After going corporate, ultimate Frisbee seeks to fly high in bay area

TAMPA

It's a different sight, but familiar.

Teenage boys drenched in sweat, darting between orange cones. Cleats churning through grass as they change direction to sprint again. Each time a boy reaches a cone, another passes to him.

Kids usually play soccer or practice throwing footballs on these fields. Tampa's high schoolers don't play competitive ultimate Frisbee. Or they didn't.

Not until a group of enthusiasts got together in November and decided the only way for the fringe sport, which they simply call ultimate, to thrive in the Tampa Bay area was to show youths and parents its virtues.

So Paul Rabaut offered to coach a team of high school boys to play in January's Janus 2012 Ultimate Tournament in Winter Haven.

And Jack Dupell, along with the newly formed board of Tampa Bay Area Ultimate, approached the Hillsborough County School District to set up a clinic to teach physical education teachers the basics of the game.

"All you need is a disc, some cones and a pair of cleats," said Dupell, who organizes the Tampa Bay Winter League. "Once you have the field space, it's cheap."

Rabaut, 28, of Tampa, a graduate student at the University of South Florida, said ultimate is a great alternative to the contact sports children are socialized with and offers the same benefits.

Generally, teams of seven players advance the disc by passing it to one another down a 70-yard field to score in the opposing team's 25-yard end zone. Drop the disc and the other team gets a shot. The rules are so clear-cut that the game is self-officiated.

"Others sports are obviously competing with ultimate for players, but as the concussion awareness rises, I think more people will see the benefits of ultimate because it is no-contact," Rabaut said.

Created in the 1960s and a mainstay on college campuses, ultimate evokes certain images from the layman — images that make the diehards chuckle.

"Friends say, 'Okay. Where's your dog?' " Rabaut laughed.

Others picture hippies running barefoot, tossing a disc. "This is pretty mainstream — no alcohol, no weed," he said. "Not many people know about it because you don't see it on television."

That's part of the reason not enough teenagers are playing, Dupell said. His vision of the ultimate community in the Tampa Bay area mirrors cities like Portland, Ore., and Boston, where hundreds of high-level players compete in Sunday leagues.

USA Ultimate, the national governing body, has been around for 32 years and held its national championship tourney in October in Sarasota. The bay area has three club-level teams — the open division or all-men's team, Uproar; the mixed team, Team 7; and women's division team, Sol.

Most Florida universities have collegiate teams that play in sanctioned games, and the University of Florida took home the open division title in 2010.

Florida hosted its first high school state championship in May in Kissimmee, said Bill Igar, USA Ultimate's Florida youth coordinator. Only seven teams participated and it wasn't sanctioned.

So it has room to grow.

To get the ball rolling, Dupell and 11 other regular pickup game organizers came together to create a nonprofit structure and incorporate Tampa Bay Area Ultimate in November.

"Generally, ultimate has been something that has been self-run. You don't see large counties and cities making an effort like they do with softball and kickball and flag football. We've taken it upon ourselves to grow the sport. We're not relying on anyone else," said Dupell, 26, a commercial real estate broker from Tampa.

Incorporating will deal with two issues and provide an over-arching organization for local ultimate players.

Renting and reserving city fields with lights requires injury insurance, and some fields require the liable party be an organization.

Now with Tampa Bay Area Ultimate going corporate, various affiliated pickup games every day of the week across three counties will be insured. And it forms an official fundraising structure to pay for lighting fields and hosting tournaments, and possibly some future travel.

It's a huge leap from the days of leaving the office and heading to a field to play with friends, said Leonard Cho, an organizer with Tampa Bay Area Ultimate.

"We created Tampa Bay Area Ultimate to help us take charge of the growth," said Cho, 50, an information technology specialist from St. Petersburg. "Part of what we're trying to do is raise some awareness and just plain marketing by creating fliers people can post on a bulletin board at work and at gyms."

Steve Widoff, a Tampa photographer, helps Rabaut coach the boys team because he wants his teenager to be able to participate.

"He's been playing with me since he was young, but now it's more difficult because he's getting older and his friends don't play," Widoff said.

So until it catches on, there's always Rabaut's team and the Janus tournament.

The teens, who have been practicing for a month on Davis Islands, will play in the open division against traveling teams of adults who have played together for years. Few seem deterred.

"I used to play in tournaments when I was 12 or 13 with my dad," said Zac Copper, 16, a sophomore at Berkeley Prep in Tampa.

He recently came back to the sport after leaving when his father injured himself. Copper fancies himself a recruiter of teen talent. "Once we get them out there, they love it. The trouble is getting them out."

Most teens don't get to discover ultimate the way Cameron Menendez did.

The 17-year-old Plant High junior played his first game against counselors at Boy Scout camp and became hooked.

"I love the sport," Menendez said. "It's the perfect mix of every sport, the speed of basketball and the strategy of football. It's so perfectly balanced, the running, throwing and catching. Ultimate fits me best, I think."

Two down. Thousands to go.

Want to play?

Players of all skill levels can sign up to play in Tampa Bay Winter League, a Thursday evening league in Pinellas County. The fee is $50 per person. Go to tampabaywinterleague.com.

If you're looking to learn the game before making a financial commitment, check out pickupultimate.com/map/city/tampa to find a game near you.

Just want to watch? The Janus 2012 Ultimate Tournament will be Jan. 14-15 at Simmers-Young Park at 299 Cypress Gardens Blvd. in Winter Haven. Games begin at 9 a.m. and are free to watch.

After going corporate, ultimate Frisbee seeks to fly high in bay area 12/30/11 [Last modified: Friday, December 30, 2011 7:17am]

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