In its second full year, Emerson’s ultimate frisbee team is now open to all genders, an uncommon trait among collegiate teams governed by USA Ultimate.
A group of now-juniors founded the unofficial team, the Skunks, in fall 2015, after recognizing that the Emerson community did not have a foothold in ultimate.
“I played ultimate in high school,” Jack Worth, a team captain and co-founder, said. “My high school was the school that founded the sport. I came from a pretty well-established program, and a couple of guys had played before. At this point most schools have it, so we were like ‘if they don’t have it here, let’s do it ourselves.’”
Worth, a visual and media arts major, said the program struggled last spring while many of its members studied abroad. When this fall came around and a few women began attending practices, he said the transition was smooth.
“We’re at the [organization] fair and the alternate org fair at the beginning of the year just recruiting anyone,” he said. “This year when we had a bunch of women show up for the first practice it didn’t really change much in terms of our day to day or how the team is. It’s just like anyone else. At the same time, having a mixed team makes it a more accepting environment, even if we weren’t trying to seek it out.”
USA Ultimate typically splits the collegiate level into women’s and men’s divisions, but the sport is still new to the Emerson community. Now that the Skunks are working with a co-ed roster, Worth said they are considered an “open” team. He said that at the club level, comprised of athletes not attending college, there is a “mixed” division in which all teams are co-ed. However, it is hard to find mixed programs at colleges. Regardless, Worth said it has been a positive experience.
“It makes the atmosphere better,” Worth said. “You lose a lot of misconceptions about women’s sports that I think a lot of people have, whether it’s consciously or subconsciously. It’s important to recognize that on the field it’s about equality. It doesn’t matter so much.”
Harmony Taggart is one of the freshmen who began playing ultimate at the beginning of this semester. She said she was introduced to the sport through her sister, who plays for Molly Brown, an all women’s club team based in Colorado.
“I just love the spirit of the game,” Taggart said. “The people who are usually drawn to the ultimate world tend to be really genuine, caring people who are interested in improving rather than winning. Winning is a bonus, but improvement is the key goal.”
Taggart said she ran cross-country in high school, but likens ultimate to a mix of football and soccer. She said her position varies based on the kind of defense the Skunks are playing, but generally she serves as a cutter, helping to move the disc up the field.
Taggart said she enjoys playing on a co-ed team, and is unsure how she would feel about playing on an all women’s team instead.
“I would never have met these guys if it weren’t for this team,” she said. “They’re all upperclassmen and none of them are in my major. I’ve never felt uncomfortable because I’m on a mostly guys team. They’re all really accepting, and I really appreciate that because they were an all men’s team last year.”
Worth said there is not enough interest currently to start an all women’s program.
“If we did [have enough players], I don’t know if we would or not,” Worth said. “It’s not something we’ve really thought about. I think having the team mixed has been great.”
Taggart said playing on a mostly men’s team has helped the women on it bond together.
“All of the women that come consistently are freshmen,” she said. “It’s really awesome. We’re a tight-knit friend group and we hang out after [practice] and everything.”
Another freshman, Allie Dibiase, was familiar with the sport before coming to Emerson, but didn’t have the opportunity to play with other women in the past.
“At my high school I was the only girl on the team for both years I played,” she said. “It’s really cool to play with other girls. You automatically have people you can relate to.”
Worth said that at the end of the day, the culture of the sport is what allows for such an easy transition to a mixed gender team.
“I think that’s what allows it to work so well,” Worth said. “It’s accepting. It’s inclusive. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We want to go out there and play well, but this is a group of people here because we want to have fun. That’s the priority.”