Fast-growing fringe sport is all about fun and fairness
Wreckhouse captain Paolo Mascarin (left), looks up the line as the Union defensemen forces him forehand on the sideline during play at the 2012 Toronto Ultimate Festival. The sport is growing rapidly in Newfoundland and Labrador with three leagues, accommodating more than 500 players, operating in the metro region. — Photo by Ben Leung
It wasn’t quite as dramatic a revelation as Newton’s apple, but Greer Hunt Jr.’s first contact with a frisbee five years ago sparked an interest in the game of Ultimate which has grown into a passion.
“I was running track and field five years ago in New Brunswick, where I was attending high school, and I got hit with a disc (frisbee),” explained Hunt.
“I threw it back, but later I went over to chat with the people tossing it around to see what it was all about.
“I’d seen it played before and was always fascinated by a self-refereed sport, the floating disc and ease in which the game is played,” said Hunt who is from Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s.
The fun sport is catching on with male and females of all ages in this province.
However, despite the sport’s growth among male and females, Hunt admits Ultimate’s biggest problem is its “legitimacy” within the sports community.
“Since it’s a self-refereed sport, the general population doesn’t take it seriously,” says Hunt, who also said many people perceive it as a sport “played by hippies.”
However, there are signs of change which can only help the sport’s development.
He said the sport is bringing in the role of “observers, who act as referees and will make the call and have authority over the players.”
There are no penalties or man advantages in ultimate. If a foul is called, play is usually stopped and the disc is reset to its last position before the foul was called.
“So basically,” said Hunt, “anytime something happens that is against the rules, the disc gets reset to the play before. Now don’t get me wrong, if you so much as glance at the UPA edition 11 rulebook you will see its complexity in rules.”
That being said, Hunt notes, “one major problem in Ultimate is people not knowing all the rules.
“Therefore, he said, “since every player is equal in power, arguments break out in games because people see the rules differently and will contest certain calls or fouls.
“Once these observers get more and more involved in the Ultimate scene, I hope society sees the legitimacy of this vigorous sport and the athletes that play it,” he said.
Ultimate is a mixed, seven-aside sport where the players (four males, three females) combine to move the disc towards the opposing end zone.
There is lots of styles and variations of the game but the competitive leagues around the world abide by the Ultimate Players Association (UPA) rulebook. UPA is a huge association in the U.S. that is the mainstream for ultimate. They also have a league there called the American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL) that has games weekly for sale to watch online live.
Hunt, 20, plays on a team called Wreckhouse which has a base of about 30 players and participates in four or five mainland tournaments a year.
A provincial all-star team, Wreckhouse has competed in tournaments in Halifax, Toronto and Montreal. The national championship is in Victoria, B.C. in August.
“We try our best to lay out our schedule in the beginning of the year for players to start booking flights but things always change. Eastern Canada flights range from $300 to $600 round-trip where anything further is above and beyond that.
“We all hotwire hotels together and designate drivers to rent cars to minimize costs as a team. Hotels and cars we usually add up all the costs then spilt them equally amongst one another. Food and other costs are just personal. Usually each trip costs anywhere from $1,000-1,300.”
UltimateNL (UNL) host three to four tournaments a year.
“There are also individuals who will travel to places like Maine to play in tournaments as pick-up players and just join another travelling team from the Maritimes or a local team,” said Hunt.
While Hunt was impressed with the flow and grace of the game, he said he was most intrigued by the skill involved with the sport.
“I was amazed at what these people could do with the disc. It wasn’t just being tossed back and forth like you would see on a beach. It was the ability to curve the disc around defenders and the timing to throw the disc to a player sprinting his route and catching the disc in perfect stride with the defender just inches behind.
Hunt who grew up playing hockey like most Canadian youngsters, said he “fell in love” with Ultimate and “completely changed my exercise routine to Ultimate specific drills that would help me with sprinting, cutting, jumping, catching, timing and of course throwing,” said Hunt who now plays three or four times a week.
See SPORT, page B2
When Hunt came back to St. John’s for his last year of high school he made a point to get involved in the local Ultimate scene and he eventually wound up practising with Wreckhouse.
A vice president of UNL in 2011, Hunt says the sport is “more intense than people think,” and there are times that it’s simply exhilarating.
