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Last October, Colorado shocked a subset of die-hard sports fans across the nation with a historic win. Gear flew into the air. Cheers overtook the live footage streaming ESPN. Fans rushed to their Twitter feeds.
No, I am not talking about the NFL, NHL, or even college sports. I’m talking about Denver’s ultimate disc teams. You read that right: The game you may have played at summer camp and family cookouts has expanded into full-fledged, professional-level sport with over 7 million players internationally. And Colorado is the cream of the crop.
Molly Brown and Johnny Bravo, Denver’s women’s and men’s club teams, made a splash in the competitive sport in October 2022 when they swept the 2022 USA Ultimate National Championships in San Diego, taking home first in each division.
“Watching [Johnny Bravo] and seeing them be in that moment was so cool,” Lisa Pitcaithley, longtime player for Molly Brown, says of their Mile High counterpart’s 9-seed dark-horse ascent to claim the double title. “It was completely unexpected. It was just like a whole lot of Colorado love.”
These wins built on an outstanding year for ultimate disc in the Centennial State. Colorado Summit, the Centennial State’s first professional ultimate team, won the American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL) West Division in August. Quandary, CU Boulder’s womxn’s team made it to Division 1 Ultimate finals, losing to UNC’s Pleiades by a single point, while Mamabird, the men’s team, lost to eventual-winner UNC Darkside in the semis.
Though Colorado Ultimate may be an emerging hot spot for hot-shot ultimate players, the scene is ripe with opportunities for Coloradans of all ages and skill levels, from casual pick-up to semi-competitive leagues and developmental club teams. “Colorado ultimate is growing rapidly,” Local Altitude Youth Ulitmate coach Mike Richard shares. “There’s a lot of buzz and excitement around it.” Want to join the buzz? We’ve rounded up our top picks for Colorado athletes of every level to get involved—just in time for spring league registration.
What Is Ultimate?
Born in 1968 out of a New Jersey schoolyard, ultimate is both the blend of many sports and an entirely new one. The objective is simple: Get an ultimate disc 70 yards from one endzone to another. (Think football!) No running with the disc. No holding it for more than 10 seconds. (Think basketball!) If you remember that, you will survive your first pick-up game. If you want some more specifics, keep reading.
Ultimate has two types of players. “Handlers” are the ones who generally make impressive throws. “Cutters” on the other hand, catch the discs. They sprint around the field to get open, cutting back and forth to shake off pesky defenders.
Sometimes teams will play person defense, with each player defending another on the opposite team. Other times, teams will play a zone defense, defending certain parts of the field from opponents who get too close.
The more advanced you get, the more tactical the game becomes. Coaches and captains will call specific predetermined plays. Handlers and cutters will assemble in certain formations. Expect to see “hucks” (throws) traverse the entire length of the field, or players “laying out” (imagine a belly flop on grass) to get the disc. After a couple of games, you will learn how to throw the pizza-shaped plastic disc so it curves one way or another.
If you go hard, it can be an intense workout and competitive. But don’t worry, there are plenty of opportunities to have a fun time without full-out sprinting.
What makes ultimate the most unique is its “Spirit of the Game.” As a self-governed and self-refereed sport, ultimate cultivates a high level of respect. Richard describes the spirit as “holding and holding yourself to the highest standard you know, even when someone isn’t necessarily there to hold you to that standard.” As a youth coach, he especially appreciates the impact. “[It] helps kids build character and some great qualities for later in life, when they’re learning and using the Spirit of the Game and self-initiation at such a young age” Richard says.
This self-respect leads to a strong community. “I always have a friend around the whole globe. If they play frisbee, I know I can hang out with them and even stay with them,” Molly Brown player Lisa Pitcaithley says, sharing that she’s stayed with ultimate players in China and Colombia while traveling in the past. It’s a community, Pitcaithley explains, that is strong close to home, as well. “Molly Brown is my support network. [They] accept me for who I am and where I’m at, and at least in my experience, they really want the best for me.”
How to Get Involved
Do you just want a casual game or to learn in a friendly environment?
All genders and skill levels are welcome with the Denver Ultimate Frisbee Pick-up community. They host pickup games every day of the week, except for in winter when they “scale down” to five times a week. Times and locations vary but lunchtime and after-work options are available, as are outdoor and indoor spaces. Check out their Facebook page for more information.
Are your kids looking for a new activity?
Look no further than Altitude Youth Ultimate. Thenonprofit organization host leagues in spring, summer, and fall with rules scaled to be appropriate for your middle or high schooler. They also offer summer camps—both day and overnight—and competitive youth club teams, so your kid will be able to choose how much they want to play. They have a full roster of experienced coaches, including players from local teams like Molly Brown. Are parents interested in picking up a disc as well? Altitude rolled out adult ultimate leagues in 2022.
Are you looking to play consistently?
Sign up for one of Denver’s established leagues.
- Meet Play Chill: Home of multiple adult sports leagues, Meet Play Chill also hosts ultimate leagues. At $70 for an individual or $700 for a team of 10-13, it includes perks like a paid game monitor, food and drink specials, and athletic jerseys. Sign up by April 7 to join their co-ed intermediate Spring 2023 league, hosted on Thursdays at M.L. “Sam” Sandos Park.
- Mile High Ultimate: Welcoming players of all levels, MHU is a co-ed league with a strong sense of community and dedication to the “Spirit of the Game.” Register for their Spring 2023 season which starts April 2; games are played on Sundays in Garland Park.
- Colorado Core Ultimate: A hub for ultimate in Denver, CCU sponsors spring, summer, fall, and even winter Leagues as well as tournaments throughout the year. They also donate a portion of annual proceeds to charities and host charity-specific events. Sign up for their Spring 2023 league by March 23rd.
- Denver Summer Ultimate League: If you don’t mind waiting for summer, be sure to check out this gem. Not only do they have a loyal player base, they host a skills clinic to help players develop.
Are you a pro?
You can try out for one of Denver’s club or professional teams that compete in the national USAU and AUDL leagues. Aside from the aforementioned Molly Brown, Johnny Bravo, and Summit, here are a few of our favorites around town: Small Batch (Women’s), Sweet Action (Mixed), and Inception (Men’s). They may not be winning club nationals, but they are bringing the competitive spirit, developing great players, and having lots of fun.
Also keep your eyes peeled for Alpenglow, the new professional women’s ultimate team in Colorado. Their 2023 roster is full, but you can catch their matches on live stream or at the Pinnacle Athletic Complex.