Few know that Boston is a mecca for Ultimate Frisbee, but those in the city who ascribe to the values of the sport and the fun of its competition have long been trying to grow the past time with kids in the neighborhoods.
It’s been a long journey, but this year one advocacy organization and two Ultimate advocates, Dana Dunwoody and Ultimate Hall of Famer Steve Mooney, have been able to get the game into the hands of Boston kids. Nowhere was that more apparent than last Thursday, Aug. 2, when a full-day clinic for Boston Center for Youth and Families (BCYF) SuperTeens around the city flew into the Charlestown High field.
The SuperTeens program and Boston Ultimate Disc Association (BUDA) combined efforts on the clinic to teach hundreds of young people – including an enthusiastic group from Charlestown – about the game and the values that go along with it.
SuperTeens is a six-week program run by BCYF in the summer at 21 community centers across the city, including the Charlestown Community Center. Kids ages 13 and 14 can apply to be part of the program, and those accepted are able to have fun learning experiences – including last week’s Ultimate Frisbee clinic.
“Ultimate lines up with the values we are trying to teach in our program, that being non-violence, integrity, friendships and fun,” said Kate Hennigan. “It’s a sport that is fun, isn’t overly competitive and uses collaboration and teamwork. Anyone with any physical ability level can play with confidence. It’s really a user-friendly sport.”
That’s exactly what Dunwoody has been trying to get going for some years. The clinic on Thursday was years in the making. Dunwoody is the head coach for the girls’ varsity basketball team at English High in Jamaica Plain, but her passion has long been Ultimate. A three-sport athlete who excelled at soccer and basketball, she migrated to Ultimate while in college at Temple University – playing on the college’s women’s and mixed teams.
Now, working on a doctorate at Boston University, she has begun a partnership with the Boston Public Schools and the City to get more of an Ultimate presence in the city.
“It’s a very teach it as you go sport,” she said. “It’s not like a vertical hierarchy of athletes. It’s an equal playing field. One person’s experience affects everyone’s experience. It’s communal and that’s very different that the other sports available to young people.”
The overarching goal for Dunwoody is to create positive sport experiences for all young people. While many flourish in traditional sports, far more are turned off from a negative experience, and simply check out. She believes Ultimate can be a solution in the schools to provide a physical outlet for those students.
“It takes one negative event for students to disengage from sports for a lifetime, whether from a coach, a referee, a parent in the stands or a teammate,” she said. “I’m trying to bring them positive cascading moments where development comes first and sport comes later.”
Mooney actually moved to Boston in the 1980s to play Ultimate here, noting that the city has been a hotbed of competition in Ultimate for years, but that hotbed doesn’t often trickle down to school-aged kids.
“Boston is a mecca for Ultimate,” he said, noting that Ultimate Frisbee is sanctioned as a potential Olympic sport for the future. “We’ve had multiple national champions coming out of Boston – men’s, women’s and mixed teams. This program is the epitome of the sport. It’s about leadership. I became successful in my business – I work in a marketing agency here – because I learned to lead playing Ultimate.”
And if that can happen for him, Dunwoody said it can happen for so many teens in Boston who are looking for positive outlet for their creative energy.
Perhaps it can be drawn out with a Frisbee.
Ultimate Frisbee Hall of Famer Steve Mooney was one of the instructors at Thursday’s clinic in Charlestown with the BCYF SuperTeens. He said he became successful in his business because he learned to lead by playing Ultimate.