“When you lunge out and beat your defender and launch the disc with a perfect spiral for an 80-yarder it feels absolutely amazing.
“And, at the end of the game with the battle is over and the game is won or lost, both teams still gather and laugh and cheer and play some silly game to get everyone’s spirits up. That’s what people love about Ultimate.”
The provincial Wreckhouse team scrimmages Thursdays from 6-8 at the Mundy Pond soccer field and Saturdays from 6-8 at the same place.
The teams play outdoors as much as possible, but when the weather’s really bad they’ll switch to a gym.
The MZU (Mile Zero Ultimate) winter league is played at the Techniplex artificial turf facility. Wreckhouse practices there or at the Powerplex. the players also train at the Swilers Rugby Complex twice a week for strength and conditioning.
REASONS TO PLAY
• Open to all, there is a spot for anyone
• Mix of social and competitive atmosphere
• Very accessible. You can sign up as individuals or pairs
• Mixed/women/men, whatever style you prefer
• The game is built on sportsmanship and spirit of the game
• International sport. Opportunity to play nationally and internationally
• Financially cheap to play. No gear required
• Appeal to diverse groups — kids/families/professionals etc.
• Easy to organize a game — mostly due to self-refereeing.
• UltimateNL (UNL) runs many youth clinics and is trying to create a youth ultimate league as there is lots of potential within the schools
• A lot of the players on wreckhouse volunteer to coach junior/high schools and mentor a team
• Current president of the UNL is Patrick Snow, the assistant captain on Wreckhouse
• United States player Brodie Smith went viral on youtube for his Ultimate trick shots and his playing ability. See one of his links here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ObbpNCX9BkA
• Wreckhouse brought in an Ultimate coach/personal fitness trainer Tim Morrill for clinics. Tim Morrill Performance - http://strengthandconditioningfitness.com/.He continuously posts updates on facebook and youtube and is getting lots of recognition across North America. (Wreckhouse was the first Canadian team he coached)
• Wreckhouse has an Facebook page.
• The local league is broken down as follows. UltimateNL acts as a governing body to three leagues: Mile Zero Ultimate - MZU - (Mixed) milezeroultimate.com; St. John’s Women Recreational League - SWURL (Women) – www.swurl.ca.; Mens Avalon Ultimate League - MAUL (Men) www.maul.ca.
• MZU has over 500 players, seven tiers of play from competitive to social and has summer/fall/winter leagues. All 19-plus. Games are played Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. It was established eight years ago.
• SWURL has 80-plus players, women only, 7v7 or 5v5, social and competitive tiers, Spring/Summer leagues, 18+. Games are played Sunday evenings. It was established in 2011.
• MAUL has 60-plus players, men only, 7v7, competitive league, summer/fall league, 17-plus. It was established in 2011
• Wreckhouse captain Paolo Mascarin’s forehand (flick) throw was captured by a radar gun at 84 km/h.
RULES OF THE GAME
• The Field: A rectangular shape with end zones at each end. A regulation field is 70 yards by 40 yards, with end zones 25 yards deep.
• Initiate Play: Each point begins with both teams lining up on the front of their respective end zone line. The defense throws ("pulls") the disc to the offense. A regulation game has seven players per team.
• Scoring: Each time the offense completes a pass in the defense's end zone, the offense scores a point. Play is initiated after each score.
• Movement of the Disc: The disc may be advanced in any direction by completing a pass to a teammate. Players may not run with the disc. The person with the disc ("thrower") has ten seconds to throw the disc. The defender guarding the thrower ("marker") counts out the stall count.
• Change of Possession: When a pass is not completed (e.g. out of bounds, drop, block, interception), the defense immediately takes possession of the disc and becomes the offense.
• Substitutions: Players not in the game may replace players in the game after a score and during an injury timeout.
• Non-contact: No physical contact is allowed between players. Picks and screens are also prohibited. A foul occurs when contact is made.
• Fouls: When a player initiates contact on another player a foul occurs. When a foul disrupts possession, the play resumes as if the possession was retained. If the player committing the foul disagrees with the foul call, the play is redone.
• Self-Officiating: Players are responsible for their own foul and line calls. Players resolve their own disputes.
• Spirit of the Game: Ultimate stresses sportsmanship and fair play. Competitive play is encouraged, but never at the expense of respect between players, adherence to the rules, and the basic joy of play.