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A New #ShaneSpeaks: Obscure Sports, Big Wins

Well, it’s over...

Another Winter Olympics and a momentary collective social media praise of curling has come to a close. With that, the United States earned 23 medals: 9 gold, 8 silver, 6 bronze. Highlights definitely included 17-year-old Red Gerard, Chloe Kim, the U.S. Women’s Hockey Team and, oh yeah, and one of those gold medal wins was for curling.

Even though the last two nights of the 2018 Winter Olympics were at an all-time low on viewership and you and your friends may or not have an undying love and support of curling, our collective sense of nationality came together in a not-so-patriotic time for the U.S. With that, I turn the attention towards a U.S. sports team that was not a part of the Winter Olympics, but took home a big win last month in Australia.

The U.S.A. Ultimate National Team swept the 2018 World Under 24 Ultimate Championships in Perth, Australia back in January. The men, women, and mixed teams all won gold-medal spots, marking their most recent Ultimate win since they last won it all in 2013, when the tournament was held in Toronto, Canada.

So, why am I talking about this thing called Ultimate?

Well, if you haven’t heard, it’s also known as Ultimate Frisbee; you know, that thing you see college kids playing all the time in your local park and wonder why they are playing with frisbees so seriously. As it turns out, we have a national team. I got to talk to player Michael Fairley who told me what it takes to get on the U.S.A. Ultimate National Team, the basics, and his journey through the sport.

On the process of the U.S.A. National Team

The selection to the team starts with an application round that had around 700 total applicants. Top 100 of each gender are invited to either a west coast or east coast tryouts. After that 24 men’s & women’s team players are picked as well as 24 mixed players. A ton of people from around the country. We didn’t have much time to practice. We had a weekend mini-camp in Atlanta and then 4 days of practice in Australia before the tournament.

So here's an age-old question, is the sport called Ultimate Frisbee or Ultimate?

I call it both and I don’t think there is any sort of movement to call it one or the other.

What are the basics of the sport? Is the U24 one of many teams?

Basics are 7 players for each team on at a time. You try to score in the end zone like in football. When you catch it, you have to stop and set a pivot foot like in basketball. U24 is one a couple of national teams the USA has. They have U20, U24, Adult, Beach, Masters (over 32) for Men’s, Women’s, and Mixed.

Taking that this isn't as common as a sport to see as something like football what is something that people get wrong about the sport?

Most common thing I get all the time is asking if either the sport is played with dogs or the sport is disc golf. Not many people understand the amount of running and athleticism needed for the sport.

So you previously told me a little bit about the process of getting on the USA National Team, can you speak personally about how this experience has been?

The National Team process was amazing. Being able to connect and be teammates and become friends with players from across the country has been fun. It’s also great to play on a team with that much talent. Everyone can do everything at a high level.

How long have you been playing the sport?

I have been playing the sport for 5 almost 6 years. I started at a pickup game behind R.B Hunt school in Saint Augustine (FL) and then played in a league in Jacksonville (FL) in spring of 2013.

So have you noticed growth in the sport and where do you see it heading?

The sport is constantly growing and especially in the high school and college divisions. There are pushes for gender equality in the sport and organizations like Girls Ultimate Movement are helping with that. I also in the future see the sport striving for racial equality because the sport is predominantly white currently.

If there's one thing that you haven't said that people should definitely know what would it be?

I’ve been super lucky to get where I am today and have been helped out by so many people in the Ultimate community and my family.

Should we care about Ultimate Frisbee like we suddenly care about curling or any other obscure Olympic sport whenever it rolls around? Of course we should. I’ve cracked jokes about the fans of curling from this past Winter Olympics but in all seriousness, I’d say we should support all of these sports, because these players represent us, and right now, they’re showing up.

On a final note to peak your Ultimate Frisbee interest: the sport was recognized by the International Olympic Committee and is eligible for the 2024 Olympics.

Ready or not, Ultimate is coming, and Michael Fairley and the rest of the players are here to stay.

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