Wohl, who started playing nearly 10 years ago, said, “What you’re seeing now is that the sport is actually pulling players from other sports — baseball, soccer, track and lacrosse and others. It’s now competing heavily with other sports to get those top high school athletes to participate. That’s where you’re seeing the dimensions of the sport change.”
Wohl said Minnesota has the largest high school league in the nation and that nearly every school in the metro has a team. Ultimate, a spring sport at schools, is not sanctioned by the Minnesota State High School League and there is no real push to make that happen as of now.
Youth sports philosophy built around respecting the game
The culture of ultimate helps distinguish it from other sports. For one, ultimate is self-officiated. There are no referees. It forces kids to work out issues among themselves.
“They kind of learn to be their own advocates, so they develop a lot of efficacy,” Hagel said. “There’s more self-esteem here than in other sports because so much of what they do is dependent upon their own integrity and their opponents’ integrity. Now we’re getting kids at ages 11 and 12 (middle school program) to learn all this and that’s pretty amazing to me.”
Coaches are also advised to practice non-interference when at all possible.
“A lot of youth sports is just kids appealing to higher authorities, and they tell them what the answer is, more or less,” Hagel said. “One of the fundamental tenets of ultimate is called the Spirit of the Game — play as hard as you can, respect yourself, respect the game and respect your opponents.”
These philosophies have created a unique, special culture, Kline said.
“Just the community of the people in the sport is unbelievable,” Kline said.
While much of the focus is on the youth levels, that doesn’t mean adults are only on the sidelines. There are plenty of opportunities to play after high school. Wohl played for five years at Kansas University before moving back to Minnesota. Kline is heading to the University of Massachusetts this fall to suit up for one of the better college programs in the country.
Club teams are plentiful and often all-inclusive.
“In the adult leagues, you have grown-ups coming out that have never played before,” Hagel said. “There’s a place for them, too. That’s also part of the ethos of this sport. It’s welcoming to everybody.”
And Kline can testify to the skill level at all ages.
“I’ve played with guys who are 50 years old, and they’re running around making me look silly,” Kline said. “It’s more about skill and less about age.”
Minnesota team’s upset proves it’s “the real deal’’
While ultimate is growing throughout the country, Minnesota is establishing itself as a power. The traditional strongholds have been Seattle and New England. Last summer Minnesota made a statement: Minnesota Superior won the USA Ultimate Youth Club Championships national title in the U19 open division.
The team, which never trailed throughout the entire tournament, upset a powerhouse team from Seattle in the semifinals.
“That was a huge shock,” Kline said. “We were definitely the underdogs the entire tournament. That was a lot of fun to prove to everyone that we were the real deal.”