The first ultimate league in Seattle

A quote from the 2017 Fall Bid fundraiser for DiscNW, aka “The Northwest Ultimate Association” —

“The first unofficial Seattle ultimate “league” started in 1984 at Magnuson Park with an estimated five teams and fifty people. The demand for ultimate grew and DiscNW now has year-round leagues that sever over 8000 people.”

This is consistent with the slightly more elaborate history of Disc Northwest on Wikipedia (as of Nov 2017):

“DiscNW was founded by Joey Gray, Tom George, Mary Lowry, Jordan Dey, Maria Langlais, Mark Friedland, Bill Penrose and Lisa Thomas in 1995 as a nonprofit repository for funds generated by the growing Potlatch tournament. Soon, DiscNW became an umbrella for the spring ultimate league founded by Mark Friedland and others in 1984 and the fall league founded by Mike King. The first independent Juniors ultimate league was started in 1993 by Mary LowryJoe BisignanoJeff Jorgenson and others. In 2014, the DiscNW Middle School Spring League had over 1000 players on 79 mixed teams.”

Review of softer discs for youth ultimate in 2017: Aria and the flexible-Jstar

Aria discs as they arrived as Kickstarter rewards.

Two notable new discs flew into my coaching bag in 2017: the Aria Ultimate (175 gram) disc as a reward from the Aria Kickstarter and a soft version of the Jstar (145 gram) disc being tested against the USAU disc standards.  Both offer some exciting advantages for youth ultimate players. After throwing them alongside our teams’ standard quiver here are my initial impressions.

The new soft Jstar is super-flexible! (So I’ll refer to it as a flexi-Jstar to be clear I’m not talking about the harder, stiffer earlier Jstars.)

Softer, more flexible plastic

Both are remarkably sticky and pliable in comparison to the discs that I’ve used in coaching for past 5 years (Discraft Ultrastars and Jstars). This means that they are easier to grip and much less painful when they hit you in the face. Both benefits are a big deal in elementary ultimate. On a cold day the stiffer, more slippery Ultrastars or earlier-model Jstars can be tough for 3rd or small fourth graders to grip and throw. And kids will REALLY appreciate the softer, more-rubbery material of the Aria or flexi-Jstar when they happen to D a fast throw with their lip or ear on a cold day (a common, tearful occurrence — even with fewer players on the field in the 5v5 games we’ve adopted in Seattle).

To give you a strong impression of how much softer these discs are than the current standard, I had my 14 year-old handler-son throw our whole quiver, one-by-one GENTLY at face level. I could not will myself to take a hit from an Ultrastar, but I toughened up for an Aria hit. It was still painful, but MUCH less than the hits I’ve taken from Ultrastars (mostly during middle school practice, and mostly involving a lot of blood or muffled cursing). The Jstars offered a better comparison.  There’s a very obvious difference in the pain levels that you’re likely to experience from a facial hit by the old, harder Jstars and the new, flexi-Jstar. I think you’d need to pay me somewhere between $1 and $5 to put my face in front of the old Jstar, but I’m willing to demonstrate a hit from the flexi-Jstar anytime for free!

The softer plastic seems to come with one possible cost for youth players, though. It seems to be a little harder to catch, possibly because it tends to bounce a bit as it hits your palm. So if you don’t close your fingers on it quickly, the more rubbery material may cause you to drop the pass. This cost to the receiver may be outweighed by the disc not hurting as much when catching a hard throw on a cold day. In any case, it will be interesting to test these new materials during play in the colder Seattle winters, as well as the hottest summer days on a turf field…

Impressive aerodynamics

You’d think that the softer material would also come with an aerodynamic cost. Yet both discs fly extremely well! Both the Aria technology innovators and the Discraft engineers seem to have found an youth ultimate optimum between aerodynamics, grip, and safety. The flexi-Jstar flies remarkably straight, whereas many adults and youth have noted that the old Jstars tend to fall off as they lose speed, causing curved, less-predictable flights — especially on windy days.  The Aria also flies great; both my son and I were able to throw the Aria and Ultrastar similar distances with similar accuracy.

Both of the softer discs feel novel in the hand. It’s both strange to be able to deform the disc with your standard grip strength and satisfying to feel the extra spin you can get with the stickier plastic.

Implications for youth ultimate

Overall, I think the Aria and flexi-Jstar will be great additions to the equipment from which youth coaches and players can choose. If they were both available now in the bulk quantities of discs typically needed by youth ultimate teams in Seattle,  I’d upgrade my Ultrastar/Jstar inventory immediately. The gain or no-net-difference in aerodynamic performance is already compelling, but the potential  of these new discs to improve throwing mechanics and reduce injuries for our youngest players make these discs a very exciting development.

As of September, 2017, Aria is offering a handful of fun prints for $12 per disc.  It’s unclear what their bulk pricing will look like (I’m inquiring), but the Aria FAQ says they do offer some sort of deal. A coup would be if Discraft produced the flexi-Jstar with an option for custom printing. My kids are getting tired of the red, white, blue/gray options in the old Jstars…

Aria approved for highest levels of play

Great shot of Aria disc in play during the 2017 U.S. Open in Burlington, WA.

The reviews of the Aria disc by USAU must have been consistent with our positive experience, because on Aug 29, 2017, USAU announced that the Aria disc is approved for Champion level play in USAU competitions. This means it is also approved by WFDF for approved for elite ultimate play worldwide.

