Several years ago I was approached by a couple of high school students who wanted help starting a High School Ultimate Frisbee League. At the time I didn’t know what Ultimate was or how it was played but I agreed to meet with them and hear what they had to say. They had been sent to me by the High School Activities Director, who didn’t have time to deal with “those Frisbee kids”.
After doing a little research and a lot of grassroots organizing we put together an informal co-ed league of 10 teams from 8 different schools. We scheduled a few games and hosted a one-day tournament which was attended by over 200 players, parents and fans. All the time, field space and supplies were either donated or borrowed and the kids paid nothing.
Five years later the 2006 Minnesota High School Ultimate Championship is sponsored by the UPA, the national governing body for Ultimate in the US and included 24 open (boys) and 6 girls teams. This year’s tournament was held last weekend. The event was spread over 2-days and was featured on the local evening news.
Developed in 1967 in New Jersey, Ultimate is similar to football or soccer in that it is played by two teams whose object is to score points by advancing the disc to the opposite end zone. What sets Ultimate apart from other sports is the Spirit of the Game. Ultimate relies upon a spirit of sportsmanship which places the responsibility for fair play on the player. Highly competitive play is encouraged, but never at the expense of mutual respect among players, adherence to the agreed upon rules or the basic joy of play. Because spirit is emphasized above all else, it is assumed that players will not intentionally violate the rules, and there is no provision for penalties when a foul occurs. This means there is no need for referees. Players call their own fouls and play resumes in a manner that simulates what would likely have taken place had there been no infraction.
It was the emphasis on Spirit of the Game that drew me to Ultimate and it is that aspect that makes it so unique. Unlike any other sport Ultimate demands and achieves a level of camaraderie among players that is simply not present in other sports. I have seen players return game winning points because they “knew they were out”, even though it would have been advantageous to claim otherwise. Sunday I stood by on the sidelines with the other coaches, players and spectators while the 14 players on the field spent nearly 5 minutes discussing a very controversial call in an effort to determine who had the best perspective and therefore could make the right call. It was an amazing thing to witness and yet it happens all the time. At the end of the game each team organized a cheer for the other, thanking them for playing and congratulating them on the performance.
My school sent 3 teams to the tournament. Our A team took 5th and the B team 9th in the open division. Our girls team placed 3rd. I’m not only proud of these kids for their performance on the field but off the field as well. It almost makes the sunburn worth it.