We tend to get a few surprise 80-degree days during New England fall, just to remind us it’s worth sticking out another winter. On such a day, my club team, Boston Brute Squad, found itself finishing a particularly strenuous practice weekend. Some players drove their hours-long commute home – to Ithaca, New York City, Montreal – but most stayed for our annual Girls’ Ultimate Movement (GUM) clinic. This year, Boston Ultimate Disc Alliance (BUDA) had cast a wide net, drawing 70+ girls from their extensive youth programs for our “Girls Day” event.
We inhaled our lunches as players and their families began to arrive, the lines already spilling out into the parking lot. Parents were left to finish sign-ups while the girls darted away as fast as they could to warm up with Brute Squad captain Vicky Negus.
After registration, we all gathered at mid-field, the mass of players and coaches both overwhelming and exciting as I tried to get everyone’s attention. One of the most wonderful aspects of this clinic – and also one of the toughest to plan around – was the wide range of skill levels present. There were girls who had never touched a disc and then there were those who had been playing their whole lives.
“If you’ve never played ultimate before, go over towards the soccer goals!” I yelled, attempting to organize the group. One young girl ran straight up to me and, in front of everyone, asked “What’s ultimate?”
At the beginning of the clinic, one father came up to me holding his young daughter’s hand. She was nervous to go play on her own, so we found her best friend in one of the groups. After some coaxing, we sent her on her way. Later on, I looked back to see her joyfully zooming around the end zone, catching what could very well have been her first ever score.
Groups then split off into different drill stations. Miriam, BUDA’s Learn-To-Play expert and the event’s biggest coaching asset, taught the rules to an attentive cluster, while on the far side of the fields, Kami Groom and Lien Hoffmann demonstrated defensive positioning to the more experienced players.
Thank god for J-Stars – discs small enough to fit in seven-year-old-sized hands and soft enough not to cause a nose bleed. I watched new throwers steadily increase their confidence as Amber Sinicrope demonstrated to them where to release a backhand, how to hold a flick grip and other ultimate essentials.
I began playing ultimate before it felt like a “real sport.” Seeing parents lined up in chairs on the sideline, noticing when their child scores, understanding the rules – I felt legitimized, vindicated. It felt similar to a lacrosse tournament or a soccer game. Some of the watching parents were legends – Hall of Famers – while others were new to the sport, attracted by the supportive and inclusive community BUDA had created.
We set up what looked like an endless row of mini fields. Scrimmaging took a while to get going, and we had to make rule adjustments as we went, such as no hands on the mark for the littlest kids and no stall count for the intermediate group.
As an organizer, I always get nervous and worry that players aren’t enjoying themselves. I checked in constantly with girls to see if they wanted to keep scrimmaging, or if they’d rather play a game or learn a new skill. Without failure, each girl exclaimed they just wanted to keep playing ultimate.
“It was an awesome day!!” commented a parent of one of the participants. “Thank you so much for everything you did to help make this happen!”
After the clinic finished, we handed out discs to be sure every girl present had one to practice with at home. We also signed autographs and took plenty of photos. Older youth club players who we met at the U.S. Open GUM Ball asked us about our season, while many girls stayed to scrimmage for what seemed like hours on end.
Sometimes in my own career – after a grueling practice or frustrating game – I forget this sport itself is just fun. Running and throwing and catching with your friends is fun. I watched the girls celebrating a goal or getting a D, and I was reminded of the pure love for the sport that was fostered in me at their age. I felt so glad that they had the resources and opportunities to grow into the sport like I did.