The fast-growing sport known as ultimate, now played at most metro schools and throughout the summer, is lauded for giving running “a purpose.’’
Conor Kline was looking for a spring sport in his junior year at Edina. A lifelong basketball player who also had played football for a while, he found himself torn between track and tennis.
Then a friend invited him to captain’s practice for ultimate, a fast-rising sport across Minnesota —and the country — involving seven players on a side passing a disc downfield in hopes of scoring in the end zone.
He didn’t exactly light it up his first time out.
“I was really bad,” Kline said. “Couldn’t throw for the life of me. But it was a good time and a lot of my friends played. I just got out there and ran around.”
Turns out he would very quickly fall in love with the sport. Kline was on the JV team for one week before getting promote to the varsity squad by coach Nate Wohl. He dedicated himself to the game. This past spring, he played his second season with the Hornets and is in his second season with the Minnesota Superior U19 open club team, which is comprised of the top players in the state.
Kline was voted to be captain unanimously to both teams this year. He’s a prime example of how ultimate has blossomed recently.
“What he’s done in one year shows how much this sport can grow and how exciting it is and how addicting the game can be,” said Wohl, who also coaches the Minnesota Superior U19 open team. “He just got hooked on it.”
Crayton Smith has been addicted for years. He started playing at his church in fourth grade and hasn’t stopped. Ultimate has everything he wants in a sport — some physical play, competitiveness, momentum swings, camaraderie. It also makes exercising enjoyable, particularly the running aspect.
“It gives running a purpose is what I always say,” said Smith, who played for Lakeville North and now plays on the Superior U19 open team with his brother. “I hate running in general. This gives it a purpose and gives me a reason.”
Luis Caballero has been playing for several years and it shows. The Como Park product developed his skills in the park, and he’s brought them to the Superior. He’s one of the shorter guys on the team, but his athleticism and skills are part of what makes the sport exciting to watch.
Locally, the sport is capitalizing on its momentum and youth initiatives to increase membership, awareness and opportunities.
Building momentum, drawing athletes from other sports
Ultimate has been one of the fastest growing sports in the country, according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association. Kids are joining the sport at faster rates than adults, which bodes well for its future.
In May, USA Ultimate, the national governing body, surpassed 10,000 youth members. That number doesn’t account for kids who play the sport at the middle-school levels or just for fun in less-organized environments.
Abby Hagel has been involved as a player, coach and now board member at Minnesota Youth Ultimate, the state’s governing body. She wants to provide kids the opportunities she didn’t have growing up.
“It’s a sport I wish I had gotten to play growing up,” said Hagel, who coaches the University of Minnesota women’s team and plays in a coed league during the summer. “I think it does tremendous things for youth development.”
Last fall Hagel, a big proponent of ultimate at the youth levels, helped organized the Twin Cities’ first middle-school league. About 60 to 70 kids registered and played for seven weeks.