Oxford University Ultimate is a tempting and optimistic name for a sport. The loss of the additional word ‘Frisbee’ due to its trademarked status was a monumental setback but the game has remained unchanged.
From its invention in 1968 by American high school student Joel Silver, Ultimate has progressed rapidly. It is played by five million in the US and is now played at over 60 universities across the UK. These are fairly impressive statistics for a game I had never heard of it before coming to Oxford, so I decided to give it a try.
As I entered Iffley sports hall, I observed rows of players simply throwing unbranded discs (Frisbee is trademarked remember) back and forth to one another. Simple. My initial confidence was undermined on closer inspection as I realised that the forehand and backhand throws were done with the sort of speed and control of trajectory that was far superior to anything I could manage.
Last year’s president of Oxford University Ultimate, Phil Garner, explained everything for me. Ultimate can be played both indoors and outdoors, there are men’s, women’s and mixed teams and, although there is no formal BUCS league, the teams regularly attend tournaments all over the country which are practice for regional competitions. Success at regional level wins teams the privilege of competing in the Nationals. Inevitably, the year culminates in a Varsity contest, in which Oxford have triumphed for the last two years, for which players can claim a half-blue.
The game is a combination of netball, basketball and American football; you must be stationary when you have disc, you can only hold on to it for 10 seconds, it is non contact and the object of the game is to score a point by catching the disc when you are inside the ‘end zone’.
This makes for a high tempo and intense game, something which American football could take a lesson from Even though it is only 7-a-side, it is played on a pitched roughly similar in size to a soccer pitch with two 18m long ‘end zones’. The seven players are arranged into a formation which consists of two defensive ‘handlers’ who act like quarterbacks, and the remaining five ‘cutters’ constantly make runs to create space and receive the disc. There are three ways you can win back possession from the opposition; by intercepting, a handling error or simply swatting the disc from the air.
One of the more unusual features of Ultimate is that the entire game is self refereed. Whereas anarchy would ensue in most other sporting activities, this is not the case due to the strong ‘spirit of the game’ held by Ultimate. By having no referees honesty, sportsmanship and respect are promoted – qualities which seem have taken an undeserved holiday from most professional sports.
At most Ultimate tournaments, teams are asked to fill in a form where they review their opponents based on the integrity of their calls, fouls and the general spirit in which they played. At the end of the competition an award is given to the team with best score. Maybe UEFA could try something similar for the Europa League.
In case Ultimate isn’t a hyperbolic enough title for you, there are several pretty impressive videos on YouTube, one in particular displaying a move as ‘The Greatest’. It really has to be seen to be believed.
Overall, Ultimate has plenty of advantages, it’s less stop-start than American football and it’s more athletic than netball, so it’s not surprising that it has made the Physical Education curriculum in some areas of the US. If you’re struggling for a sport to play and have a penchant for unbranded discs, this could be the one for you.
If you’re interested in playing Ultimate please contact the captain Sam Vile (email@example.com) or Phil Garner (firstname.lastname@example.org)