Photo C/O Leah Tackaberry-Giddens
By: Aly Tkachenko
The sport of ultimate frisbee is being thrust into the spotlight and gaining recognition as a legitimate and exciting game. With growing international attention, including that of the International Olympic Committee, ultimate frisbee is quickly becoming a premier team sport at the high school, college, university and recreational levels.
Invented in 1968 by a high school student in New Jersey, ultimate frisbee combines athleticism and technical skill to create a fast-paced, intense sport with a unique community of players. Teams have seven players compete on a 110m long field, moving up and down the field by throwing a disc to each other, attempting to score points by catching the disc in the other team’s ‘endzone’. Most ultimate leagues have open (primarily men’s), women’s, and mixed divisions. Mixed is a co-ed division where teams play with an alternating 3:4 ratio of men to women.
Ultimate’s self-refereed system is one aspect that makes it unique. For this to be successful, it is necessary for players to use their own judgement to resolve conflicts on the field. This honor system, known as Spirit of the Game, requires teams to give each other feedback on several aspects of spirited playing, including positive attitude and self control, fair mindedness and communication.
Molly Kojder, former McMaster ultimate player and current coach describes the impact of Spirit of the Game, saying “it requires mental fortitude, respect for your opponents, and conflict resolution skills in all of the players on the field”.
McMaster University is a leader amongst the Ontario university ultimate clubs, recognized for strong performances on the field and an excellent social atmosphere off the field. Mac has three teams within the ultimate club, two open teams and one women’s team. The club organizers host a tournament in Hamilton each fall, Steeltown Classic, which drew 28 teams in 2018 and is recognized as an Ontario Qualifier tournament. Reflecting the progression of ultimate as a sport, the McMaster team has evolved from a small club to a well-run organization. The addition of coaches and team organizers has helped bring the Mac team up to the highly competitive level it is at now by providing players with feedback, creating strategies and streamlining practices.
In addition to their athletic achievements, the McMaster club takes pride in its inclusive atmosphere and commitment to gender equity. The sport of ultimate is known for the supportive community of players, and McMaster is ensuring this culture continues into the university circuit.
Albert Mac, captain of the men’s A-team, says “we are unique in respect to other universities as to how McMaster Ultimate is not composed of three teams, but a single club. We practice together, party together and we support each other during tournaments.”
Ultimate is a leading sport in terms of gender equity, with the mixed division being considered equally as legitimate as the open and women’s divisions. This commitment to gender equity includes the adoption of inclusive rules and guidelines, and the attitudes of most players and coaches. Though the Ontario university system does not include a mixed division, gender equity is promoted, nonetheless. During the Steeltown Classic tournament teams are encouraged to participate in a gender equity summit in which players read articles about gender in sports and are encouraged to share their personal experiences.
“We have generated so many discussions within our community and we can hope that it grows…and breaks down the male-dominance in sports,” said Mac.
Continuing into 2019, the sport continues to grow and strive for greater recognition. While the McMaster team gears up for their next season beginning in September, the World Flying Disc Federation is seeking inclusion in the 2028 summer Olympics. Many recreational ultimate leagues are in the middle of their seasons right now, as is the professional American Ultimate Disc League, which includes three Canadian teams; and the Canadian competitive touring league will be holding its national championship tournament in Brampton this August.
Here at McMaster, the intramural ultimate frisbee season begins in the fall and draws a large group of young people each year to enjoy and continue the sport of ultimate. As ultimate gains prominence, it brings its core values of sportsmanship, teamwork, and community with it to create a unique and exciting sport.