The ultimate sport: Ultimate Frisbee popular among students

The ultimate sport: Ultimate Frisbee popular among students

A UA student plays pickup Ultimate Frisbee on the Quad. CW | Hanna Curlette

Francie Johnson

Fiebig is one of the 60-plus UA students who plays pick-up Ultimate Frisbee on the Quad every Friday at 3 p.m. The 
tradition began years ago through the St. Francis Catholic community, but it has since grown to include a variety of 
students across campus.

“To me, this is the big show,” Fiebig said. “Especially when the tents are out, people are walking around on Gameday [weekend]. You get the jeeps rolling by with the flags and the fight song playing and people under the bells at Denny Chimes. Friday at three is the big show for 
pick-up Ultimate.”

Ultimate Frisbee, invented in 1967 by four high school students, is played by two teams with the objective of passing the Frisbee to a teammate in the opposing team’s end zone. The sport, also known simply as “Ultimate,” has a reputation for its popularity on college campuses nationwide.

College membership for USA Ultimate, America’s national governing body for Ultimate Frisbee, increased from about 10,000 in 2004 to almost 17,000 in 2013. Year after year, college students represent the largest demographic of USA Ultimate members, with youth membership coming in second last year at just over 11,000 members and adult membership coming in third at just over 9,000 members.

“Coming into college from high school, I was really excited for how much Ultimate Frisbee was in college,” Fiebig said. “It was just amazing to see how many games just happen on the Quad organically throughout the week and just also how open each and every game is. I think that’s been really cool, how big of a deal ultimate is in college culture.”

Fiebig started playing Ultimate Frisbee his junior year of high school and played on the UA men’s club Ultimate Frisbee team during his freshman and sophomore years of college. Although he said he enjoyed the high-level play and the thrill of competing against other schools, the team eventually became too much of a time commitment.

Compared to the club team, Fiebig said pick-up Ultimate provides a more relaxed and low-pressure environment for individuals just learning the game. Rather than strictly adhering to Ultimate’s official rules and regulations, the group makes adjustments as it sees fit.

“For a long time, back when I played for the club team, I really really wanted something competitive, and it was awesome,” he said. “But now it’s kind of nice to have something where if I go 0 and 3, I’m really just mad at myself. I have really good people to play against and be competitive, but it’s not quite as grueling.”

Campus ministry group The Navigators also hosts pick-up Ultimate games every Friday at 4 p.m. on the University Recreation fields. The tradition, known as “Frisbee Friday,” attracts anywhere from 30-50 students each week.

“I think the inclusivity is a really big thing,” Jay Stewart, a junior majoring in chemical engineering and a Navigators member, said. “The Navigators is a campus ministry, so kind of the goal of Frisbee Friday isn’t just ‘let’s play Ultimate Frisbee.’ It’s ‘let’s get people into this community.’”

For those looking for a more organized level of Ultimate Frisbee, joining a club team could be the best route. Like pick-up Ultimate, club-level Ultimate enjoys ever-growing popularity on The University of Alabama’s campus.

The UA men’s club Ultimate Frisbee team established a B team in fall 2012 to accommodate the sport’s growing popularity and give more students the chance to play at the club level. The team has a tryout process lasting several weeks, during which the roster will eventually be cut down to 40 members, 27 of whom will be on the A team.

“I love how in Ultimate everyone has to be able to do everything for the team to be successful,” men’s team member Preston Thompson, a senior majoring in music business, said. “You might never see Peyton Manning catch a touchdown, but in Ultimate, every player has to throw, catch and play defense.”

Although the women’s club Ultimate Frisbee team has never experienced the same popularity that the men’s team has, captain Machen Picard said she has noticed an increased interest in the team this semester.

“Last year we had about six freshmen girls come out and three who stayed for the whole season and returned this year,” Picard, a senior majoring in English, said. “And already, this first practice that we had on Tuesday, we had 12 to 14 girls, and that’s already a huge increase from how many we had last year.”

At the club level, Ultimate Frisbee has much more structure than many casual pick-up players might realize. While almost anyone can enjoy informal Ultimate, club-level Ultimate requires athleticism, physical fitness and hand-eye coordination. Picard said her background playing basketball in high school helped her learn how to dodge defenders and get open on the field.

“We get a lot of people who have played pick-up on the Quad or other places, and they’re usually not familiar with the plays or the rules of Ultimate, like the actual ones for club players,” Picard said. “So I think that’s the biggest difference – that we have set plays and times that you’re supposed to be on certain parts of the field, as opposed to just running around wherever you want.”

Both the men’s and the women’s teams practice for two hours a day, three days a week to prepare for their upcoming games and tournaments in the spring. Last year, the women’s team became the first UA women’s Ultimate frisbee team to win sectionals. The men’s team has won its sectionals in the Gulf Coast league for the last five years in a row.

“You can pick up [Ultimate Frisbee] at any time, but playing at a high level might be hard for newcomers,” Thompson said. “There’s constantly pick-up on the Quad with various groups, but that won’t prepare you for the national championships, just like pick-up basketball at the [Student Recreation Center] doesn’t get you a spot on the Miami Heat.”