SPORTSTAKE: Best sport you have never heard of
By Aaron Bowles
I’m no John Elway, Tiger Woods or Wayne Rooney. I will never wear a Super Bowl ring, a Master’s jacket or trade jerseys with Cristiano Ronaldo. But I’ve never wanted to be those people, or to do those things. I threw fits as a kid when my mom even mentioned the idea of me signing up for peewee football, or YMCA basketball teams.
I never wanted to experience the feeling of letting down teammates and coaches. I never wanted the obligatory, “You tried your best,” consolation speech from my parents on the way home. Failure was an unavoidable part of playing competitive team sports, and I wanted no part of it.
This didn’t stop me from playing pick up with my friends at recess and after school. We played just about everything you could. In the fall we played baseball and football, in the winter we filed into the gym and played basketball, and in spring we made makeshift goals for soccer. We did it all – and I was good at all of them too. But the idea of taking these fun games and turning them into something more made me sick to my stomach.
After several years of avoiding any and all sign-ups for sports teams from the school or outside organizations, something changed. I started playing Ultimate Frisbee.
I felt the thrill of yanking a disc out of the air over a crowd of other players in the end zone and spiking it. I felt the disappointment of laying out completely horizontally to block a disc and missing completely, and the drive to make sure I got it the next time. I played two-day tournaments in 103 degree heat in Texas. I played in freezing conditions with 35 mile per hour winds. I even had my ankle x-rayed twice for an ankle sprain that was so bad my doctor refused to believe that my leg was not broken.
All these experiences made me realize how much more there was to sports than failing. Ultimate gave me something to constantly strive to do better at. It made me set goals, even at the risk of not ever reaching them.
During the past three years, I have played for the club team at the University of Nebraska, and am currently the Vice President. During that time, I have devoted two days a week to practices, I have spent whole weekends driving from Lincoln to Fayetteville, Columbus, Manhattan, and St. Louis for tournaments. Every spring break since college started has been spent with the team in Savannah, Georgia, and my summers have been spent playing in different area summer leagues. I live and breathe Ultimate. But when I try to tell people that I’m an Ultimate player, most of them don’t see me as an athlete, because people don’t think of it as a sport.
Ultimate’s reputation is that it’s just some activity hippies do to pass time in college, but since 2009, it’s one of the only team sports in the nation to have double-digit percentage increases in participation. Just last year, USA Ultimate, the national governing body of Ultimate in America, recorded 34,894 members.
This year two professional leagues started in the US, the American Ultimate Disc League and Major League Ultimate, and Brodie Smith, a two time college champion and current club champion, became the first player to support himself financially completely off of Ultimate. Even ESPN has added to the legitimacy of Ultimate as a sport after Smith and other players made several appearances on the sports network’s Top 10 plays. Just like many other sports fans, I host and attending watching parties for live streams of college championships, and take screen shots of one of my former teammates playing professionally.
Maybe I’m missing something, but to me, all these signs point to Ultimate being a sport just as much as football and basketball, and I think it’s time the country started to take notice.