Ultimate – Oshawa, ON

As I embark back into the world of full-time employment, combined with a dash of 3+ hours/day of commuting, I’ve had to reach back into the archives. I’ve looked through my old collection of video, and realized there are a number of sports that I’ve played and video taped, yet – for one reason or another – failed to report on. I am calling this the Things I Tried This Year and Forgot About Till Today Series – or TITTY FATT for short.

First on our list is Ultimate, aka Ultimate Frisbee, an addictive game that seems to hook newcomers like myself.  In my case this has led to me joining three separate leagues to ensure that I am playing year round.

I first encountered Ultimate in highschool gym class. I had mixed feelings after catching a nasty backhand follow-through across the chin.

Fast forward a decade and I get this email from my old phys-ed teacher:

Hi Jamie,

Heard you guys were so bad at hockey you couldn’t even win an old man tournament this weekend! Just don’t tell the guys you play against that you all went to Austin, it would give us a bad name.

The real reason I am contacting you is to see if you play Ultimate. I figured a guy who runs like you and spent time out West would play for sure. I play on a team made up mostly of teachers and we have done very well in the past, but we lost 2 of our best players for this season. Let me know if you are interested in playing.

And so the expectation was set that I could help replace two of the best players on a very good team, and the potential for disappointment was sky-high.

What this teacher was unaware of was that I in fact had not spent any time playing Ultimate, out west or out east. This was a shame, as it turns out I like the sport very much.

Our league is a co-ed, 7-on-7 set-up. The goal is to gain points by catching the disc in your opponent’s endzone. It’s a fast action, continuous game – you can’t run when you’re holding the disc, when you catch it you have ten-second to throw it, and if a pass isn’t completed it’s a turn-over and the other team picks up the disc and heads back up the field on offense.

Also of note is that calling it “Frisbee” instead of ultimate is akin to calling facial tissue “Kleenex” – you’re giving props to a specific brand rather than the proper name for the item. Some people frown upon this. I tend not to care because if I ask for a Kleenex and you start to argue with me you’re just going to get sneezed on.

It’s an amazing workout – quite akin to the cardio you’d pick up playing soccer. The outdoor games go an hour-and-a-half, so depending how many subs you have (ranging from none to about 8), you can get pretty sweaty.

There are two standout features that make ultimate different from any other sport I’ve played:

The Disc: An object based game that doesn’t use a ball. It’s actually incredibly novel. (After discussing this with family and friends it took me about two hours to realize hockey also fits the bill). Playing with a disc allows for so many unique throws and catches that could never be accomplished with a ball. You have to watch some of the game’s best to truly appreciate it, but throws that can hover, curve, rise or fall give the thrower (fittingly known as the handler) a huge array of options.

Similarly, it takes some time as a receiver to adapt to reading a flying disc and figuring out where it’s going. My track background has paid off numerous times when I’ve been on one side of the field and a throw has missed it’s target somewhere else, but hovered in the air long enough to allow me to get close enough to make a catch. A similar number of times my inexperience has made me look quite the fool as I sprint off in one direction and the disc curves off in the other.

The “Spirit of Game”: This summer I played in three leagues – Hockey, Slo-pitch, and Ultimate. These leagues were entirely populated with people who had full-time jobs outside of their recreational sports. Literally everyone I played against had to go to work the next morning, or at least look for jobs (promise I’ll be out of the basement soon mom).

The one big difference among the sports was that slo-pitch and hockey had referees while Ultimate had just the “Spirit of the Game” governing our actions. Accordingly, every week in hockey and slo-pitch, some chump would go off and try and start a fight over a close call (or in many cases a clearly correct call). Obviously, not being able to stretch that single into a double in men’s league Tuesday night slo-pitch was going to ruin this guys week.

There was one particular situation in slo-pitch where an outfielder sort-of caught a ball as it hit the ground. He raised his glove in the air to signal a good catch, the ump agreed, and the out was called. After the game a teammate of mine, One-Eye’d Willy, asked this opposing player if he actually caught the ball, and he smiled and said “of course not.”

This brings me to the beauty of the “Spirit of the Game”. There were perhaps five disputed calls all summer in Ultimate, and the worst result was that the play was repeated from the last throw. I also never noticed anyone lying about a catch, and in fact saw many instances where someone could have claimed to have made a play, but opted instead for modesty. Observing this odd sportsmanship, it occurred to me that it had nothing to do with the sport itself. If I go and play hockey or baseball with a bunch of friends, or even non-friends, we’d almost never have a disputed call, and certainly no one would lose their cool over a close play.

My theory goes that putting a man in stripes out there for people to deceive, lie to, and yell at, encourages people to be deceitful, loud, liars when they’d otherwise just enjoy the spirit of competition and exercise. Or maybe all the guys in my baseball and hockey leagues are just jerks. Either way, Ultimate – the sport that’s name literally translate into “incredible, the best, far out, and the craziest” – is great, and you should try it.