Ultimate Gets Serious | 18 & Under July 2012

On Memorial Day weekend, Lyndon Institute’s expansive grass soccer fields were transformed into a canvas of brightly colored shirts and flying discs, livened even further by the sounds of cheering and songs. Twenty-three high school ultimate Frisbee teams—hailing from the southernmost corners of the state to the Northeast Kingdom—gathered to compete in the Vermont State Championships.

Ultimate Frisbee has always had a special place in the heart of Vermonters, but on the high school level, it is quickly transforming from a barefoot summertime hobby to an extremely competitive sport; one that is characterized by strategy and athleticism. This year, 17 open teams and five women’s teams came to play in the tournament. This number is impressive, considering only six teams total competed just four years ago.

John McKinnon, the tournament director and coach for Lyndon Institute, explained why he thinks ultimate has become so much more competitive: “More and more good club players are getting older and having families. Now that they don’t have as much time to play club disc, they are coaching the next generation of ultimate players.” Said McKinnon, “Now when a kid leaves for college, they already have the throws and mechanics of the game down, along with an understanding of strategy.”

Although Vermont ultimate has grown exponentially in size and competition, the defining characteristic of the sport—the spirit of the game—remains intact and integral. For instance, players are their own referees in ultimate.

“Often kids will even call fouls on themselves,” says McKinnon. “There may be tension on the field, but after the game everyone is hanging out together.” This attitude of camaraderie among players permeated the state tournament. Teams wrote songs for each other, played games, and hugged after the matches. One player from Compass School in Westminster told me, “I love the silliness of the game. The other day I wore a cape.”

Anne Watson, a coach for Montpelier High School and a board member for the Green Mountain Disc Alliance, said, “Anytime we play out of state, the comment that Vermont teams always get is that we are very spirited.” After each game, players rate the other team for their sportsmanship and enthusiasm. The team that has the highest ratings wins one of the most sought after titles of the tournament: the spirit award.

St. Johnsbury Academy ended up winning the open division of this year’s state tournament in an exciting match against Bellows Free Academy in Fairfax. “Our team has really progressed over the past few years,” said Julian Grant, captain of St. Johnsbury’s varsity team. “We have learned how to work together really well.”

It was apparent in all of the top-level games that teams had spent a great amount of the season training hard together. In the women’s division, a long but exciting game determined St. Johnsbury as the champions over BFA Fairfax once again.

Coaches and players seem optimistic about the future of Vermont high school ultimate. “Ultimate provides a positive environment for teens to take risks that are safe but exciting,” Watson said. “It is striking to see the negative attitude in other sports. Kids like being in this environment better.”

“After these past few years, I am really interested to see where high school ultimate will go in the future,” said McKinnon. “I have no idea what it will be like.”

Gabe Allen

Gabe Allen, 17, lives in Montpelier, and is contributing to 18 & Under as part of a Community-Based Learning Program. He enjoys playing music, rock climbing, hiking, Nordic skiing, and living outdoors as much as possible.