Fourteen pairs of cleats pound against a grassy turf as players dart across the field preparing to take down their opponents, all without actually touching anyone.
With facial expressions ranging from intense to jovial, each team has one concern: the location of the flying disc. Ultimate Frisbee is a game comprised of several other sports and concepts including football, basketball and soccer. Played with a sturdier, 175-gram disk, the no-contact competition is a great deal different from tossing a Frisbee with your dog at a park, said Matt Carney, University of Oklahoma’s Ultimate vice president.
“My favorite thing about Ultimate is the physical challenge,” he said. “As you get more experience with the game, moves begin to require certain finesse.”
According to USA Ultimate, the sport’s national governing body, Ultimate got its start in 1968 on a New Jersey high school campus after Joel Silver, who went on to produce “The Matrix” and “Lethal Weapon” series, presented an idea for the game. What began as an adaptation of Frisbee football morphed into Ultimate.
By 1970, Silver, along with contributing founders Bernard Hellring and Jonathan Hines, drafted a rule book, recruited players and set the arena for thousands of Ultimate players to compete in the sport today.
Ultimate has nearly 5 million players in the U.S., and the majority of them are under the age of 25. Several contenders from this age group play in the collegiate division of Ultimate. This year, more than 12,000 students and 700 teams are within this division across the country.
Several squads reside in the Sooner State, including the University of Oklahoma’s Apes of Wrath; the University of Tulsa; and Ultimato, the men’s and women’s teams of Oklahoma State University.
The game is designed to be a fun and challenging event for people of all athletic capabilities, Carney said. Rather than playing one game at a time, Ultimate is usually carried out in tournaments throughout the country. In the college division, this allows students to travel nationwide playing teams from varying regions.
Aside from the traveling opportunities, college players have also found camaraderie and a whole new understanding of community, said Nick Crossley, an OU freshman.
“You’ll never go to a football game where rivals are playing and then hang out with the opposing team after the game,” Crossley said. “You get that with Ultimate, though.”
For Oklahoma State University sophomore Bethany Perrault, Ultimate is the sole reason why she decided to return to college after her freshman year.
“I hated school,” Perrault said. “I’m not really into Greek life or sororities, but my team became like a family to me.”
Teams practice twice weekly for about two hours or more, in addition to pickup games on non-tournament weekends throughout the season.
Unlike many sports, however, Ultimate is always in season. Several students compete throughout the school year and continue to play in summer leagues. Players are not required to attend every practice or compete in every tournament. However, their commitment to the game is not one that infringes on the time devoted to the classroom, Crossley said. In fact, some students actually saw increased GPAs after taking up the sport.
“Having to include Ultimate in my weekly schedule actually made me study harder, so getting involved with the game ended up making my grades better,” Perrault said.
From Just Plain Nasty to Rookie Ride and Brews & Bruises, several local college teams host tournaments year-round. Each competition sees eight to 10 teams as well as the trademark-friendly Ultimate crowd, Carney said.
Although the competitive drive is still present, the sport isn’t just about the score on the board, but ultimately the way the game is played. “Ta’chelle Jones | photos/Mark Hancock