U of G's ultimate Frisbee team celebrates.
U of G’s ultimate Frisbee team celebrates a goal.

At its core, ultimate Frisbee is a remarkably simple game, says U of G grad Eamonn Pinto. Yet it also combines the best of many sports, with intense action, strategy and exciting plays.

“It’s incredibly athletically demanding and a true team sport, but anyone at any level can play and have a great time,” Pinto says.

Sure, it’s not as well-known as hockey or football, but that may be changing, and some U of G students and alumni are part of that change. The Toronto Rush, a professional team that competes in the American Ultimate Disc League, includes six players who graduated from U of G and a current student on its roster. That’s seven U of G players out of 27. In 2013, the Toronto Rush had an undefeated season and captured the league championship.

This year, the league added a Western Conference, including teams in Salt Lake City, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle and Vancouver. A team in Montreal has joined the Eastern Conference. The league has continued its expansion plans into 2017.

“I think this highlights how strong the U of G’s Ultimate Frisbee Club has become,” says Cameron Harris, who recently completed a master’s degree in molecular and cellular biology and is now working on a research project with Prof. Nina Jones. “We are developing elite-level talent.”

The U of G team won the open division of the Canadian University Ultimate Championships in 2010 and 2013. The women’s team won silver in both years. “I feel we’ve left our mark,” says Harris.

Pinto says the secret of the team’s success at U of G is the strong community of players. “Every year I played at Guelph, I got better because I was being pushed by my teammates on and off the field. In terms of preparing me for the Rush, it taught me and showed me that hard work and dedication pay off.”

Jaret Meron, a third-year sociology student and captain of Guelph’s Ultimate Frisbee Club, credits Harris, the previous captain, with much of the team’s success. “He and Andy Kubinec really instilled the idea of supporting each other, but pushing as hard as we can at each practice. They created a winning tradition, and that means we can attract the best players from high schools. There are students who come here specifically to play on our team.”

In fact, both Harris and Meron started playing the sport in high school. Meron says his entire family are fans of the sport, and his older siblings also played in high school. Harris was introduced to the game by his older brother, who wanted to make the school team to impress a girl and coerced his younger brother to practise with him.

Ultimate Frisbee is played with seven players from each team on the field. The sport is fast-paced as the players throw and catch the flying disc to prevent the opposing team from getting it. Players are not allowed to run while holding the disc, so they need to pass it to their teammates to get it into the opposing team’s end zone and score. Most games are played outdoors, even if the weather is wet or windy. “The wind adds an equalizing element,” says Harris. “It separates the great players from the good.”

About 11 Guelph students and alumni tried out for the Toronto Rush; seven were chosen to play for the team (six were members of the U of G’s ultimate Frisbee team). For Harris, this has meant being able to play top-level teams across North America without incurring high travel and hotel costs. The weekend schedule makes it possible for him to work and for Meron to attend classes.

The future of ultimate Frisbee is bright, says Meron. He points out that the league has expanded significantly this year. The Toronto Rush had the highest attendance of all teams in the league.

The team’s 2014 season began mid-April. The home opener at the University of Toronto’s Varsity Stadium will see the Toronto Rush play the Rochester Dragons May 3 at 6 p.m. Schedule and ticket information are available at www.torontorush.com; for discounted tickets, use the promo code “UofG.”

Pinto sees continued growth in his chosen sport: “Ultimate is heading in the right direction. My hope is that in the future this sport will get more recognition from the University – with three national championships on the record, the team deserves it.”