Free coaching clinics through DiscNW this fall, 2017

It looks like DiscNW is still accepting registrations for a free Sept 16 coaching clinic, and may offer another in October of this year (2017). This may be of interest for beginner coaches (<~2 years experience) working with elementary or middle school players.
I attended one of these last February and it was very helpful. It’s facilitated by the amazing trio of Shannon O’Malley, Heather Ann Brauer, and Alyssa Weatherford.

Schteattle Schtick: build ultimate skills in a fun game with 75 youth & 25 discs

Ok, here’s how Seattle kids play Schtick.  We’re gonna call it Schteattle Schtick and it’s best played with 10-75 youth players (assisted by their coaches and/or parents) and lots of discs — at least 1 for every 3 players.  (If you have more players and discs than this, you should play Galaxy Wars instead.)  Either way, you’re in for a lot of fun and intense aerobic conditioning (even if there are minor inconsistencies with developing good fundamentals, e.g. you’re allowed to run with the disc)…

Schtick field schematic (from http://schtickdisc.org/official-rules/ )

Here are the basic rules of Schteattle Schtick — forged on the first-mucky then sun-hardened grass fields of the DiscNW summer camp fields.  The main difference from standard Schtick (described below) is that there is no stoppage of play upon scoring (in fact there really isn’t even any “keeping score” amid the mayhem), and there are no pulls — even at the start of the game.  The Seattle variant simply adds these stipulations:

  1. The game cannot start until all players and all their discs (half the total available which must be at least 10) are packed inside the scorebox they will be defending.  Everyone must be ready to rumble, and silent (ha, ha).  The coach (or some responsible person) yells “go,” or whistles, and everyone runs amok.
  2. The only way to win is to get all discs out of your territory (across the middle line (hint: always keep at least one in reserve to counter stockpiling).  You get a billion bonus points for getting all discs not only over the middle line, but also within the scorebox you are attacking (it’s never been done, BTW).
  3. Dimensions may vary based on team size and field space available.
  4. Follow the rest of the standard rules (see box & links below).

Local variants:

  • If you have even more kids, you can add scoreboxes, e.g. two boxes per side!
  • Played with a 2×2 box and a triangle half that size. Triangle worth 2 points. But we never really keep score of course!
  • If you have way too many kids, try Galaxy Wars…

What is (Schtandard) Schtick?

From http://schtickdisc.org —

  • It is played with 2 or more discs (AKA “Frisbees”) simultaneously.  Usually you play with about 1 disc per 2.5 players. (see official rules)
  • It is way more fun than most sports.
  • It can be played on grass, sand, or snow, and has many cool variations.
  • Players may run with the discs (unlike ultimate).
  • The playing field consists of a middle line which bisects the globe into the 2 teams’ territories. On the ground within each territory, about 20 meters from the midline, is a 2×2 meter scorebox.
  • 8-80 players are divided into 2 teams. Each team is assigned one territory to defend (like capture the flag).
  • Scoring occurs by getting a disc to rest on the ground within the scorebox in opposing territory.
  • Players with a disc who are tagged by an opposing player in opposing territory must relinquish their disc.
  • In practice, the play of Schtick is flexible enough to permit people of widely different disc skills & athletic skills to legitimately face off on the same field.
  • It is imbued with a spirit of the game that is rarely paralleled in a sporting world otherwise geared for jocks only. More important than athletic prowess is a flexible mind & willingness to try.
  • It is fun for every player almost every time. See what people are saying.

USA Ultimate’s 2017 Vision Tour in Seattle Tues 4/4

In an effort to acquire input from the growing ultimate community across the United States, the national governing body USA Ultimate, is in the middle of their “2017 Vision Tour” in which they are holding meetings at city’s across the nation.  They are coming to Seattle next Tuesday (4/4) and your chance to influence the direction of the sport in the U.S. will be from 6-8pm at the new ultimate gym — Ren Fitness (1404 NW 49th St, Seattle, WA 98107).   You can pre-register online.

Agenda and attendees

USAU’s CEO and a few members of the board of directors will present something like the following agenda (from the Mar 23 tour stop in Pittsburgh) in effort to hear from Seattle area players, coaches and parents about our region’s hopes and dreams.

  • Welcome, brief outline of the evening, goal of the Community Conversations (5 minutes)
  • The ultimate community’s hopes and concerns about the future of ultimate (10 minutes)
  • A look back: ultimate’s history (5 minutes)
  • A look forward: ultimate and USA Ultimate in the wide world of sports (15 minutes)
  • Q&A (10 minutes)
  • Considering our next steps: Group exercise, facilitated in six small groups. Then, led by facilitator in large group (60 minutes). Topics and facilitators include:
    • AUDL: Henry Thorne, USA Ultimate Board Vice President
    • Elite Level Play: Josh Murphy, USA Ultimate Director of Member Services & Community Development
    • Equity & Diversity: DeAnna Ball, USA Ultimate Board President
    • Olympic Dream: Tom Crawford, USA Ultimate Chief Executive Officer
    • USA Ultimate Brand: Stacey Waldrup, USA Ultimate Manager of Communications & Publications
    • Youth Structure: Kathy Hendrickson, USA Ultimate Board of Directors
  • Guest Speakers: (10 minutes)
    • Sarah Lemanski: Gender Equity and Disparity
    • Marcus Ranii-Dropcho: Club ultimate vs. semi-pro
  • Close, Appreciation and Rating the Output (5 minutes).