What to know about the ultimate frisbee scene in Boston – Boston.com

By Marta Hill
Boston sports fans are well aware of the thriving hockey, basketball, and baseball teams in the city (and the numerous opportunities for everyday people to play those sports), but many don’t realize that ultimate frisbee is also alive and well in the area. 
Frisbees to many may be a relic of summer days spent throwing a disc in the backyard or on a beach, but for some people, it’s a lot more than that.
Here are some basics on ultimate frisbee, as well as details on a thriving scene in Boston.
First, let’s clarify, it is not the same as disc golf. Both sports are played with a frisbee, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end. 
Disc golf, as the name suggests, is much more akin to golf — players attempt to land their disc in the hole with as few throws as possible. 
Ultimate frisbee on the other hand is more like a combination of basketball, football, and soccer— players throw the disc to each other and attempt to score in an end zone. 
“Ultimate frisbee is a team sport that combines the dynamism and running play of sports like soccer with the field shape and strategic and tactical positioning of something like football,” Rob Brazile, who played in college and is now coaching one of the top women’s teams in the country, said. 
Ultimate started in 1968 at a New Jersey high school, according to the main national organizing body for the sport, USA Ultimate, and is played with seven players from each team on the field at once. 
The team on offense tries to move the frisbee toward their end zone. Players make cuts toward or away from the disc, while the thrower tries to find good options. 
Once someone catches the disc, they must stop moving and have 10 seconds to throw it. At the same time, a defensive player, known as the mark, is doing their best to cut off options and make it harder for the disc to move to the next player.
For most levels of play, games are held on fields 70 yards by 40 yards, with 20-yard-deep end zones — smaller than a soccer or football field. 
The team on defense tries to keep the offense from scoring. It is a non-contact sport that is self officiated, meaning players are responsible for calling fouls and rule violations and resolving them on the field respectfully. 
One of the main things that sets ultimate apart from a lot of team sports is Spirit of the Game, or the expectation that high levels of competition should not come at the expense of mutual respect, adherence to rules, and the “basic joy of play,” according to the USA Ultimate rulebook.
For a taste of what ultimate looks like at the highest college level, check out this video from the recent college national tournament. 
Boston certainly has a large ultimate community, but it is not the only city that boasts opportunities to get involved — other places like Seattle, San Francisco, and Atlanta are also hotspots. 
“I know quite a number of people who if you ask them, ‘Why did you end up moving to Boston or why did you choose to move to Boston?’ If they’re being really honest? I heard there’s a lot of ultimate here,” Ian Marlier, the president of Boston Ultimate Disc Alliances, said.
So, what is the ultimate scene in Boston like?
With more than 25 club teams in and around Massachusetts that are overseen by the Boston Ultimate Disc Alliance, or BUDA, there are options at the highest level of play, or options with much lower commitment. 
The club season runs from about April through September for most teams.
“Club frisbee is simultaneously the highest level of the sport for most people, … but it is also, for the most part and with only a very few exceptions, a hobby,” Brazile said. 
Brazile is the head coach for Brute Squad, Boston’s most dominant women’s team, which finished second at Nationals last year. 
Brute isn’t the only team that is nationally known however. In the men’s division, DiG finished seventh and Sprout finished 12th in 2021; in the mixed division, Sprocket finished sixth and Slow finished ninth; and in the women’s division, Siege joined Brute at Nationals and finished 14th. 
“Having representation in all three divisions means that players have a lot of options,” Brazile said. “Even among just those wanting to compete at the highest level, you can be on a women’s team, you can be on a mixed team, you can compete for a men’s team.”
While frisbee players certainly keep coming back for the love of the sport, many, like Jean Huang who plays for Sprocket, also come back because of the people. 
“It’s really important to me that the club team that I’m on supports my values, and we share the same mission and goals and vision,” Huang said. “Getting to know folks, making new friends, like lifelong friendships, is my favorite part for sure.”
