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The Boston Globe
Boston's high-flying Frisbee warriors skip sleep, social lives to gain
their own `World Series' this week
By Jan Brogan, Globe Correspondent | October 22, 2006
On 44 acres at the former Fort Devens one Sunday this month, more than
50 teams battled it out on the fields. They bore silly names like
Bashing Pi?atas, Puppet Regime, and Slow White. But do not be fooled.
This was serious competition.
The winners of this Northeast Regional tournament will qualify for the
Ultimate Players Association Club Championship next weekend in
Sarasota, Fla. In the still-evolving world of Ultimate -- that's
Frisbee to you and me -- a victory there is the closest thing to a
national title. About 10,000 athletes on 600 teams from across North
America will compete. It's ``the World Series of Ultimate," as one team
captain described it.
Boston will be well represented. In the regional tournament at Devens,
which featured teams from New England, New York, Ontario, and Quebec,
the teams from Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville dominated.
Six out of the 10 teams that qualified for the club championship in
Sarasota are Boston-based. Three of these teams placed first in their
Boston has a history of winning the sport's highest honors. Like
Seattle and the Bay area, Boston is considered a major hub for Ultimate
in the country. This is partly, organizers say, because of all the
colleges and universities in the area; partly because the local
organization aggressively promotes the sport at the youth level; and
partly, one theory goes, because the technology industry has drawn a
lot of free-spirited Ultimate types to the region.
But there's also another reason. Over the last decade, Boston has
become known as an incubator of elite teams. A number of Ultimate
players have moved to Boston or commute there simply for a chance to
play on a top team.
As Adam Sigelman, who commuted from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire
to Boston last year to play with the highly regarded Open (Men's)
division team, Death or Glory, put it: ``Success breeds success."
Skill set: endurance and speed
Ultimate, which does not use the trade name Frisbee in its official
title, was immediately popular at the Ivy League and small liberal arts
colleges so abundant in New England, after its beginnings in a New
Jersey high school parking lot three decades ago.
The sport, something of a combination of football and soccer, requires
the added skill of disk handling. Two teams of seven play in an area
about the size of a soccer field and score by catching the disk in the
last 25 yards of the field, which is known as the end zone. Players
can't run with the disk and have to stop, pivot, and pass within 10
seconds. A team loses possession of the disk if it touches the ground
or it's intercepted.
The sport requires speed, endurance, and some impressive jumping as
receivers leap into the air to catch a huck, or pass, to intercept or
Athletes on the elite Boston teams train extensively both in and out of
Brute Squad, which placed first in the Women's division at the regional
tournament this year, has worked for five years to take this top honor
away from Lady Godiva, another Boston team that is something of a
legend nationwide. (Lady Godiva has won the UPA club championship title
nine times and will compete as a wildcard team in the club
Brute Squad team members practiced every weekend at Donnelly Field in
Cambridge, and held track workouts four days a week at Tufts and MIT
during the peak season in late summer and fall. During the winter, team
members helped stay in shape by forming an informal Brute Squad
basketball team and a volley ball team that played at the Park School
``Eleven months out of the year, you're training," said Erin
Baumgartner of Somerville, a 27-year-old high school French teacher at
North Reading High School. ``It's freezing cold in January and you're
out there running, and all you're thinking about is this goal" of
winning the club championship. ``It's incredible."
On Slow White, which placed first in the Mixed (coed) division, Rosie
Ano, 24, a biomedical engineer who lives in Brighton, said that she's
not advancing as much as she could at work because she practices
Ultimate on the weekend instead of going to the office.
``When my legs run out, that's when I can do all that," she said. ``Or
get married and have a kid."
Kris Kelly, 27, of Boston, cocaptain of Slow White, works as a
financial administrator at Boston University and is pursuing a master's
degree in counseling. She acknowledged that the time commitment of the
sport can be overwhelming.
``I leave after work on Friday and don't get back home until late
Sunday night. There's no time for anything else," she said. Laundry and
other household tasks like grocery shopping must be relegated to week
nights after work.
``Once you are into it, it dominates your life," Kelly said. ``Every
single weekend, you are doing Ultimate-related things," including
practicing, strategizing, and making tournament travel plans for the
Devoting weekends to Ultimate is not as onerous as it might seem. The
friendships on Slow White go back to college and run deep. ``Not too
many of us on the team would cho o se to spend time with anyone else,"
Kelly said. ``Our best friends are on the team. We're close to each
other. Some of us live together as roommates."
