At first glance, Ashlee Davison admits she didn’t think much of the sport of Ultimate.
With a background in competitive soccer, the concept of chasing a plastic flying disc around a playing field wasn’t exactly her definition of high-performance athletics.
“The first time I saw (Ultimate) it was in Toronto in 2006 when I watched the nationals and at first, I actually thought it was kind of lame,” said Davison, who played five seasons of university-level soccer. “Of course, I came from soccer, and I thought soccer was more physical, more technical, and required more skill. Over the years, I’ve changed my mind about that. Ultimate is a great sport in its own right in so many ways.”
After playing Ultimate—commonly known as Ultimate Frisbee—for the first time in 2008, it wasn’t long before Davison was hooked.
And in the four years since, the 28-year-old Kelowna resident has evolved into one of Canada’s elite women Ultimate players. Davison recently returned from the World Ultimate and Guts Championships in Japan where she helped the Canadian women’s squad earn the bronze medal.
“It was an amazing experience and a lot fun,” said Davison, who is also an assistant coach with the UBC Okanagan Heat women’s soccer team in Kelowna.
“There were 25 countries there, so it tells you how popular Ultimate has become.”
Ultimate has been described by some as a combination of football, basketball, soccer and netball, but is unquestionably a sport with characteristics all its own.
Ultimate celebrates not only team play and athletic prowess, but emphasizes the game’s overriding philosophy of fair play and sportsmanship. As such, the sport’s international motto is: The Spirit of the Game.
For Davison, the blend of competition, athletic skill and camaraderie make Ultimate a sport like no other.
“It really grew on me in a lot of ways, but as much as anything it was the people,” she said. “It’s so much fun to be around people who, like you, all choose to be there.
“Then when the game begins, it’s competitive and the athleticism can be pretty amazing. You’re playing with high-level athletes, battling against people who are fit and fast and can jump high.”
The standard and most widely played version of Ultimate typically features seven players per side on a pitch 110 yards long and 40 yards wide. The object is to advance the disc downfield by passing (handlers) and catching (cutters), with a point being awarded each time a player successfully receives the disc in the end zone.
Players must advance the disc by passing, as no running with the disc in hand is permitted.
In keeping with the theme of fair play, there are no referees as disputes are expected to be settled by the players themselves.
The sport first took hold on the east coast of the U.S. in the early 1970s, and was mostly a recreational activity played on college and university campuses.
In the four decades since, Ultimate has grown in leaps and bounds with more than five million Americans playing the game in various formats—standard, indoor, beach and street among them.
Thousands play the standard version of Ultimate on North American college campuses where competitive league play, tournaments and championships are staged on a regular basis.
In Canada, there are currently more than 30,000 registered players with the majority based in major centres such as Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal.
The sport has also taken root in smaller centres such as Kelowna, where approximately 200 players compete in both recreational and competitive leagues in the spring and summer.
Earlier this year, the Kelowna Ultimate Players Society (KUPS, established in 1992) played host to a tournament featuring 34 teams from no fewer than 12 cities including Vancouver, Victoria, Nanaimo, Saskatoon, Winnipeg and Edmonton.
With more than 500 players attending, it was one of the largest Ultimate tournaments held in Western Canada.
“The sport is growing rapidly,” said Tez Lamvohee, the tournament director for KUPS. “It’s not just a hobby anymore, there are more and more people who want to play it as a sport.
“Of course, we’d like to see more people playing in Kelowna,” added Lamvohee, “but we think that will come as people learn more about it.”
While the local numbers are still comparatively small, Kelowna has carved out its own niche on the Ultimate landscape, both provincially and nationally.
Kelowna will send two teams, the Sofa Kings (men) and BushFire (women), to the Canadian Ultimate Championships next month in Victoria.
In addition, Kelowna’s Ashlee Davison and Bev Porter, and Vernon’s Andy Collins have all helped put the Okanagan on the Ultimate map, as the three travelled to Japan earlier this month for the World Ultimate and Guts Championships as members of the Team Canada contingent.
Still, even with its increasing popularity and scope, Ultimate has its detractors and continues to fight for credibility alongside older, more established sports like soccer and football.
With Sport Canada granting official recognition to Ultimate Canada this year, Lamvohee said progress is being made.
“The stigma of this being a game just for hippies, that attitude is changing,” Lamvohee said.
“Even in the five years I’ve been playing, it has a much higher profile as a legitimate competitive sport. College leagues in the U.S. are huge, and they get coverage from CBS Sports. Video companies are getting involved, doing live streams. It’s being accepted on a wider scale than ever before.”
And the sport took another credible step forward south of the border this year with the establishment of a competitive semi-professional league—the American Ultimate Disc League.
While Lamvohee and Davison have far more modest plans for Ultimate in Kelowna, growing the sport in the valley remains their mandate, both at the adult and junior levels.
And if anyone needed any extra incentive to give the sport a try, Lamvohee said the aerodynamics of a flying disc might just be reason enough.
“One of the great things about a frisbee is watching it fly through the air, you can have it floating 30 or 40 yards in front of you and it looks like you have no chance of catching up to it. Then suddenly it catches a breath of wind or a small draft, and sits up just for a moment, just enough time for you to stretch out and make the catch. Those are the all-star moments.”
For more information on Ultimate or get to involved in Kelowna, visit kelownaultimate.com, or visit the Kelowna Ultimate Facebook page.
Basic Rules of Ultimate
• The field and players:
A rectangular shape with end zones at each end. A regulation field is 70 yards by 40 yards, with end zones 20 yards deep.
Typically, the number of players on the field per side is seven. In mixed play, four men and three women per side.
Each time the offense completes a pass in the defense’s end zone, the offense scores a point. Play is initiated after each score. The first team to reach a specific point total, usually 15, is the winner.
• Movement of the disc:
The disc may be advanced in any direction by completing a pass to a teammate. Players may not run with the disc. The person with the disc has 10 seconds to throw the disc. The • Non-contact:
No physical contact is allowed between players. Picks and screens are also prohibited. A foul occurs when contact is made.
Players are responsible for their own foul and line calls. Players resolve their own disputes.
• Spirit of the Game:
Ultimate stresses sportsmanship and fair play. Competitive play is encouraged, but never at the expense of respect between players, adherence to the rules, and the basic joy of play.