In 1967, a few New Jersey high school students invented a new game, a hybrid of soccer and their skills from tossing around Frisbees at the Jersey shore. It was so much fun that one of the boys called it the "ultimate" sport, a term that stuck. An important tenant of their invented game, largely coming out of the ethos of the time, was there were no real rules besides "play fair" — a laidback attitude has centered ultimate Frisbee as a good-natured game and amiable sport. When those original players migrated to college, they took the game with them and slowly, "ultimate" began to pollinate east coast schools like Princeton and Rutgers.
In spite of the laidback beginnings, ultimate has steadily become an increasingly mainstream sport, with even ESPN broadcasting the NCAA semi-finals and championship games this past spring (University of Colorado won the men's division; Ohio State, the women's). Locally, Summit High has declared ultimate as a varsity letter sport—and, two weekends ago, seven of those players were part of a co-ed team that claimed bragging right as "national champions."
What is particularly exciting about the Oregon teens' run for the national title is how unlikely it was. In an underdog narrative that Disney couldn't have scripted any better, the Oregon team—the Oregon Flood, a hodgepodge of 19 teenagers from around the state, including the seven from Summit High—started the tournament with a lowly ranking of eighth (out of eight teams).
"The first day of the tournament was the first time that the whole team had played together," explained Chris Williams, an easygoing player from the Oregon Flood team who will enter his senior year this fall at Summit High.
Held in Blaine, Minn., a Minneapolis suburb, the tournament was held on August 9 and 10. In its first two games, the Oregon squad lost in back-to-back tiebreakers; first 7-8 against a formidable team from California, the Bay Area Happy Cows, and then, 8-9 against a squad from Washington, D.C., the Swing Vote.
At that point, to stay in the competition, the Oregon Flood needed to win its next two games. In its third game, against Colorado, the team seemed to come together; not as big as the other teams, it adopted a quick style and destroyed Colorado, 13-1.
"By the fourth game," recalls Ryan Schluter, another player for the team, "we were super amped; we yelled our hearts out." That spunk seemed to carry them, as the team beat a team representing Massachusetts, 11-6, and qualified for the quarterfinals.
The Flood moved through a strong team from Vermont in the quarterfinals, 10-8, but by the semifinal, it seemed as if the Oregon team had lost its footing. Once again, they faced the team from Washington, D.C., which already had beaten them once, and just before halftime, they already were losing, 5-1.
"But slowly," explained Williams, "we chipped away." By halftime, they made a strong run, but still trailed 7-4. They turned those numbers around in the second half, and squeaked out an 11-10 victory, placing them in the final game, again against a team that already had beaten them, the California squad.
The first half was back-and-forth between the two teams, with strong defensive plays from Oregon. Even so, the Oregon players held an edge throughout the game, and ended 11-7 to claim their national title.
In a few weeks, both Williams and Schluter will enter their senior years. Four years ago, Summit High won the boys' state championship. Since then, though, they have been left knocking on the door, with two second places finishes and, last year, slipping to third place.
Williams' prediction for this coming year, though?
"Oh, we're going to win," he said without hesitation.