Submitted by Karlis Bouse
While many of us spent cold winter months reading, baking and watching Netflix marathons, there was a group of dedicated student athletes who had other ideas this season. In the absence of Nepean High School sports, the Ultimate Frisbee team opted to run informal training and practice sessions at nearby McKellar Park in order to stay active and connected. They started in September, and with players keen to participate in any available outdoor sports and social activities, the commitment was excellent through the fall season, with a dedicated core of about 25 players consistently attending.
For those less familiar with Ultimate Frisbee, it’s a fast-moving field sport, combining elements of football, soccer and basketball. Originating in the 1960s, it’s now played by more than seven million people in over 90 countries. One of its unique features is that there are no referees, with players self-officiating, and adhering to the governing concept of the “spirit of the game.”
Ottawa has a rich history with the sport, with the Ottawa-Carleton Ultimate Association (OCUA) running leagues and programs for youth, juniors and adults throughout the seasons. In the Kitchissippi neighbourhoods, the Fisher Park/Summit Alternative Phoenix and Nepean Knights Ultimate teams are among the strongest school programs in the city in both team performance on the field as well as for the spirit, positive sportsmanship and fun they bring to middle school and high school tournaments.
Recognizing the need to stay vigilant through the pandemic, coaches and volunteer parents ensured strict adherence to public health protocols during all practice and training sessions. They carried out attendance and health checks for players, ensured hand and equipment sanitizing, enforced physical distancing during warm-up and drills, modified the program to follow new and changing health guidelines, limited numbers and group sizes and cancelled when necessary. Throughout the fall and winter, participants recognized they were fortunate to have a regular social and sport activity, and were always respectful of the rules to ensure each other’s safety and continued health.
As fall turned into winter, the coaches anticipated that interest and attendance would also drop. That was, however, not the case. In fact, with the first big snowfall in December, players were out in full force, jumping, diving and (to be fair) falling in the freshly fallen snow. It was a clear demonstration of the dedication of these young players; their love of Ultimate Frisbee; and their commitment to physical, mental, emotional and social health.
When asked why they continue to come and play Ultimate with the group, the answers had common threads of fun, togetherness, exercise and social interactions. Hugh mentioned that “Ultimate is an amazing sport, and I love to play with friends, get physical activity, and have an opportunity to build the school community in a positive way through mentoring and sports.”
One of the other players, Callia, explained that “With COVID[-19], we’re restricted in what we can do these days, so playing is an amazing way to get outside, see friends […] and stay safe.”
Their teammate, Bee, said “I need exercise and activities, and I love playing Ultimate and being able to interact with friends and make new ones!”
Finally, Coach Kathy mentioned that “Ultimate is an incredible sport to bring people together in an inclusive and positive environment, and gives kids of different ages, grades and groups a chance to come together where they normally wouldn’t have an opportunity.”
These ultimate kids (no pun intended) incorporated an element of social commitment and community awareness into their training sessions. They invited the Snowsuit Fund and the Ottawa Food Bank to speak one week and collected donations in support of both organizations. They also supported the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) through the Snow Angels for CHEO program, helping families going through the challenge of pediatric cancer. It was yet another reason to admire the social commitment of these young community members.
Without fail, through rain, snow, wind and cold, this group of players has continued to persevere and inspire other young people through their dedication to their sport and to each other. They have each made a conscious decision to commit to their own personal physical, mental, emotional and social health. Let’s hope they continue to keep those frisbees flying, and we look forward to seeing them back on the field officially before too long!
Karlis Bouse, aka “Coach Karlis,” is the coach of the Ultimate Frisbee team.