Vermont is now the first state in the United States to recognize "ultimate" ó the game that started as Ultimate Frisbee ó as a high school varsity sport.
A committee that oversees high school sports in the state, the Vermont Principals Association, unanimously approved ultimate last week as a varsity sport starting in the spring of 2019.
Ultimate is played on a field slightly smaller than a football field by teams of seven. Players pass a disc down the field until a teammate catches it in the end zone. If the disc is dropped, it is turned over to the other team. The game is widely known as Frisbee but the trademarked toy name is not officially used for the sport.
Bob Johnson, associate executive director for the association, said the sport was sanctioned as an exhibition sport for the last three years and has grown tremendously in Vermont high schools.
"If you can get students involved in sports or activities they do better academically," Johnson said. "The more opportunities we can create, the better things are."
Montpelier High School physics teacher and ultimate coach Anne Watson said she began the push for varsity recognition seven years ago. Varsity ensures the players wonít have to pay to participate and that coaches are paid and given safety training.
"Itís a matter of equity," Watson said Monday noting, her school has treated the ultimate teams as though they were varsity for some time.
Her players are thrilled with the recognition. Even though the girls and boys teams have won state championships at the club level, theyíre looking forward to being able to see their championship banners displayed in the school.
"Itís competitive in a good way," said Montpelier junior Sophia Currier, who said she feels ultimate isnít as nasty as some other sports.
Charlie Eisenhood, the editor-in-chief of the website Ultiworld, which considers itself to be a news media website dedicated to the sport, said the sport has come a long way in the last decade from when it was thought of as a game for hippies that was played with dogs.
Andy Lee, spokesman for the sportís governing body, USA Ultimate, said Monday Vermontís recognition of ultimate as a varsity sport sends the message that itís a real sport. The group sanctions teams at the youth, college and adult levels, and passed 50,000 members in 2015.
"Itís another step toward visibility and legitimacy," he said of the sport founded at Columbia High School in Maplewood, New Jersey, in 1968.
Dan Shepardson, the activities director at Vermontís Champlain Valley Union High School, just south of Burlington, said the school has about 30 boys playing ultimate and seven or eight girls. He expects the school will field both a varsity and junior varsity team when the sport turns varsity. Unlike most team sports, ultimate has no referees, requiring the players to work out their differences.
"Thatís a pretty important life skill, I think, being able to resolve a disagreement peacefully and quickly so they can move on," Shepardson said.