GUM Blog

Growing Youth Ultimate

The Columbus High School Ultimate League (CHSUL) began around 2007 with Olentangy Liberty High School, Bexley High School and St. Charles Preparatory School. These three schools have been the most successful high school teams from Columbus; however, Olentangy Liberty no longer has a team and Bexley is no longer a powerhouse. Columbus teams have never finished better than second at states due to the fierce youth competition from Cincinnati.

I began playing ultimate during my sophomore year at Grove City High School in Spring 2016. Kevin Baumann, a former Ohio State Leadbelly captain and cutter for High Five, created the first ultimate team at Grove City, and I helped him spread the word and actively recruit students. We posted and distributed flyers around the campus, spoke about ultimate in different classrooms and emailed other coaches and club advisors to inform their students about the new ultimate wave that was coming to Grove City. After learning how to throw and experiencing my first tournament, I fell in love with the sport and the ultimate community. At this point, I decided to increase my involvement in CHSUL as well as in Columbus Ultimate Disc Association (CUDA). I captained my club team in Columbus both my junior and senior years of high school, organized a GroupMe group for local youth club players to find pickup games, and helped promote the first club team from CHSUL to attend YCC.

Developing youth ultimate, I found out, was an immense challenge. Creating a connection between the various moving parts of an ultimate league was the greatest obstacle. Individual students, schools, parks, volunteers, adults and the staff at USA Ultimate must all mesh with one another, and those different aspects presented problems in themselves. For us, we faced many hurdles in securing field space and support from parents and administrators. Our school refused to reserve field space for us to practice, and local parks randomly increased the cost to rent their fields for games and tournaments. Additionally, our school principal in charge of athletics did not reply to our emails, and many parents simply didn’t understand what CHSUL was and how getting their kids involved in ultimate was beneficial to their youth development.

Even though schools are the easiest method to inform students about ultimate, they are impossible to access and receive support from unless your team has an adult in the administration willing to help. The two teachers at Grove City who knew about ultimate were too busy to help coach our team, and the majority of athletes felt ultimate was an inferior sport, deciding instead to play their preferred sport year-round. I think many of these athletes had been playing their sport since elementary and middle school, so one way to attract kids would be to teach ultimate to 5th-8th graders in their gym class. This way, these kids would build a connection with ultimate before they reached high school, so when they arrived they would be interested in either joining or starting their own high school team. Ironically, ultimate is a required sport for gym teachers to teach, but there hasn’t been enough money or resources directed towards the sport, further adding to the difficulty in introducing ultimate to kids. Unfortunately, after three great seasons, my high school team did not return for the 2019 season due to lack of interest and support from our students and staff. Fortunately, Grove City Ultimate has made a comeback with the 2020 season, with Kevin and me as coaches.

Although we struggled with maintaining an ultimate team at my high school, CHSUL has recently made strides in increasing playing opportunities for girls in ultimate. CHSUL has always been a mixed league with a 6-1 gender ratio; however, 2019 was the first season that the league required a 5-2 gender ratio. Additionally, 2019 was the first year that female Columbus youth players were required to play with the Columbus girls’ team at states. These changes were adopted to allow for a greater female presence on the field, giving girls more confidence to play and encouraging boys to increase the involvement of their awesome female teammates. Encouraging female involvement in youth ultimate has been a unique task for CHSUL. Columbus currently sends an all-female team – the Frisbaes – to the state tournament each year. Any registered high school girl in Columbus can play for this team at states whether their respective school team qualifies. Even though the team is open to all girls, most girls choose not to. Girls whose school teams attend states always wanted to play with their school teams, and the girls who didn’t qualify wouldn’t make the effort to get to know and play with girls from different teams. Also, I think a stereotype still exists in youth sports that boys’ sports are more competitive than girls, which has deterred some girls from playing with the Frisbaes.

In 2018, Columbus sent its first-ever team to YCC, the Columbus Sabers. The Columbus Sabers are a U-20 mixed team who broke seed and finished second in spirit! Creating the YCC team was a lot easier than it was creating a high school team or a high school girls’ team, as the Sabers brought all the passionate youth ultimate players in Columbus together on one team. We were dedicated, we worked hard, we loved each other and we loved the sport. YCC was an eye-opening experience. The Sabers players were, more or less, the best Columbus players, so it was the first time Sabers players experienced a high level of competition. YCC showed us our skills relative to others and provided a solid framework for what we were good at and what we needed to improve on. In 2019, the Columbus Sabers were able to send another U-20 mixed team. The 2019 Sabers were coached by Kevin Baumman, Jeffrey Brauning and Kelly Rusin. The Sabers had another tough year at YCCs, finishing in the bottom of the bracket. Losses have not deterred the Sabers, if anything, they’ve pushed each player to continue to develop their skills and desire to play at higher competition levels to gain knowledge and experience. Unfortunately, our ultimate goal to have Columbus send a U-20 girls’ team to the Youth Club Championships (YCC) wasn’t reached in 2019, and will not be reached again in 2020. Youth ultimate in central Ohio lacks depth in numbers as its foundational base with the most dedicated players. Hopefully, the continuation of PUL Team, Columbus Pride, will expose more girls in central Ohio to ultimate.

Youth ultimate has given me a greater appreciation and respect for established teams. I understand the arduous process and amount of dedication required to build strong teams and players. Last year, as a college freshman, I earned a spot on the Ohio State Fever A team. My Fever teammates work harder than anyone I know, and in turn I work hard for them. The only way Fever can continue to be a powerhouse in college ultimate is through perseverance. My teammates never give up – not even when there is a foot of snow on the ground at a three-hour Saturday practice. I am looking forward to another season with Fever but as a returner this year!

Ultimate has been a game changer in my life. As someone who did not overall enjoy high school, I always looked forward to the spring season every year. I had made so many friends on all the various teams in Columbus and it was a fantastic experience competing with them. I often tell people that ultimate is more than a sport – ultimate is a lifestyle. Love, inclusivity, kindness, wellness, and healthy competition are fostered by the ultimate community and it is something the rest of the world should strive to emulate. I was inspired to build the youth scene in Columbus because I want others to have the same opportunity I had. I want future Columbus youth players to be the best people and players they can be.