Ultimate frisbee is one of few mixed-gender sports offered in Nova Scotia high schools, and one of few team sports in general where there’s no referee.
It relies on the honour system, bringing trust and respect into an atmosphere that tends to get a little competitive.
“It’s actually really good for dealing with those things, learning to talk with another person while you disagree with them and be respectful,” said James McKenna, secretary for the board of directors at Disc Nova Scotia.
“It helps (the athletes) trust each other. They have to assume that everyone they’re talking to is being honest with them, which is really good for communication skills, and just dealing with those tempers as they flare up.”
He spoke from the turf of the BMO Soccer Centre, where high schoolers kicked off the season on Saturday with an indoor four-on-four championship. Eleven teams from 10 high schools across the province attended.
Its welcoming atmosphere and friendly play is part of what makes it so popular, explained Citadel High School coach Sarah Ross. Ultimate is one of the fastest-growing sports in Canada, and in Nova Scotia, it’s so popular that some high schools can support two teams, and multiple styles of play.
Many of the girls on her team run the show, she added, and playing with the opposite sex gives everyone a little more confidence.
“It’s a really nice, safe space for people who don’t have a sports background, and so that’s a lot of who we see,” said Ross. “And it teaches them sports, it teaches them field awareness, it teaches them all of those good things that they otherwise wouldn’t have got, because they didn’t get into hockey or soccer early on.”
But just because some of the players don’t have a background in sports, doesn’t mean they’re not skilled. Many of the players in the tournament on Saturday will try out for the provincial competitive club team in a few weeks, and McKenna said there were a number rising stars on the field.
“It’s great,” he told Global News. “There are players playing in this tournament who, in a year or two, will be some of the best players in the province. They’ve started playing younger than most people two, and they’re become very good very quickly.”
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Eighteen-year-old Lily Munk of Citadel High School is considered to be one of those stars. She has her eyes on a spot on ultimate team at St. Francis Xavier University, where she’ll study next year. To help prepare, this summer she’ll be training with two of Nova Scotia’s elite teams – Salty Ultimate and Anchor Ultimate.
She believes ultimate is a misunderstood sport.
“They think it’s just throwing a disc, like throwing plastic, and I think that they don’t understand the physicality that it takes to run hard, cause you’re cutting and it’s a small space, and you need to be smart about what you’re doing,” she said.
The high school ultimate season runs from spring until fall and the next big tournament will be an outdoor, seven-on-seven championship in June.