In a college town where flying discs outnumber footballs, the Goshen Ultimate Summer League has provided opportunities for student and community players alike to stay active.Ultimate Frisbee is a popular sport on Goshen College’s campus, and pick-up games are often organized on the KMY lawn. However, the college doesn’t have an official team, so students who want more structure turn to local leagues. For a $40 registration fee, players receive a shirt, a disc and a chance to play Ultimate all summer. Students are even eligible for a discounted registration fee of $35.
Seth Unruh, a desktop architecture specialist at GC and six-year member of the league, said, “I enjoy the league because it gives me a way to be active during the week and it helps me improve my skills as an Ultimate player. It is also a great way of meeting new people in the community and reconnecting with old friends you have met in the league before.”
Elizabeth Franks-North, a senior, participated in the Goshen league this past summer. “Being in the league is pretty simple,” she said. “You show up every Tuesday at 6 p.m. and play Ultimate until the sun goes down.”
The Goshen league hosts skills clinics, pick up games and tournaments, and emphasizes participation and high standards of sportsmanship. The top three guidelines listed on the league’s website are 1: “Don’t be a jerk”; 2: “Everyone participates”; and 3: “Those with more experience teach those with less.”
Franks-North said that this approach to play is what makes the league so appealing. “The organization of the game is what separates it from pick-up,” she said. “You run plays and learn how to organize your team offensively and defensively. You get all of the play time plus lessons from experienced, impressive players.”
Ultimate is a sport on the rise, and not just on college campuses. North America currently has two professional Ultimate leagues: Major League Ultimate and the American Ultimate Disc League.
On an even bigger stage, the World Flying Disc Federation, which includes Ultimate Frisbee, Disc Golf and Freestyle, was recognized this August by the International Olympic Committee, meaning that Ultimate is one step closer to being an Olympic sport.
Jason Yoder, a 2008 graduate of GC, currently plays for the Indianapolis AlleyCats, a professional Ultimate team that is part of the American Ultimate Disc League. He first started playing Ultimate regularly in Goshen College pick-up games, and has coached college teams in Indianapolis along with playing himself.
“Ultimate has always just clicked with me,” Yoder said. “I initially was hooked by it from running down a disc that was way out in front of me, but as it slowed down and floated softly to the ground I was able to dive, fully laying out to grab it an inch off the ground.”
This high level of athleticism is one of the things that appeals to Yoder about the sport. “When I see an athlete on a highlight reel make a diving catch or block in baseball or football I don’t think of it as anything special, because you will see those types of plays happen on a regular basis in Ultimate,” he said. “[They happen] in every single game, when you play at a high level.”
Yoder expects to see Ultimate in the Olympics in the next five or 10 years. “The factor that there is a mixed-gender division makes it unique among sports,” he said. “Additionally, the self-refereed format may give it an advantage in terms of sportsmanship over some of the other sports competing for an Olympic appearance.”
Here in Goshen, league players take the game seriously but are also there to have fun and get to know their community. One week during the summer was designated “dress up night,” and players showed up in costumes from ninja turtles to pirates.
Unruh said, “There is nothing more distracting than having Gandalf the Grey with his wizard staff trying to hand-block you as you are throwing the disc.”
This May the Goshen league hosted a women’s clinic in order to welcome more women to the game.
For Franks-North, this connection with women in sports was a big part of her experience. “These women were throwing the meanest forehands and defending men twice their size,” she said. “Until then I had never personally experienced the strength of a solid female Ultimate player. It was incredibly empowering.”
The attitude about Ultimate is clear from the Official Rules of Ultimate, which has a section called “Spirit of the Game”: “Highly competitive play is encouraged, but never at the expense of mutual respect among competitors, adherence to the agreed upon rules, or the basic joy of play.”
There is an unbelievable amount of devotion and love that just exudes during these games from these players,” Franks-North said.