Knute Rockne, regarded as one of the greatest coaches in college football history, once said “one man practicing sportsmanship is far better than 50 preaching it.”
In most sports athletes often become upset when a foul is not called on the opposing team, yet they rarely complain when the roles are reversed. Ultimate frisbee is not most sports. Oklahoma Christian University recently began an ultimate frisbee team, and Evan Card, freshman cutter (receiver) and handler (thrower) explained the unique rules of ultimate.
“There’s no real refs. It’s self-officiated,” Card said. “We make our own calls on the field and if a call is made, we can stop and talk it out. Most of the time it’s resolved peacefully, you shake hands and you’re back into it.”
Despite the possibility of abuse, the sport was made this way on purpose.
“The rules were designed that way. You can abuse it, but now there’s video cameras,” Head Coach Garrett Taylor said. “So, if somebody is caught abusing the rules and it gets put out into one of the social media outlets, it’s going to get blown up.”
These rules cultivate a community which draws many people to the sport.
“The community and the competitiveness, that’s why I traveled over the ocean (from the Netherlands),” Kevin Van Roosmalen said. “To play in the U.S., to seek a higher level of ultimate and become a better player as well.”
Sportsmanship is encouraged and embodied by every player competing.
“They have college mixed (teams) mixed being coed, both men and women playing on the field at the same time,” Taylor said. “Other than maybe tennis at times, I don’t think any other sport really has something like that.”
Ultimate teams are often mixed even at the international level.
“It’s also going to be in the Olympics 2022 or 2028 in LA,” Captain Elliot Moore said. “The sport having a large emphasis on coed is very attractive to the Olympic committee.”
General athleticism is always important in sports, but experience takes priority for ultimate.
“Then you have some idea of what to do, where you need to be and that only comes with playing the game,” Taylor said. “I would almost say that (experience) goes farther in ultimate than in other sports.”
Zachary Payne’s story of how he was recruited reflects the need for experience.
“I just played a little bit at church camps and stuff like that. (Then) one of the guys last year told me to just come out and play pick up with the team,” Payne said. “I really enjoyed it and the coach ended up recruiting me.”
Experience is attractive to a recruiter for any sport, but there may be another reason it matters so much in ultimate.
“[It’s] probably because of how inexperienced and new ultimate is as a sport,” Moore said. “People are still figuring out new techniques and strategies.”
According to usaultimate.org, “The sport was created in 1968 by students at Columbia High School in Maplewood, NJ and is now played worldwide across three primary disciplines – grass, beach and indoor.”
Ultimate’s youth as a sport may explain why it is not included in the NCAA. While its newness may seem to be a disadvantage, it also has benefits.
“As a coach and recruiter, I don’t really have to worry about any sort of NCAA violations,” Taylor said.
Ultimate operates within divisions at the collegiate level which are determined by a school’s student population. Division III is below 7,500, anything above is Division I.
“(Being in Division III) doesn’t mean you won’t play Division I, but those matches may or may not affect your ranking,” Taylor said. “But when the postseason starts, hopefully we’ll have a sectionals, regionals and nationals that’s all Division III.”
Ultimate competitions are typically done in a tournament style, although scrimmages and other single-game events do occur. Tournament formats vary, but teams commonly play round robin with a smaller group to establish a team’s seed for an elimination tournament the following day.
Four to five tournaments are played each season with six to eight matches per tournament. The Oklahoma Christian ultimate team recently played a tournament in Dallas and took third place.
“In the fall we started with seven people on the team. Now we have 15 that are official and we’re probably going to have 17, 18 or 19 in the fall,” Taylor said. “We’re going to be good in the fall. Very, very good in the fall.”