Ulimate frisbee combines passion and fun

It requires the athletic endurance of soccer, the passing skills of football and the quick-paced offense-defense turnover of basketball. Players sprint past opponents, cutting in and out as they zigzag their way toward the goal, the light plastic disc constantly sailing on the air between them. They fervently chase after the disc and sacrifice their bodies as they dive into the ground for a stray pass while dodging opponents.

The flying disc has come a long way since it made its debut as Fido’s favorite toy, but the fast-growing game of Ultimate, also known as Ultimate Frisbee, is still perceived by many as no more than an afternoon diversion.

Maddie Slagle, sophomore captain of the university’s Ultimate Frisbee team, disagrees. The French and Spanish double major considers the game to be the ultimate sport.

“You run as much as you do in soccer,” Slagle said. “You’re running so much for so long and you have to play really awesome defense and be really quick but also be able to stay in a game and play 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.”

The game takes place on a field similar to that of a football field. As in football, teams attempt to maneuver to their respective end zones, where a caught pass gains the team a point.

Despite their similarities, the two games have several fundamental differences. When a player is in possession of the disc, he or she must remain static. During the 10-second window in which a player is allowed to hold onto the disc, another player must break open for a pass, or else the team forfeits possession.

There is no tackling or direct contact. Turnovers occur after interceptions, dropped discs, out-of-bounds throws or time violations.

A team wins when it reaches a specific score, which varies by game.

The team has existed in some form at the university for several years, but in previous seasons, lack of participation made it hard for the club to come up with the seven players it takes to play.

Now, with five captains and about 30 active members, the team has had a frequent presence at tournaments and is practicing for the 2010 Ultimate Players Association Texas College Open Sectionals, which will be held in Dallas this weekend.

Sophomore captain Alex Taube played five varsity sports in high school, but said none of them had the same atmosphere that surrounds Ultimate. The game is unique among team sports in that it is refereed by players instead of an official. Players call their own fouls and hold each other to the rules.

The Ultimate Players Association, the closest thing the sport has to the NCAA, refers to this concept as the Spirit of the Game on its Web site, and says it creates a tradition of sportsmanship by placing responsibility for fair play in the hands of players.

This level of responsibility has created the laid-back culture that the sport has come to be associated with, Taube said.

“That culture has turned into a real respectful personality toward other teams,” Taube said. “It’s a very positive culture.”

The emphasis on respect and sportsmanship encourages teams to befriend opponents, he said. The TCU team has become especially close with its nearest rival, the team at University of Texas at Arlington. Players from UTA frequently show up at TCU practices to play with friends.

Freshman chemistry major Camille McDonald recalls a scrimmage the two teams had at TCU the day after a snow day in February. The intramural field was more mush and puddle than it was snow, but the teams still managed to find enough white fluff for a halftime snowball fight.

Taube said the team has had a strong turnout from students who had never played the game before.

Sophomore captain Bill Bartholomew, who has played the game for four years, said the team made an active effort to recruit beginners, who are drawn to the sport because of the ease at which it intertwines fun and competition.

“I think it’s fun to pick up,” he said. “You can learn pretty quick, as long as you’re willing to try.”

Fifteen to 20 people show up twice a week for two-hour practices, which is a significant improvement from last year, Bartholomew said. Practices are structured similar to those of other sports, consisting of warm-ups, throwing drills, strategy discussion and scrimmages.

Taube said the captains try to incorporate enjoyable drills and games into practice to keep the team from getting too serious or competitive. The laid-back culture he associates with the game is incorporated into practices.

“We kind of brought that atmosphere into our practices by working out, but working out in fun ways and always having a scrimmage or something fun to do at the end,” he said.

Taube remembers one practice when the wind triumphed over attempts at successful throwing drills. Making the best of the weather, two cones were placed on tipped trashcans for an accuracy drill and the teams made a relay game out of seeing who could master the elements and knock off the cones.

Although Taube values the recreation and the relaxed atmosphere he found in the sport, his favorite part of the game is the diversity of people it attracts.

Taube said that he has good friends within his fraternity, Sigma Chi, but many of the men in the organization only have friends within the Greek system. Ultimate, on the other hand, attracts people from various organizations, backgrounds and majors throughout the university.

“It’s a whole other social scene,” Taube said. “It’s a new group of friends.”