Ultimate frisbee popularity soars at BYU and in Utah County

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    By Byron Goodrich

    A team of BYU students is looking to challenge the ranks of the Ultimate Frisbee world.

    Members of the BYU intramural team The Buck Toothed Swans are actively involved in raising the level of play in the game of Ultimate here in Utah County.

    They are also looking to raise awareness of the game in general.

    Although ultimate is not an NCAA sport, over 200 colleges and universities across the country have teams that compete on a national level. The Ultimate Players Association, the national governing body of the sport, has officially sponsored a College National Championship since 1984.

    The names of some of the top teams demonstrate that this is by no means an obscure sport.

    Teams like Stanford, Brown, Cornell and Wisconsin have been some of the ones competing for the title over the last few years.

    For now though, Ultimate Frisbee is only offered as an intramural activity at BYU.

    BYU currently sponsors four men’s teams: soccer, rugby, lacrosse and racquetball, said Lee Gibbons, administrator of extramural sports on campus.

    While these teams have been very successful, Gibbons does not foresee the addition of any more extramural sports in the near future, he said.

    The Buck Toothed Swans have a storied history in BYU intramural sports.

    The Swans started playing under that name in the fall of 1996, but the origins of the team go back even further than that.

    Ronnie Bjarnason, a senior from Turlock, Calif., has captained the team for the last three years.

    The team’s forefathers began playing somewhere around the fall of 1991, and there has been a continuation of at least one or two players ever since then, Bjarnason said.

    Ultimate Frisbee has seen a tremendous increase in popularity over the last few years, especially here at BYU.

    “It’s one of our most popular sports,” said Tamar Manderino, program director for intramural sports.

    “There is a lot of interest, and it usually sells out on the first day.”

    Intramural records show that 24 teams competed in ultimate Frisbee during the fall of 1995. Last fall there were 64 teams.

    Aaron Miller, a senior from Bozeman, Mont., is another player who has experienced the recent growth of Ultimate.

    “Ultimate has grown a lot, just in the last few years,” said Miller, who began playing just three years ago.

    Even though he hasn’t been playing quite as long as others, Miller sees ultimate as something he can continue for some time to come.

    “I love it because it’s a lifetime sport,” Miller said.

    “This is a sport I can picture myself playing when I’m 40, 50, even 60 years old.”

    Though the sport may be a lifelong pursuit, Miller and his teammates have already seen their fair share of success. The Swans have always been one of the top teams in the intramural ranks, but recently they showed they could be competitive at the next level as well.

    Back in April, Miller and several others traveled to Pocatello, Idaho, to compete in the second annual Snack Master Classic, a tournament hosted by Idaho State’s Ultimate team.

    In the 1999 tourney, the BYU contingent qualified to play in the finals, but passed up the opportunity because the games were played on Sunday.

    This year the games were all played in one day, and BYU came away with the tournament championship.

    ISU was ranked at No. 51 at the time by the UPA, but BYU beat them twice to win the title.

    Although Miller and the others would love the opportunity to represent BYU at the intercollegiate level, right now they are focusing their efforts on helping Ultimate continue to grow in this area.

    Plans are already underway to start an Ultimate Club on campus next year.

    Bryan Morse, who works in the computer science department on campus, has agreed to be the faculty sponsor for the club.

    An official BYUSA charter has been drafted, and Morse, who has been playing ultimate since he was a teenager, said the purpose for the club is two-fold.

    “The ultimate club will raise the level of play through workshops and strategy lessons,” Morse said.

    “It will also teach players to play in the spirit of the game. Good competition shouldn’t take away from good sportsmanship.”

    Sportsmanship is one of the basic tenets of ultimate. The UPA official rules state that, “Competitive play is encouraged, but never at the expense of the bond of mutual respect between players, adherence to the rules of the game or the basic joy of play.”

    Rules like this one make Ultimate a refreshing alternative to the die-hard competition found in more recognized sports these days, Miller said.

    Thanks to the local aficionados, BYU intramurals is not the only option anymore for those interested in playing Ultimate.

    Last fall, the Utah County Ultimate League began its inaugural season with only five teams.

    This spring there are over 100 people playing on 10 teams.

    BYU graduate Brady Wycherly, who needed an outlet to play when his intramural eligibility ran out, founded the league.

    League play wrapped up this past weekend, and teams are now preparing for the final tournament.

    Miller encourages those who haven’t experienced ultimate to come and see it for themselves.

    “People don’t realize it, but Ultimate is a great spectator sport,” Miller said.

    Those interested in catching a glimpse of the action can see the tournament Saturday, May 16, at the Orem cemetery annex field, located at 1200 North and 800 East in Orem. Play begins at 9 a.m. and will last until about 2 p.m.

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