Not every club team is nationally competitive though, there are also options at a much lower commitment level. BUDA runs learning leagues and hat leagues designed to let anyone who wants to play come get experience. 
The game of ultimate in Boston extends to the professional level, with the pro men’s team Boston Glory. 
Glory plays in the Eastern conference of the American Ultimate Disc League, or AUDL, which has 25 teams across the United States and Canada. Much like professional football or soccer, the team has a regular season, followed by a postseason in which teams in the entire league compete. 
AUDL games are played on a larger field than other levels of the sport and there are referees, unlike in most ultimate settings.
“There’s a big difference because guys are getting paid to show up and they’re playing in a single game in a day,” Lucas Johnson, a co-owner of Glory, said.
Because professional ultimate is still in its infancy, athletes only make about $50-100 a game, Johnson said.
“Obviously the league would love to get to a point where everyone in the league is getting paid and it’s their full time job to play professional ultimate, but we’ve seen with even other sports that it could take a long time to get there,” Johnson said. 
The AUDL isn’t the only professional ultimate league in the country, however it is the only with a team in Boston. On the women’s side of the game, there is both the Premier Ultimate League, and the Western Ultimate League. The closest professional women’s team is Portland Rising, based out of Portland, Maine.
Even though the professional ultimate game looks a bit different, Spirit of the Game is still maintained, Johnson said. It is encompassed in the integrity rule, which allows players to call fouls on their own actions or overturn an incorrect call that would have benefited their team.
“I think [the players] carry a lot of [spirit] over from their club and college careers,” Johnson said. “We have a lot of really good players … and a lot of that comes from the good spirit and communities that they played in before.”
Glory plays home games at Hormel Stadium in Medford, and has three home games left for the season. 
“There are some elite elite athletes in this game,” Johnson said. “The best way honestly to understand that and enjoy the game is to try playing pickup or even watch people play.” 
In and around Boston there are kids of all ages (even as young as 5 or 6) playing frisbee, Sam Farnsworth, BUDA’s director of operations, said. 
BUDA — one of the largest and oldest ultimate organizations in the country — operates recreational leagues, youth programs, clinics and training programs, competitive youth teams, and tournaments, among other initiatives. 
From a youth perspective, BUDA is really focusing on growing involvement, Farnsworth and Marlier said. 
“For a sort of old guy like myself, it’s really ridiculous that my club team has 12 or 13 year olds … who throw better than anyone on the team because they’ve been throwing a frisbee since they were 2,” Marlier said.
BUDA is working with school districts and city and town recreation departments to operate municipal programs aimed at making frisbee accessible to everyone.
“For our youngest age groups, … we are just trying to get more touches, more moving and more fun — kind of the principles of it,” Farnsworth said. 
Ultimate programs across the country are always looking for coaches, and BUDA is no exception. Brazile, who has spent years coaching for BUDA and running youth programs, said coaching is a rewarding way to give back to the ultimate community.
“For anyone who is interested in coaching or thinks they might be interested in coaching, give it a try,” Brazile said.
If you want this summer to be the year you finally take your backyard frisbee throwing skills to the next level, here’s how to get involved in Ultimate in and around Boston. 
From a youth perspective, BUDA runs a number of programs, both for competitive players with some experience and for people looking to learn the basics.
For adults there is a summer hat league and a summer learning league through BUDA, both of which promise support for players just starting out.
Most club teams are already rolling for the season, but contact information for future years is available online
Even another option to get involved with is pickup games. BUDA runs an email list where people can get more information and hear when teams are looking for extra players. 
Farnsworth emphasized that anyone looking for something they can’t find can reach out to [email protected] 
I played the very first intercollegiate tournament in 1973, and then 25 more years. Only team sport, where offense cannot score unassisted. Amazing. Try it; let’s get ‘em flyin’ ! https://t.co/9tB9dDUjrB
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