The discs continue to fly

Ultimate Frisbee grows at Dal and in Halifax despite COVID - 19

The sport goes by many names: ultimate, Frisbee, ultimate disc and, of course, ultimate frisbee.

That capital F is a friendly reminder that Frisbee is a brand name, although it’s what we generally call any flying disc. Nonetheless, it’s the reason Frisbee cannot be used in ultimate formal name.

Whatever the name, the once relatively unknown game is now thriving. The sport almost became Olympic in time for the 2024 Games.

That speaks volumes about ultimate’s current state. It has made a mark not only on the Olympic front, but in Halifax. The craze is alive and well at Dalhousie University.

DKUT player Griffin Finkbeiner celebrates a score at a recent scrimmage at Wickwire Field. There are lots of reasons for DKUT to celebrate, as they were approved to begin practicing in early October. (Photo by Luke Dyment)

“It’s becoming more popular. Every year I’ve played here, more and more people show up,” said Griffin Finkbeiner, a third-year Dal student. Finkbeiner plays for Dalhousie/King’s Ultimate (DKUT, pronounced dee-cut), Dal’s ultimate club team.

DKUT usually competes in tournaments against other universities in Atlantic Canada and other local teams, but won’t this year due to COVID-19. An urban legend claims DKUT founder Chris Lee formed the club so he and some friends could go to an ultimate tournament in Montreal. This became one of the origins of the sport’s growth in Halifax.

“That’s one of the best things about playing with DKUT. It’s a gateway into the ultimate community in Halifax,” said DKUT co-captain Kristen Tymoshuk.

“We always have a mix of new and experienced players,” said Chiara Ferrero-Wong, also a co-captain. “If you’re new to the game it’s very easy to continue on playing ultimate in Halifax through DKUT.”

How ultimate is played

Joel Silver, now a prolific film producer, is credited with inventing the sport in 1968. He and a few friends wrote up the first set of rules soon after. As the sport grew during the following 50 years, the rules have adapted and often differ depending on the player’s age and level of competition.

A passer looks for a target in a crowd of players down the field. For DKUT, seven players per team will be on the field at once. (Photo by Luke Dyment)

DKUT plays with seven players per team on the field at once. The objective is to get the disc into the other team’s end zone, like football. This can only be done by passing it to a teammate in the end zone, since a player cannot walk or run with the disc.

Scoring in the end zone counts as one point. DKUT usually plays until one team scores 15 points, or until the time cap, which ranges between 60 and 90 minutes.

With a different sport comes different terminology. For instance, Finkbeiner primarily plays two positions in ultimate: workhorse cutter and option cutter; in both positions, the player works to remain open for a pass.

As the cutter position is similar to a wide receiver in football, handlers are like quarterbacks. They throw the tricky passes and almost always make the final pass when scoring.

“It sounds complicated for people just beginning, but as you go through it, things ease up a lot,” Finkbeiner said.

Halifax’s ultimate scene

COVID-19 has changed DKUT’s year on a number of levels. On a micro scale, captains Tymoshuk and Ferrero-Wong are stepping into coaching roles on the team. Schedule changes at Dal have caused field times to be during the day instead of the evening, meaning previous coaches cannot attend due to work and other commitments.

Co-captains Chiara Ferrero-Wong (left) and Kristen Tymoshuk explain a play during a scrimmage. Without a coach for the time being due to scheduling changes, they have been running a few more drills than usual. (Photo by Luke Dyment)

Tournaments and competitions have been cancelled for the fall, but Tymoshuk and Ferrero-Wong said they could soon get approval to play games this winter. That includes DKUT’s own annual tournament in April, the Tournament of Fools. DKUT planned on entering the team into a national tournament later in the school year, in what became yet another cancelled competition.

But the situation isn’t all bad news. DKUT was back on the field on Oct. 2 even with restrictions in place, Ferrero-Wong said it hasn’t felt like anything changed.

“The actual flow of practice is relatively undisturbed, which has been nice,” Ferrero-Wong said.

Ultimate competitions are underway elsewhere in the city, including leagues run by Halifax Ultimate. One advantage of playing around the city is getting the chance to make friends who play the sport elsewhere in Halifax. This presents the opportunity to play several times a week in different places. DKUT and Halifax Ultimate are only a couple of options.

“I met a lot of people on the Halifax ultimate scene through DKUT. From there, people would start inviting us [DKUT players] to other leagues in Halifax,” Tymoshuk said. “Us players get a lot of exposure that way.”

Opportunity to get outside

The lack of other activities makes playing ultimate a bonus now. Club sports like ultimate offer a chance to get out of the apartment or dorm room to see others, while having a fun and safe time.

DKUT player Leah Fulton leaps for a catch, while also barely staying in bounds. Her team would score moments later. (Photo by Luke Dyment)

“What’s incredible about DKUT in COVID is it’s one of the only opportunities first years have to socialize with people,” said Tymoshuk. “There are usually a ton of opportunities for first years to do that, but this year is different. First years who have come out are really enjoying it and are making friends. It’s definitely one of the better things about this situation.”

“You can tell that everyone’s a lot happier and very grateful that we’re still able to play this year,” Ferrero-Wong said. “It is one of the only in-person social activities that people have in their busy schedules with classes.”

Finkbeiner hopes the extraordinary circumstances will lead more people to try out the sport and eventually stick with it.

“A lot of people don’t really realize what it is, but it’s really fun,” he said. “The more people that play it, the more appreciated the sport is.”

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Luke Dyment

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