Showing spirit: Ultimate Frisbee team takes field at East RidgeEast Ridge seniors David Mach, Erik Jorgensen, Andy Phan and Curtis Johnson, decided to put together an Ultimate Frisbee team this spring in order to make a mark during their final months of high school and to spread the spirit of the game.
By: Patrick Johnson, Sports Editor, South Washington County Bulletin
With graduation on the horizon, East Ridge senior David Mach wanted to try something different.
Mach, along with fellow seniors Erik Jorgensen, Andy Phan and Curtis Johnson, decided to put together an Ultimate Frisbee team this spring. The foursome gathered 15 other students, a few coaches and formed the Neon Cobras – a competitive Ultimate team based at East Ridge – in order to make a mark during their final months of high school and to spread the spirit of the game.
“This year is all about getting the interest out there,” Mach said. “I think the people on the squad are learning how much fun Ultimate is and how you can play it more than just a pick-up squad. Hopefully, they can start programs or join programs when they go onto college too.”
According to USA Ultimate – the National Governing Body for the sport of Ultimate in the United States - Ultimate combines the non-stop movement and athletic endurance of soccer with the aerial passing skills of football.
“You run constantly. Holy cow, do you have to run,” Neon Cobras co-head coach Matt Wait said. “There’s still a concept out there that Ultimate isn’t a real sport, but we just played a team that played with three different, distinct defenses and multiple offenses. It’s definitely a real sport.”
A game of Ultimate is played by two seven-player squads with a plastic disc on a field similar to football. The object of the game is to score by catching a pass in the opponent’s end zone. While in possession of the disk, a player must stop running, but may pivot and pass to any of the other receivers on the field.
Ultimate is a transition game. Players move quickly from offense to defense on turnovers that occur with a dropped pass, an interception, a pass out of bounds, or when a player is caught holding the disc for more than ten seconds. Ultimate is governed by spirit of the game, a tradition of sportsmanship that places the responsibility for fair play on the players rather than referees.
“The game is completely self-officiated,” Wait said. “The students seem to know the rules even better than I do, because they’re responsible to call fouls and those things. It’s part of the game to play fairly. It’s unlike any sport that I’ve played. They have more responsibility on the field. I expect them to know all the rules and be in charge of each other. But, at the same time, if I yell out something from the sidelines they better do it.”
The Spirit of the Game is “item B” in the Official Rules of Ultimate handbook and is a crucial aspect of the sport. The Spirit of the Game is not only about calling fouls, but also encompasses honor, sportsmanship, respect and graciousness. Part of the rule states, “Actions as taunting opposing players, dangerous aggression, belligerent intimidation, intentional infractions, or other ‘win-at-all-costs’ behavior are contrary to the Spirit of the Game and must be avoided by all players.”
Both Mach and Wait said the Spirit of the Game is a reason Ultimate is gaining popularity.
“I really like how Ultimate is a competitive sport, but that there’s no officials in the game,” Mach said. “It’s a player-regulated sport that develops a really good spirit between both teams playing each other. It’s a great overall environment.”
According to USA Ultimate, the sport was created in the summer of 1968, when the founders experimented with rules while playing with a Frisbee at Columbia High School in New Jersey. Ultimate expanded to colleges around the northeast and around the country and gained enough popularity where unofficial National Championships were held in the mid to late 70s. Eventually the Ultimate Players Association (UPA) was formed in 1979 to govern the sport of Ultimate in the United States. Since then, the UPA has grown by leaps and bounds, introducing College, Womens, Mixed, Masters, and Youth divisions, and becoming one of the fastest growing sports in the U.S. By the end of 2009, the UPA had grown to over 30,000 members. In late May, 2010, the organization transitioned from the Ultimate Players Association into USA Ultimate.
Currently, Ultimate is played in more than 42 countries by hundreds of thousands of men and women, girls and boys. Ultimate is big on college campuses, where it has club status and teams vie for a national championship.”
“It’s starting to grow,” Wait, 25, has been playing Ultimate since he was a freshman in high school – roughly 10 years in all. “It’s my hope that the schools we’re at will pick it up as a varsity sport and support it. Part of that means we need more players. I’m still trying to figure out why the kids like it so much, because they’ve quit playing other sports they’re good at in order to play Ultimate. I think it comes down to the Spirit of the Game.”
The Neon Cobras practice three times a week at East Ridge High School and play games each Thursday against other metro schools in the Minnesota High School Ultimate League. The league is made up of over 70 teams and broken up into a Girls Division and an Open (Co-ed) Division.
Wait co-coaches the Neon Cobras with Jeff Linert, 48, who is a chemist at 3M. Also assisting the team is East Ridge English teacher Adam Hayes. There are two females on the team and a majority of players are from East Ridge. Mach is a team co-captain along with Jorgensen.
“We put a lot of work into creating the team,” Mach said. “It’s a big honor to be captain. It’s not something I take lightly. I feel responsible for my guys and I just go out there and give it my all. It’s been a lot of work, but it’s definitely been worth it.”
The Neon Cobras are currently 2-1 on the year with wins over Hastings Open A team (15-9) and Roseville’s Open B team (15-1) and a close loss to White Bear Lake’s Open A team (16-14).
“I think it’s great that as a first-year team, not having any league experience and competing well,” Mach said. “I think it was a great boost to start the season out that well.”
Though the team is new, Wait said the Neon Cobras have two defenses, one offense and a number of structured plays. He said it’s been fun to see the kids take the reins of the program.
“They have ownership over the team. It’s something they’ve allowed me to be a part of, but it’s definitely their team,” Wait said. “They shock me to no end. During practice, one of the players said we needed to do more drills and conditioning. They actually wanted me to make them sprint. They really want to get better and be a competitive team, but at the same time they want to make sure that everyone plays.”
Teams in the Minnesota High School Ultimate League play the regular season in order to get a high seed in the state tournament, which is held in June at the National Sports Center in Blaine. However, the Neon Cobras can’t play in the state tournament, unfortunately, because it’s the same day as East Ridge’s graduation.
Because of that, Wait is focusing on the big picture.
“My goal is to get the kids to know multiple offenses and defenses and all the jargon, so when they go to college they can be competitive players and know what they’re doing,” he said.
Mach is heading to the University of Minnesota-Duluth in the fall and plans on playing Ultimate in college. But, for now, he’s focused on enjoying the current season and the last few weeks of high school.
“To finish my high school career playing Ultimate is definitely something I won’t look back on as a regret, but rather as something I was glad I did,” Mach said. “I’ve really enjoyed it.”