By Maxine Slater
Beacon’s Ultimate Frisbee team is often absent from the clamor of our school’s “sport talk.” On the rare occasion when the team is brought up in conversation, its merits tend to be quickly disregarded. While examining Beacon students’ perception of the Ultimate Frisbee team, surveying students of all grades and athletic backgrounds, I was overwhelmed by the frequency of one response: “frisbee is a game, not a sport.”
Despite the overwhelming student consensus that Ultimate Frisbee is not a legitimate sport, its practices prove otherwise. The team meets every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday in Prospect Park, with each practice totaling 3 hours. Within this 9-hour weekly commitment are rigorous drills, extensive running, and intense scrimmages, all aspects that are characteristic of “serious” PSAL sports teams. In addition to playing local games against Brooklyn Latin, Hunter, Stuyvesant, and Fieldston, the team’s season culminates in weekend tournaments, where the players pack into cars and head beyond New York state – historically to New Jersey and Massachusetts – to compete with national Ultimate Frisbee teams. Other teams that attend these 1-2 day tournaments come from a wide geographic range, from upper Virginia to lower Canada.
Yet Beacon’s Ultimate Frisbee team encounters both practical and emotional difficulties in a school that disregards the team’s athletic integrity. Of the PTA funds dedicated to Beacon sports, PSAL teams receive the highest distribution, while the Ultimate Frisbee team is provided one of the least amounts of funding. Finances are even more problematic for the Ultimate Frisbee team because it lacks a Beacon faculty coach; acquiring necessary funds is made increasingly difficult without the advocacy of a school staff member. Single tournaments can carry a $600 cost, applying financial pressure on the team’s parent benefactors. The lack of a coach also means that travel coordination for tournaments is a burden that falls to student participants.
While this student-led team can promote responsibility, autonomy, and foster a supportive environment, Junior Captain Ella Fruchter notes that it can also isolate the team from the “Beacon sports community.” This isolation is felt most poignantly by team members when confronting their peers’ unwelcoming reception of Ultimate Frisbee, which Ella describes as characterized by slight mockery and degradation.
These sentiments are mimicked by the Girls’ Ultimate Frisbee participants, who feel belittled in a system that values athletic achievements over the merits of a sport. Ultimate Frisbee player Coco Rhum reports being laughed and prodded at when speaking to her peers about her Ultimate Frisbee experience. Although students may not have malicious intentions, these types of reactions trivialize the sport, which requires “agility, strength, and effort.” Few Beacon students have even attended an Ultimate Frisbee game. Compared to the soccer or baseball teams – often considered a defining feature of the Beacon community – the Ultimate Frisbee Team is extremely ostracized in Beacon culture.
Despite the obstacles they face, both Ella and Coco believe there are viable routes by which Beacon can improve its treatment of the Ultimate Frisbee team. For starters, Coco encourages student attendance at local games, which is easily accomplishable for many students and provides meaningful moral support to team members. Echoing this advice, Ella believes a shift in Beacon’s perception of Ultimate Frisbee can lend to legitimizing the sport: students should be more open to unconventional sports, rather than immediately dismiss them. Beyond student engagement in the team, both Ella and Coco believe that increasing the PTA funds allocated to Ultimate Frisbee can help with team logistics – such as the costs of uniform suppliance and tournament fees – and bolster a successful team.
Ella emphasizes that Ultimate Frisbee provides her with a unique source of community and spirit at Beacon: “I love the inclusivity Ultimate embodies. Anyone from anywhere is welcome to play, and for that reason it’s an amazing community of trying new things and meeting new people. You don’t need any fancy equipment or a lot of experience – just the will to learn.”
Perhaps the Ultimate Frisbee team’s lack of recognition is rooted in Beacon’s adoration for soccer and baseball, sports that consistently draw public attention to the school’s name. Perhaps the issue stems from a Beacon culture wary of unconventional athletics. Perhaps the issue extends beyond school walls and reflects a culture that diminishes the value of emotional fulfillment from athletics, viewing sports as solely about winners and losers. Regardless, Ultimate Frisbee is here to stay, and the team’s members are already working to attain the recognition they deserve from their fellow students and the Beacon administration.