Before Wilson’s Ultimate Frisbee team took the field for the D.C. State Athletic Association tournament on Sunday, Tigers coach Dave Ohls glanced at his team’s photo from 2015.
“We were just looking at our picture from the first time we won it, and we had 10 people in the championship picture,” the coach said.
This season’s photo has many more faces, as the sport has surged in popularity at the Tenleytown school. And the Tigers were champions once again this year, defeating Field 11-8 at KIPP to take their third straight title.
“It’s always exciting,” said Ohls. “We have a great group of players. It’s a real joy to look at the picture now and see 30 kids out there. They are all talented, good kids, working hard and playing their hearts out.”
Across the D.C. area in general, Ultimate Frisbee has grown quickly over the past few years — even though local leagues like Wilson’s D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association and Field’s Potomac Valley Athletic Conference have not sanctioned it as a league sport.
“It’s a challenge. It’s hard to get field space. It’s hard to get resources and practice space,” Ohls said. “This year the school has helped us out a lot this spring with getting us a place to practice. It’s great to see teams popping up every year.”
Wilson’s team has more than 30 game days on its calendar for the spring, with several events still ahead on the schedule.
“We want to win the championship every year, and we want to have to work for it,” Ohls said.
The Field School, meanwhile, has formed an Ultimate Frisbee league with several local teams, competing weekdays against D.C. schools such as Sidwell and School Without Walls as well as Maryland teams like Landon.
“We’re making it more like a varsity sport,” said Field coach Adrienne Nicholson.
One reason the players cite for the sport’s growth is the camaraderie on their own teams and also with their opponents, as the local Frisbee scene develops.
“We are all friends so we just go with it,” said Field senior Maya Waehrer. “We cheer each other on, no matter what.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by the MVP of Saturday’s tournament, Wilson junior Theo Shapinsky.
“The Ultimate team is a great community,” Shapinsky said. “We take advantage of the shade that other people throw on the sport and play it with pride. We try to show that it takes a lot of skill and pride to play.”
Both Wilson and Field had a long day at the DCSAA tournament, which included two games just to get to the state title.
Throughout the tournament the teams competed under the standard no-clock rules, where the winner is the first to score 11 points. The two teams battled in a close game in the finals until the Tigers clinched victory with a dazzling deep pass from Sam Radack to Adin McGurk.
“He called for it, and he was running up the right side. I just gave him some space and put it out there,” Radack said of his game-winning toss.
When the game ended, the scene was different than with other sports. The players from both teams hugged, joked and shared the field as comrades rather than unfriendly rivals schlepping through the postgame handshake line.
“I’m super proud of these kids for making it such a close game and making it to the finals. It was a long day, and they worked really hard,” Nicholson said.
Post-win, Ohls had two Wilson players pick a pair of Field players to give special Frisbees to as MVPs. It’s a ritual the coach started this season as a way to honor his friend Kelly Donovan, who died of a heart attack at the age of 30 last December while coaching Ultimate Frisbee in Seattle.
Donovan was a major name in the Ultimate scene, a USA Ultimate-certified coach and tournament director. Ohls had known her through playing together on an adult league in Wisconsin.
“She was so enthusiastic, positive, full of energy and spirit,” Ohls said of his friend. “A lot of us wanted to honor her in some way. So we took donations and had a bunch of custom Frisbees printed up with her picture on them and distributed them all over the country. Now there are a thousand Frisbees helping to grow Youth Ultimate around the country.”
Wilson will continue its season competing at the inaugural Mid Atlantic High School Hat Tournament in Richmond on Saturday.