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GCU Ultimate at Center of the Sports Growing Popularity

Ultimate players on field
August 14, 2017

By Jesse Vineyard/GCU Staff

Ultimate Frisbee is no longer just a game you played in middle school gym class.

There are teams and leagues in over 90 countries across the world and here in the United States, the game at the collegiate level continues to grow every year.

The Grand Canyon University Ultimate Frisbee club is one of over 700 colleges across the nation to be part of the expansion. The sport itself houses over 14,000 student-athletes in the US and GCU has seen the surge in popularity first-hand.

Last year, there were over 600 students interested in the program. However, with only one team and the lingering confusion on what Ultimate Frisbee even is, many didn’t return.

“It is difficult,” sophomore captain Micah Gross said. “You can teach someone to throw a Frisbee and play a position, but it’s hard work if you don’t have much of a sports background. A lot of people don’t understand how much of a commitment it is.”

Gross himself knows what that’s like.

“I thought ultimate was a bunch of people throwing a Frisbee around,” Gross said. “I didn’t start playing until welcome week my freshman year. I showed up to practice and really liked it.”

Even with the program’s space limitations, it’s the newness of the team and uniqueness of the sport that’s driving the rise in popularity. Ultimate Frisbee is a non-stop movement game that includes no referees. It relies on the ‘Spirit of the Game’ that places emphasis on sportsmanship and fair play. The team-friendly, easy-to-pickup aspect is why many are interested in the first place.

“The Ultimate Frisbee environment is one of the best I’ve ever seen,” junior captain Adam Barth said. “When I showed up to my first [tournament], everyone on the other teams were friendly. Each team played to win, but they were friendly about it.”

The sport holds a distinctive atmosphere, but one shouldn’t expect the Lopes to not have the drive to win. Their aim is to have the same competitive nature as any other team on campus. As a third year program in a sport not many are familiar with, the team faces challenges just like anyone else. Last season, GCU had just 16 total players on the roster; 12 of which had no prior experience.

But the Lopes are no different in what they intend to prove. Under the guidance of head coach Josh Kohl, who has played Ultimate Frisbee for over 10 years, GCU is able to instill a setting that is not only fun for all involved, but a culture that competes for every win.

“I started in college playing all the mainstream sports,” Kohl said. “Having gone through those things, gone through college, I have [been able to] mentor them a little bit.”

For those who had no prior experience, the simplicity of the sport is what Kohl teaches. By also offering a winning culture, the sport itself appeals to everyone.

“I try and make it as simple as I can,” Kohl said. “Some people are just coming out to throw the disk around a little bit. For others it’s the complete opposite. As long as we’re staying true to our process, we want to win games.”

Winning games is one thing, but maintaining that success is another. In order to compete for wins, the Lopes sell the game’s identity and their program’s ambition to potential new recruits for their continued development.

“No one expected we were going to be practicing so much to be competitive,” Barth said. “We’re trying to be just like all the other teams who want to win.”

Striving for success isn’t exclusive to any one sport. Yet in a unique sport like Ultimate Frisbee, GCU has the advantage of a sport that is easy to play, but also one that is young and builds for the future.

“We want to be a building block for the program, but we need to recognize that it’s not just about this year,” Gross said. “It’s about next year and the next 5-10 years.

“We have so many things to look forward to that we’re not looking forward to just being a building block.”