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A sport so cool it’s called ULTIMATE

By on October 29, 2018 in Outdoor Fun with 0 Comments

Kevin Farrell goes all in as he prepares to throw around a defender. Photo by Dan Ireland

By Marlene Farrell

Boise is an eight-hour drive or two plane rides away, but going there once a month is worth it for Kevin Farrell of Wenatchee.

Once there he lives and breathes ultimate (also known as ultimate Frisbee, however, Frisbee is the trademark of one disc company). He practices six to eight hours per weekend day with his mixed club team, Lochsa.

It’s about love of sport and community. Kevin said, “At tryouts, I felt an instant connection. I meshed really well with everyone on the team.”

Ultimate, a 50-year old sport, has evolved into a worldwide phenomenon. Over seven million men, women and children play at varying levels, with the U.S. being the hub.

The gear is simple. Players wear cleats and need a disc. The 175g Ultrastar, made by Discraft, sets the standard. “The lip has a nice curve to it, which is good for flying off the fingers,” said Kevin. They’re lighter and larger than disc golf models, which hit a chain-filled basket, not a teammate’s outstretched hand.

Ultimate combines the non-stop coordinated movements of soccer with the aerial passing and end zones of football for an action-packed game. Two teams of seven vie for points by throwing a flying disc to teammates while never running with it. Turnovers happen instantaneously and often, forcing players to adapt quickly between offense and defense strategies.

Ultimate attract athletes from these other sports. “I came to ultimate with a basic understanding of game style from watching and playing organized sports,” Kevin said.

Kevin has to sprint, jump and dive often for a disc.

Additionally, Kevin draws from his track and crosscountry background for the position he often plays, that of cutter (offensive receiver). “I have stamina for the long points and speed when I need it.” During a game, he’ll sprint over and over across the field, which is about the length of a soccer field but narrower in width.

He also had a solid four years of playing on a college team while attending Northern Arizona University. His teammates made up his core group of friends there, and he still reconnects with some of them at tournaments.

Lochsa’s six to eight hour practices sound intense, but they’re critical for the dispersed team of 27 men and women to build cohesion so they can challenge other club teams at five to eight tournaments each year.

“We have lots of drills to prepare for ultimate,” explained Kevin. “Most of them consist of mimicking a certain aspect of the game to improve each piece. We usually end our practices with scrimmages where we institute the pieces we worked on in the drills.”

Anyone can throw a frisbee, but ultimate requires a sophisticated repertoire of throws, plus foot speed across the field and agility to climb into the air to swat down an opponent’s pass.

Kevin, as a cutter, has to sprint, jump and dive often for a disc. He’s not one of his team’s handlers, or throwers, but everyone works on their throws. “I know all the throws, forehand, hammer (overhead, high arching throw) and scoober (upside down forehand grip, coming off the shoulder), with my best throw being the backhand.”

Some handlers are even ambidextrous, which makes it much harder to block their throw.

Kevin moved to Wenatchee in 2016 to work as a civil engineer for the consulting firm SCJ Alliance.

During the week, when he’s not designing road, bridge or park improvements, he involves himself in the local ultimate scene. Wenatchee Ultimate Frisbee League, established by Eastmont Park and Recreation through the efforts of Kevin and other ultimate advocates, is in its third season. There’s room for continued growth.

Nearby, Seattle’s ultimate community has grown into the thousands because DiscNW has a substantial middle school and high school program, which feeds into the adult teams. So far in Wenatchee, ultimate has been adopted by the River Academy, which competes in tournaments on the west side.

The club season just wrapped up with Lochsa’s third place finish in a tough regional final. They were one spot away from qualifying for nationals.

He’s proud to see his team ranked consistently in the top 20 in the nation, especially given they’re competing against large metropolitan areas including San Francisco, Seattle, Boston and Minneapolis.

Kevin’s not hanging up his disc though. He’ll play indoor ultimate on a basketball court in the winter. And he plans to attend an upcoming party tournament, which is open to a wider range of athletes.

Party tournaments also emphasize another aspect of ultimate, “the party” after the Saturday games, when the bonhomie of the sport takes center stage.

That collegiality is connected to ultimate’s commitment to “the spirit of the game.”

The official USA Ultimate website states, “All actions are governed by the ‘spirit of the game.’ Kevin recalled a telling moment from the regional tournament. The final game they played was for second place, with the winner going to nationals and the loser going home.

“Many of the other teams stayed to watch, including the team that got first place. It was really awesome to see everyone watching and cheering from the sideline. But what really struck me was after the game was over and my team had lost, one of the standout players from the first place team came over to congratulate us on a hard fought game and to let us know how well he thought we played. It was a real high-class move and shows the support the community has for each other.”

Friendship through shared experience motivates Kevin to spend most weekends going to Idaho or tournaments. “There aren’t many outlets like this for people my age. Ultimate is for people who enjoy competing, but also enjoy each other’s company. I’m introverted, but my team was so welcoming from the very first day I joined.”

Kevin looks forward to further honing his game. “I still want to work on my field awareness, thinking about where it’s best to be and when to cut.”

The sport is gratifying because, as Kevin said, “It’s about what you put into it.”

Marlene Farrell, no relation to the Kevin Farrell of this story, is a Leavenworth writer and coach of cross country and Nordic skiing. When not writing, she likes to be outdoors with her family, including her husband, another Kevin Farrell.

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