In the Mixed division, there are also a lot of romantic relationships.
There are three on Slow White's 24-person roster. Ano, for example,
goes out with Jasper Hoitsma of Allston, the team's primary offensive
handler and, like Kelly, one of the original founders of the team.
``It helps to be dating someone in Ultimate," said Kelly. ``They can
understand why you are so obsessed."
A nucleus of an elite team is often formed by a group of teammates who
played together in college. Slow White was formed by mostly Boston
University Ultimate players, Death or Glory from Brown University, and
Brute Squad by players from MIT, Brown University, and the University
But the key to the development of a team is recruitment.
Players from Death or Glory, which took first place in the men's half
of the Open division at the regional tournament, coach teams at
Harvard, Tufts, and Brown University -- giving Death or Glory an early
look at new talent at the college level, said cocaptain Josh McCarthy,
who coaches at Harvard.
The team , considered a ``dy***" among elite teams nationally, won
the club championship title in the Open division six years in a row in
the mid- to late 1990s. Its high national profile gives it another
recruitment advantage: Several players come to Boston just to play on
the team, McCarthy said.
This year, two players commuted from New York City and one from
Portland, Maine. The team even has a player from Finland who is here on
a three-month visa that will expire the day after the club championship
Even Slow White, which is only in its third year of existence and
competes in the newest of the Ultimate divisions, has one player
commuting from North Carolina to help the team take the regional title.
But because of its coed status, the Mixed division is still struggling
to be taken as seriously as the Open and Women's divisions, cocaptain
Mike Miller said.
To work around what could be a disadvantage in recruitment, the team
adopted a successful strategy of going after top Ultimate players who
weren't playing on the best college teams. ``These are the really good
players who are less noticed when the top teams are recruiting," Miller
In addition to time and training, Ultimate can get expensive. To
improve, it's important to play a lot of tournaments, which are held
all over the country. Players chip in for tournament fees, their own
travel expenses, and the travel expenses of the coaches, who volunteer
Brute Squad members spent about $2,500 apiece for the season,
Sigelman, who acts as treasurer of Death or Glory, estimates it's
closer to $1,500 per player, and said that his team makes an effort to
Because Death or Glory is an older team, a few of its players are
nearing their 40s and are further along in their careers, Sigelman
said. So some of the more established team members pitch in so that
younger players can afford to play.
For a young team like Slow White, a lot of energy is focused on
Slow White team members range in age from 19 to 27, with a couple of
players still in college. ``We find people who know people and sleep on
their floors," said cocaptain Kelly. For the more important
tournaments, the team makes sure every player gets his or her own bed,
but there's a lot of sharing of bathrooms. ``Sometimes it takes two
hours for everyone to take a shower after a tournament," she said.
Although the team avoided West Coast tournaments to contain costs to
about $1,500 per person this season, Slow White players have a major
travel expense ahead of them. Because the team placed sixth at the club
championship last year, it qualified to compete in the World Ultimate
Championship in Perth, Australia, Nov. 11-18.
Despite the title, the World championship is actually not as
prestigious as the club championship in Sarasota. In part, this is
because many players, including many from Slow White, can't afford the
tab, and teams may play short handed. As cocaptain Miller put it, ``We
want to be competitive, but mostly we're going there to have fun and to
Developing young talent in the area is one of the priorities of the
Boston Ultimate Disc Alliance, the local organization that organizes
recreational leagues, according to president Geoff Doerre.
A youth sport program, headed by George Cooke, includes personal visits
to area high schools and a giveaway kit consisting of a rule book, a
disk, and eight cones -- all the equipment needed to play Ultimate. The
hope is to interest both the physical education teacher and the kids.
The alliance also provides contacts and assistance in helping organize
league play and is co hosting an Ultimate Coaches and Players
Conference Jan. 27 at Newton South High School that will include
seminars for middle school coaches trying to put together a program.
The efforts are already paying off.
Today, there are 70 New England teams in the high school league, most
of them from Massachusetts. Three years ago, there were fewer than 50,
``I can't tell you how many e-mails I get a day from 16-year-olds
asking me how to start a team."
? Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company