Martinsville, Virginia


Ultimate Frisbee 101

Kathy Haapala

Ultimate Frisbee has recently become a very popular sport at the Smith River Sports Complex. If you have not had the opportunity to check it out yet, two tournaments are coming up in the next few weeks. The Commonwealth Cup Ultimate Frisbee tournament will be held on February 15th - 16th and the Eastern's Qualifier - Men's College Club tournament will be on February 22nd - 23rd. Since the sport of Ultimate Frisbee is relatively new to our area, we asked guest blogger Kathy Haapala who is Captain of the University of Rochester team, to tell us more about it. Kathy and her teammates travel nearly 10 hours one-way to come participate in the Commonwealth Cup tournament in Martinsville each year.

Hundreds of men and women college Ultimate Frisbee players from the eastern United States are looking forward to attending the Commonwealth Cup and the Eastern's Qualifier tournaments this February at the Smith River Sports Complex. While Ultimate Frisbee is often confused for Disc Golf or an event largely centralized around dogs' disc catching skills, it is actually a fast paced 7v7 game played on fields slightly smaller than soccer fields. Ultimate contains some aspects of football (teams attempt to score in end zones), soccer (offense and defense can change instantly), and basketball (one-on-one defense).

Games begin with a “pull,” which is analogous to a kickoff in football; each team begins on opposite end zones, and one team, decided by the captains before the game, pulls the disc to the other. The team with the disc is now on offense, and by throwing the disc from teammate to teammate, they have the goal of catching the disc in their end zone, with a few main rules—no one can run with the disc, the disc must be thrown from player to player, and contact is not allowed. If the disc is dropped or intercepted, the offense and defense switch, and the other team now has the chance to score. When a team scores in the end zone, they are rewarded 1 point. Games are usually played to 15 points but can be capped if there is not enough time.       

Ultimate Frisbee

One thing that makes Ultimate stand out from other sports is its self-officiation.  That's right—there are no referees on the field. Players are responsible for knowing the rules and making their own calls. When a call is made, play is stopped, and opposing team members get a chance to discuss whether they agree or disagree with the call. Depending on their opinion, the disc could stay where it was when play stopped, or it might go back to the previous thrower for a do over. Since no one enjoys competing against individuals who cheat or exploit the rules, Ultimate players stand by an unwritten agreement to play with “Spirit of the Game.”

Ultimate Frisbee is growing incredibly fast. Players of all ages, some even lucky enough to start playing in middle school, are able to play at local as well as national levels. What draws people to Ultimate, and what makes it so hard to quit, is that the game gives players the chance to be competitive by using a combination of intelligence, skills, and athleticism. Personally, the intelligence part of it got my attention—I loved that I could win match ups simply by being smarter than my opponent. As I played at more competitive levels, I soon realized that was not enough, and if I put in time outside of practice to improve my throws, get faster, or get stronger, I could compete at higher levels. Other individuals start with different strengths—in contrast to my beginning, several players begin with phenomenal disc skills or athleticism. However, Ultimate teams are incredibly supportive for all types, so it's not hard to fall in love with your team as well as the sport, and all of the hard work becomes completely worth it. 

Both the Commonwealth Cup and Eastern's Qualifier promise to be exciting tournaments and important components of the college Ultimate season. Commonwealth Cup will be run by Without Limits, an organization dedicated to improving growth in women's Ultimate, and the tournament is a part of the effort to bring higher level women's tournaments to the eastern U.S. The Eastern's Qualifier draws up-and-coming men's teams from the east; teams will be competing for the chance to play at Eastern's, an elite tournament held in March attended by the best teams in the nation.

Thank you Martinsville and the Smith River Sports Complex for giving us a chance to compete and play Ultimate! I hope to see you at the tournaments!