Spartan ultimate frisbee team sees decrease in number of players

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Nikolas Liepins

ULTIMATE FRISBEES. A spartan ultimate player holds a stack of frisbees.

While in the past ultimate frisbee has been one of St. Paul Academy and Summit School’s most popular spring sports, this season the team is struggling to find enough players. Spartan ultimate is usually able to field both a boys and girls team, but as a result of many players graduating in 2021, the program is left with fewer numbers and a gender imbalance.

“This year there is the chance that there might not be a girls team,” senior and ultimate team member Pah Na said.

But hope is not lost. Ultimate is a causal and inclusive sport, and Na hopes that this culture will attract new players.

“Ultimate is super inclusive. It’s super open, and we want people who haven’t played before to join” he said.

Senior Sophie Cullen is another returning ultimate player that cherishes the positive culture of the sport and the camaraderie it facilitates. “The ultimate team in general is a very supportive space where everyone wants to see each other improve and work on their frisbee skills. The team also likes having fun scrimmaging or just throwing a frisbee around the courtyard during a free period or tutorial,” Cullen said.

It is the supportive culture that draws people to the sport, and what keeps the players so invested in growing the program. Sophomore Henry Hilton loves what he calls the “transformative ultimate experience.”

What is that? Feeling like you belong in a sport and team regardless of athletic ability or experience.

“I have a lot of friends that don’t play any sports, but do ultimate and still are accepted on the team, because there is more to the game than just running. There’s positions where you can just strategize and make the throws, which is something you can practice without being insane at the athletic part of it,” Hilton said.

The ultimate team in general is a very supportive space where everyone wants to see each other improve and work on their frisbee skills. The team also likes having fun scrimmaging or just throwing a frisbee around the courtyard during a free period or tutorial,”

— Sophie Cullen

Sophomore Amalia Laguna has found that the team is very welcoming of newcomers, and the culture of the sport makes it easy to be a novice. She was recruited by a friend to play this spring, and started going to Sunday captain’s practices because the sport sounded like fun. “Everyone is really supportive. This is my first year playing ultimate so I am still getting the basics down, but everyone is really nice,” she said.

Niceness comes in handy when the players have the responsibility of refereeing. Ultimate is unique in that it is self-officiating, meaning that players from the opposing teams work together to referee the game. “I love the teamwork involved with playing Ultimate, how intense a game can get, and also how casual it can be,” Cullen said.

Cullen is one of the seniors spearheading the effort to recruit new players this season, rebuilding the girls team after many of its members graduated. “A lot–if not the majority–of ultimate players on the teams last season were seniors so many of them left to go to college this year,” she said.

The smaller numbers have made planning for this spring season more difficult, because there is uncertainty surrounding what Spartan ultimate will look like. “The lack of girls on the team has made it difficult to determine whether there will be a girls-only team or a co-ed team,” Cullen said.

Though challenged in numbers, the team is not challenged in spirit. They are heavy on recruitment of female players this season, funneling their energy into getting a second team. “[We] are encouraging people who are not doing sports to join,” Na said. “I think that it’s gonna happen with the effort put in by senior girls.”

The cohort of senior girls consists of both veteran players, and students that decided to pick up the sport this spring. “There are five or so senior girls that have made sure to reach out to underclassmen,” Hilton said of the recruitment efforts. Spartan Ultimate is tackling this new challenge in a way that is very in sync with their culture: with spirit, camaraderie, and inclusion.

This story was updated 5/23/22 to correct a name misspelling.