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Catching ultimate fever

Football wasn't the only game being played two weeks ago against Wake Forest. Current students, alumni and local residents came together at half time to share with spectators the unique sport of ultimate frisbee.

The half-time show, arranged by Shelby Young, third-year Education School graduate student and former Virginia Women's Ultimate Club team captain, featured a brief look into a typical ultimate game.

Women and men, although involved in separate club teams at the collegiate level, participated in the same competition on the field for four minutes. According to Andrew Platte, third-year Engineering student and Virginia Men's Ultimate Club president, Hardee's, the corporate sponsor of the half-time entertainment, wanted to find a half-time show involving an up-beat and fast-paced performance to capture spectators' attention.

"We tried to show as much as we could [about ultimate] in a short amount of time," Platte said. "We wanted everyone to see how exciting the game really is."

Those at the football game also had a chance to learn the basic set-up of the game.

Second-year Engineering student Josh Stafford, said an ultimate game is played on a field about the size of a football field, with end-zones about 25 yards in length. Seven players from each team are on the field at one time, and the disc is moved down the field by passing from one player to another. The player with the frisbee is not allowed to run, adding to the difficulty of the game.

A turnover occurs any time the frisbee touches the ground or the opposing team intercepts a pass. Each touchdown is worth one point, and while there are no official time constraints, a game can range anywhere from 11 to 17 points depending upon the rules established before the outset of the game.

What makes this sport unique though, is its system of calling fouls: There are no referees.

Ultimate frisbee "is all about the spirit of the game; you call your own fouls," Platte said. "The sport fosters a competitive spirit that is not cut-throat and is organized on the premise of self-governance."

The absence of officials makes many players feel confident about being involved in what they consider an honest game.

"It's almost like there's an honor code built into the game," said Alex Dahlgren, second-year College student and women's club team treasurer.

While the sport's "honor code" attracts many potential players, others are drawn in by the lack of experience necessary to get involved.

Most athletes who play club level ultimate frisbee during college come in with relatively little or no experience, Dahlgren said.

"You can come in not knowing anything about the sport and still be an important player on the team," she said.

Although no pre-requisite exists for joining the ultimate clubs, one common bond many players hold is a history of playing soccer. Similarities between the two sports -- such as the ability to cut fast, an understanding of the field and the need to be a team player -- prove beneficial in both soccer and ultimate.

With just this background and training in basic ultimate skills, players quickly learn the ins and outs of their new sport.

To get started on the University's men's and women's ultimate teams a player must do one thing: show up. This year about 12 new players joined the 24 men's ultimate players, with about 14 new female recruits playing with the 11 returnees on the women's team.

New players such as Dave Vanderson, first-year engineering student and novice Ultimate player said they appreciate the attention they receive at practice, and the efforts of well-organized team leaders.

Ultimate "is fairly easy to get into. You just have to go and participate," said Dave Vanderson, first-year Engineering student and novice ultimate player. "The guys who lead [the team] are helpful and cater to the needs of the new players."

At the three weekly practices held Tuesdays, Thursdays and once on the weekend for both the men's and women's teams, new players practice with the veterans and quickly become accustomed to the sport.

Vanderson said a typical practice consists of warm-up drills, specific skill drills, running plays, discussion of strategy principles, running through strategies and conditioning. Players also have the option of participating in scrimmages after practice.

As more and more college students nationwide discover ultimate frisbee, many may assume that it is a relatively new sport.

But Nate Miller, fourth-year College student and Men's Ultimate Club captain, said the first ultimate tournament played at the collegiate level took place in 1968, with the establishment of the Men's Ultimate Club team at the University in the late 1970s. The women's team took a bit longer to hit the college scene, and the University's team didn't get its start until the early 1990s.

The men's club started their season Sept. 4 with a 17-11 win at Richmond. Two weeks ago the team traveled to Manassas for a tournament involving four other teams. The Cavaliers emerged victorious, defeating teams from the University of Maryland, George Washington University, Salisbury State and Wesleyan.

Stafford said he hopes this strong start will help boost the team's previous ranking of 67 out of the 150 official collegiate club teams by the end of the season.

"This year we should do better since we didn't lose too many players," he said. "The 5-0 early jump was a good sign."

Others don't put much stock in the results from the first five games.

"At the tournament [in Manassas] we proved that we can play together and beat easier teams, but until we play higher-level teams we can't really say how this season will be," Platte said.

According to Dahlgren, last year marked the start of a rebuilding period for the women, as almost the entire team consisted of players involved in ultimate for the first time.

However, Dalhgren said she believes the outlook is more promising for this year because almost all those who started last year returned for a second year. Additionally, a number of the new players brought experience with them from various high school and summer league teams, a rarity in the sport.

"Our team is young, and we don't know each other too well," Dahlgren said. "Communication skills are crucial to ultimate, and those will simply come with time. All of the women are excited, athletic and eager to learn."

Miller said the number of college clubs in both the men's and women's divisions continue to expand throughout the nation.

Miller said while students are attracted to the no-referee policy and the fact that experience is not needed to get involved, ultimate frisbee draws in college students purely interested in the excitement of a team sport.

"People are attracted to the tremendous effort we put forth and just how we have fun with the sport," he added.


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