantling wanted to do what he called “really cool things.”
So, on the opening pull of the first scrimmage of the night, and with an opportunity to play against Radicals Head Coach Tim DeByl, Pettit-Scantling charged downfield quickly, intercepted the very first throw, and landed in the endzone for a callahan score. That play made players and coaches remember his name, but he wasn’t done making first impressions. That would come during his professional debut.
“Our first game ever we were really short handed against the Wildfire,” DeByl said. “I had KPS active, but didn’t know what to expect from him. With the game tied late in the fourth quarter, he caught the disc on an under cut, and fired a laser of a flick out of nowhere for the score with maybe 20 seconds left. Then on the ensuing possession, he poached off of his guy and got a D on Brodie. He’s been one of our best players since.”
Now heading into his third season, Pettit-Scantling’s beard is a little more kempt, and his hair a bit more styled, but his defensive prowess is anything but tamed. His motor never quits, Radicals co-captain Andrew Meshnick noted, and he isn’t afraid to do the dirty work to make sure the team wins. A key part of Madison’s league-best defense, Pettit-Scantling was often called on last year to shut down opponents’ key stars in person-to-person matchups, such as Chicago’s Goose Helton and San Jose’s Ashlin Joye.
“KPS’ biggest asset as a player has to be that no task is too big for him,” Weber said. “And those are two of the best players in the AUDL. It’s ridiculous. He loves the challenge and will listen to anything you tell him. I've also never seen him quit on a disc—so many times I'm in shock at how he got a D or at the catch he just made.”
For Pettit-Scantling, those plays are only the byproduct of a much deeper sense of commitment and humility. He often gets sucked into the ever spiraling question of “why”—why does he do things, why does someone else do something. He admits it’s an annoying tendency, especially when he starts the spiral when dealing with a real-world problem rather than a philosophical one (such as how to train his new puppy). But it’s another one of the assets that he brings to the Radicals. He’s always ready to talk strategy and game tactics, Meshnick said, in order to make his play better.
This is after all a player who is regarded by most teammates as an absolute boss on the field, but who still texted DeByl right before his third tryout with the Radicals just to make sure he was still a candidate for the roster.
“I've always kind of had to tell him there is a reason you made this team: It's because you too are a great player,” Weber said.
It is a shame statistics in ultimate haven’t evolved to capture Pettit-Scantling’s true talent: shutting down opposing teams’ best players and making them a nonfactor. It’s OK—he developed other ways of taking those matchups against the league’s elite and making them into something tangible, something to remember.
“My favorite story about KPS is how much of a little kid he was last year when he was trading jerseys with [Keenan] Plew, [Mark] Lloyd and Joye,” Meshnick said. “He was so excited to trade jerseys and guard those guys.”
And it is that unbridled enthusiasm that Pettit-Scantling tries to embody and bring to the field, whether he’s playing in a pick-up game, instructing at a youth clinic or helping others start an ultimate team. He is really proud of building the UW-Parkside program from the ground up, as well as organizing DJones, a Racine ultimate club for high school and college students that teaches them the rules of the game. It reflects the understanding of himself as part of a team, as part of a group of friends, and his effort to keep that sentiment intact at all levels of play.
“I’m going to get sappy with you,” Pettit-Scantling said. “It comes down to who you congratulate, and who congratulates you – you play for the people on your team, not for the big plays. That’s what I have in mind when I play: not letting my team down, but instead picking them up.”
For Pettit-Scantling, playing ultimate is that simple. Despite his strategizing, despite the high stakes, despite his aggressive offseason workout program, ultimate is about camaraderie: playing with friends, talking, laughing, and throwing the disc.
“I just want to take my cleats off and play.” he said.