Nothing quite says you’ve made it in the sports world like an appearance on ESPN.
In recent years, Ultimate has cracked the Worldwide Leader’s highlights on a few occasions with an assortment of diving catches, aerial acrobatics and long-range tosses. While it may never be completely mainstream, it is a sport on the rise.
“Pro leagues have really started taking off, getting a lot more visibility. If you Google ‘SportsCenter Top 10 Ultimate,’ you’ll see a lot more clips these days,” said Venu Manne, treasurer for the Albuquerque Ultimate Association (AUA). “We’re seeing a lot of growth nationally and globally.”
There’s a burgeoning Ultimate scene in the Duke City as well, and one doesn’t need to be capable of gravity-defying feats to participate. The AUA’s summer league is set to launch on Wednesday, June 1, with registration still open at abqultimate.com.
“It goes from beginners to people who have been playing for years,” Manne said. “It’s kind of a good mix that show up for the league.”
The season runs approximately 10 games and concludes with a tournament in late July or early August.
Fees range from $25 for those under 18 to $55 for general adults. There are typically eight teams with 16 to 20 players per squad (with seven players on the field at any given time). Regular registration closes May 29, but late registration can be an option if the league hasn’t yet reached full capacity. In the interest of fairness, players register as individuals and are assigned to teams via draft. That way there are no overly stacked squads. According to Manne, teams are divided based on three main categories: experience, fitness level and throwing ability.
“When you have such a disparity in levels, it sort of evens it out more,” Manne said. “The draft gets a few experienced players on teams, a few mid-level players on a team and gets a few beginners on each team. And it helps with the competitive balance and also just getting to meet people and getting to know people better in the community.”
Games, which are played on Wednesdays at North Domingo Baca Park or USS Bullhead Memorial Park, usually last about an hour and a half. For those unfamiliar with the ins and outs of Ultimate, it combines elements of multiple sports with passing, receiving and quick transitions from offense to defense.
Stamina and athleticism typically come in handy.
While there is a certain level of friendly competition in the league, it never gets too extreme.
“Ultimate itself never seems to get very heated. People tend to be pretty relaxed to play,” Manne says. “… Everyone wants to win and do well but there’s also an understanding that hey, there are beginners on the field. People are not gonna be able to throw that well. There are gonna be mistakes. There are gonna be drops.
“I think everyone takes it with a grain of salt. People play hard. People are running around. It’s really good exercise. I think that’s why a lot of people keep coming back.”
Manne is a veteran player, with more than 20 years of Ultimate experience – including 10 in Albuquerque. He emphasizes that beginners should hone their craft by practicing throwing on a regular basis.
The good news in that regard is there are plenty of experienced players willing to lend a hand with technique.
There are also informal pickup games available year-round at various sites which allow players to gain more valuable experience – minus the league fee.
“We really recommend don’t just come to summer league and never touch a Frisbee the rest of the week,” he said. “If you’re gonna play, you go out with your buddies, throw a little bit before, throw a little bit during the rest of the week. That really helps people in terms of developing as players.”
For those seeking a higher level of competition, there is a mixed division club team called “Sin Nombre” that travels to various regional tournaments throughout the year, and there were also a few local female standouts who recently competed for a semi-professional women’s team in Phoenix. Overall though, it’s a pretty inclusive game – no matter aptitude of the player.
“For me personally, I find it to be a great team sport,” Manne said. “Every person on the field contributes to Ultimate. It really challenges you in that fashion. Everyone is involved.”