One of the people organizing youth Ultimate in Maine is summer leaguer Rich Young. He says at least 17 high schools have teams and he regularly gets phone calls from other schools wanting to start their own. “It’s like a ball of wax, getting bigger and bigger. People just want to play,” Young says. “This was the smallest high school tournament we’ll ever see.”
This growth in youth Ultimate is not unique to Maine. Ultimate has been springing up in high schools across the country. Since the UPA hired a full-time director of its youth programs in 2002, its 18-and-under membership has increased eightfold, to about 3700, according to Ryan John, UPA’s communications director. That far outpaces the UPA’s overall membership growth, which has been between 15 to 20 percent every year for the past five years and is now around 22,000. In Maine, Young estimates there are at least 200 high school Ultimate players.
Two of them are Zeb Raszmann and Alex Roy, juniors at Portland’s Deering High School. Both have played pick-up Ultimate in front of their school for a few years, but not until this year had they played organized Ultimate or against teams from other schools. The two are also playing in the summer league for the first time. Raszmann was home-schooled for many years and never played organized sports, but says Ultimate has always been big in that community — perhaps evidence of the sport’s free-spirit draw. Roy, on the other hand, gave up baseball to play Ultimate and says he’ll never go back. “The people who play Ultimate are so friendly and welcoming,” Roy says. “And the idea of a self-refereed sport really appealed to me.” Both expect their newfound love of Ultimate to affect their impending college decisions. “I always look on the brochures to see if they have Ultimate,” Roy says.
So far, none of the Maine high school teams are varsity sports. Some are considered clubs and others are not officially affiliated with the schools. But Pozzy says it’s only a matter of time until Maine high schools follow the lead of some high schools in the country, such as Amherst Regional High School in Massachusetts, where Ultimate has been a varsity sport for years. Until that happens the Ultimate team from Brunswick High School still has a large trophy, sent by the UPA, with no school trophy case to display it in.
For Pozzy, watching the high school tournament was “very much a life dream of mine happening, and I’m walking out and seeing it happen, and I didn’t have to do any of it,” he says. “These people, they don’t know it, but they’re all working for me. They’re building the foundation of what is the future. I walked around in a daze the whole time.”
STRIKE A POSE: The author (left) doesn't quite make it in time.
That future Pozzy sees is a world where Ultimate will be on TV, have major sponsors and be as big as some current mainstream sports. In the grand scheme of things the sport is still young, Pozzy points out, only about 40 years old. “Ultimate is going to be big leagues eventually, probably 20 more years, 15 more years, maybe 25. I don’t know what the number is, but it’s still a ways out there. If it’s not as big as football or basketball, it’s certainly going to be bigger than lacrosse and hockey.”