For the Emory women’s ultimate (EWU) club team, the frisbee is not something to be tossed to a dog or flung in a relaxing game of disc golf. Rather, the frisbee is a means to a lifestyle that warrants level-headed conversation between players, acute mental stamina and physical prowess on the pitch.
Embarking on its 18th year as an Emory club sport, EWU is a testament to those skills. Since splitting EWU into an A team and a B team (Luna and Tuna, respectively) at the beginning of this season, the program has recorded its first complete tournament victory at the T-Town Throwdown in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on March 3-4, winning six out of seven matchups against four schools.
“Our goals are to do better at each tournament,” junior team captain Anna Glass said. “[Our goals are] much more a mental game than a physical game because that leads to bettering yourself as a player. [Mental toughness is] probably one of our biggest goals, … learning how to cultivate the mindset of a competitive athlete and … still holding onto that love and community that we have.”
The team has not always had such luck with tournaments, however. The players have faced injuries, weather issues and the negativity of naysayers who deny the legitimacy of the relatively new sport. But ask any ultimate enthusiast, and he or she will educate you on the different ways in which the honorable, non-contact sport is changing the world one disc at a time.
Luna Coach Kayla Emrick (18PH), who has been playing ultimate for 10 years and currently plays for the elite women’s club Atlanta Ozone and the new women’s pro team Atlanta Soul, said she was introduced to the sport during her first year at Oberlin College (Ohio), when she noticed players tossing a frisbee around the campus quad. As an athlete looking to add another sport into her life, Emrick was drawn to ultimate’s strong sense of community, support and sportsmanship.
“I’ve been hooked since day one and haven’t really put the disc down since,” Emrick said, adding that she fell in love with “the people, how much they care about each other … how much everyone is thinking about growth, not necessarily just competition.”
Unique to ultimate culture is the “Spirit of the Game,” the tenets which emphasize the importance of character and integrity on the field. As per the Official Rules of Ultimate, players must uphold mutual respect to the highest regard and refrain from any form of belligerence such as taunting, aggression and intimidation tactics.
“[Ultimate is] a self-officiated sport,” Emrick said. “Making the calls and resolving the calls is on the players’ hands. We’ve taken a lot of personal responsibility in terms of making sure that we know the rules and making sure that we know how to communicate with our opponents.”
According to Glass, communication is a major part of the non-contact aspect of ultimate. The negotiation skills that ultimate players learn by talking out conflicts on the field without a referee can translate into real world scenarios, helping to form bridges between different societies and cultures.
Glass said she first encountered ultimate down the street from Emory in her sophomore year of high school at the Paideia School, where the sport thrives. From there, her passion for the disc grew, which led her to join EWU and pursue projects such as analyzing ultimate game speech in her linguistics class and working for Ultimate Peace, an Israeli organization dedicated to promoting youth friendships in the Middle East through ultimate by encouraging intelligent discussion between opponents.
Much like the world is embracing ultimate, so too is Emory gaining an interest. This past year, the turnout for EWU tryouts doubled that of last year, forcing the team to split in two.
“Interest in the sport has grown so much that we can’t field a 60-person team,” Glass said. “Then no one gets any playing time … Besides the fact that it’s a wonderful social group, it’s also a sport, and the goal is to play.”
Looking forward, EWU aims to refine their frisbee talent and prepare for the Southeast Regionals with as much practice as possible, even going so far as to scrimmage with Atlanta elite club athletes to hike the competition level. According to Emrick, the team has been focusing on honing their offensive and defensive sets in addition to staying mentally aware in the game.
“Regardless of what the outcome of our season is — whether we’re winning, whether we’re losing, whether we make to Regionals — we want to be growing within a process,” Emrick said. “There are so many ways to succeed than just by scoring a point or by winning a game. A big part of that for us is focusing on mental toughness.”
For now, the team prepares for their upcoming conference championships April 14-15 in hopes of qualifying for Southeast Regionals. But the goal to completely throttle the competition is neither here nor there for these Eagles as they grasp the true meaning of sportsmanship through the noble sport of ultimate.