Feature Article - October 2009
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At the Forefront of Fun

Up-and-Coming Sports to Expand Your Offerings

By Jessica Royer Ocken


Ultimate Frisbee

What is it? Those in the know refer to this sport simply as "ultimate," and according to the SGMA, participation in this fast-moving, running and passing game for seven-player teams was up more than 20 percent in 2008. Ultimate combines elements of soccer and football, but trades a ball for a plastic disc. Play is governed by the players themselves, not referees, and breaking the rules as a strategic move is frowned upon. This code is known as the "Spirit of the Game," and if the two teams can't agree, the most common result is a do-over of the play in question.

Who will love it? Ultimate is usually played outdoors and is enjoyed by both adults (men and women) and kids. Soccer players may be good candidates to make the transition to ultimate—and they can use their cleats! Many co-ed adult leagues, particularly those just getting started, are "hat" leagues, which allow individuals to register rather than requiring a team to join together, so playing ultimate can be a great way to meet new people and mingle…while sweating quite a bit. The hat league approach works for youth players as well, and ultimate can be a great game for kids because of what it teaches about problem-solving and sportsmanship through the Spirit of the Game, noted William Bartram, executive director of DiscNW, a non-profit ultimate organization in Seattle.

Essentials for getting started? A regulation ultimate field is 40 yards wide and 120 yards long, but with a bit of modification (and by marking the boundaries with cones, rather than permanent lines), two ultimate games can be played simultaneously on a soccer field, Bartram said. Sometimes an ultimate field will fit in the outfield of a larger softball field, and a football field also works, although it's usually only wide enough for one ultimate field. Basically, the essentials are "a good section of grass, eight cones, flying discs (Frisbees) and people, who preferably are wearing cleats," Bartram said.

Story of success: Ultimate has been happening in the Puget Sound area for more than 25 years, but it became much more organized when DiscNW was founded as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 1996, Bartram explained. Today DiscNW offers leagues in all seasons of the year and for elementary school students through adults, to the tune of more than 6,000 players in 2008.

Most participants live in the greater Seattle metropolitan area, but some come from as far as Tacoma, about an hour to the south. "The Internet is our most viable communication tool," Bartram said. "Most players find us online or via word-of-mouth."

Although they've received some coverage from local and national media, this is not what brings in new players, Bartram reported. Instead, "we are starting to do more outreach to schools to attract youth players." DiscNW has contacted school principals and athletic directors and has also attended American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD) conferences to present the sport to PE teachers.

Although finding spots to practice and play can be a struggle for adult teams, many of the youth teams use schools or neighborhood parks, and DiscNW works on behalf of their teams to rent space from Seattle or other area municipal parks. "We usually mark our fields with cones—no painted lines—in order to be able to use whatever space is available," Bartram said. However, in a recent coup, "at Magnuson Park in Seattle, we did successfully partner with King County and the City of Seattle to get permanent lines for ultimate on three new synthetic turf fields."

If you think ultimate might be a hit in your area, "I'd recommend working with local ultimate organizations to determine what needs are being met, and where it would be best for parks and recreation to step in," Bartram said. "Maybe they can introduce a disc skills segment into an existing all-sports camp. If there are already a small handful of kids or adults who play, then maybe a drop-in pickup game would be good."

Resources? Visit www.discnw.org to learn more about DiscNW's leagues and how they've organized themselves, and visit the Ultimate Players Association Web site at upa.org for information on just about any ultimate topic you can think of—from rules to field setup to stats on UPA membership and ultimate participation to resources and grants available for developing the sport in your area.