by Griffin Mancuso
The pristinely green field of Hiller Park, normally home to gophers, was taken over by pirates last weekend. These pirates were not armed with swords, but sturdy, white frisbees. After warming up with expert frisbee throws and swift catches, they gathered in a circle on one side of their playing field. They started a lively chant to match their pirate attire, jumping with their fists in the air:
“Yo-ho yo-ho, a bug’s life for me!”
The ultimate frisbee teams of Cal Poly Humboldt, the Buds and the Hags, came together for the weekend as the Bugs for a community tournament, the Humboldt Harvest. Humboldt Harvest is one of the longest running ultimate frisbee tournaments in Humboldt County, and it isn’t surprising to see why. The presence of young alumni and older alumni teams made it clear that ultimate frisbee is a lifelong passion and community.
Ultimate frisbee is a no-contact sport that consists of two teams of seven players trying to get the disc to their end zone. Players cannot run with the disc and must pass it to other players to get it to the goal line and score a point. If a pass is not made successfully, it is turned over to the other team. The disc can be taken back if a player fails to catch the disc, or if a defense player knocks it out of the air.
Ultimate frisbee sets itself apart from other sports by upholding the spirit of the game. The sport has no referees and requires its players to hold themselves and their team members accountable. Players must be able to call out fouls, retract unnecessary calls, have good sportsmanship and discuss outcomes for fouls. This integrity-based system fosters a unique bond between teams and their opponents.
Both the Buds — the men’s ultimate frisbee team — and the Hags — the women’s ultimate frisbee team — grow stronger with the foundations of teamwork and trust that ultimate frisbee provides.
Cate Roscoe officially joined the Hags as their coach this semester, but also offers some assistance to the Buds. She played ultimate frisbee professionally for 34 years and previously coached for the Hags for a couple years during grad school. She feels that her specialties have been a good fit for the current team.
“I really like to teach foundational skills, the biggest one of course being throwing,” Roscoe said. “But then also things like defensive footwork and positioning, offensive cutting and positioning, communication, a little teensy bit of strategy, two different styles of offense and a couple different defensive strategies.”
She also emphasized the sense of community that ultimate frisbee players have, no matter how far apart they are.
“There’s a lot more genuine friendship and camaraderie across teams and throughout the country,” Roscoe said. “I literally had a friend who played community in Tacoma who needed heart surgery in Kansas City. I was able to contact the Kansas Ultimate group through other connections of Ultimate I had. They picked her up at the airport. They housed her for over a month, fed her, drove her to all her appointments and took care of her while she had heart surgery. They had never met her — they had never even met me. But we all played ultimate [frisbee], and we’re in that same community.”
Andre Sargissian, the current captain of the Buds, has been playing ultimate frisbee for two years at the university and has great hopes for the newer team members this semester.
“We have so many [promising rookies], man. It’s been so exciting,” Sargissian said. “I feel like a lot of our soccer people who played soccer in high school, they always really succeed. I don’t know, it’s really cool because anyone can pick it up, anyone can throw the frisbee, anyone can run a cut, so anyone can be really good all of a sudden.”
The Hags is a gender-inclusive team that aims to empower their players. Captain Jillian Snowhook has been a Hag for five years, becoming captain in the Spring 2023 semester.
“From last semester to this semester, there were only five returning players, and there are five officer positions, and I was the only one who had played for more than a year,” Snowhook said. “I had also been one of the co-captains the previous year, so I took on the presidential role as well as captain because I do love this team, and there’s no way that I could let anything happen to it by not stepping into that role.”
Roscoe described the Hag name as a subversion of a term that has historically been used to oppress women who held power and knowledge. Today, many of the team members take pride in being a Hag.
“It means being burly. We are the burly Hags, and that basically means you show up for your team, for the game, in all conditions, with all you have, with your whole heart, with all the energy you have,” Snowhook said. “It’s really just being a part of a community that loves to do the same thing together, which is chase down frisbees like golden retrievers.”
Natalie Christenson, previously a soccer player, is in her first semester with the Hags. There has been a sharp learning curve, but the support system built into ultimate frisbee has helped.
“It’s super different to be a new person on the team and trying to learn what I’m supposed to be doing, as well as how I’m supposed to be communicating, so it’s kind of a lot of overwhelming things all at once,” Christenson said. “I’m mostly looking to the veteran players, and also our captain, Jill, who really takes hold of the team and coaches us.”
Otto Berndt, a long-time member of the Buds, emphasized how ultimate frisbee has given him a solid support system.
“The reason I have good grades is because I come out to ultimate [frisbee] and have a support group of people that care for me, and I care for them,” Berndt said. “We exercise, we have fun and we get to travel to other schools, and it’s just like — it’s a family, and anyone can be part of that family.”
Christenson has greatly enjoyed her time with the Hags and encourages other students to consider joining.
“I love the team so much and I cannot recommend it enough for anyone that is a little scared to try out or anything,” Christenson said. “I mean, I’m a first year and it has been a great experience. Everyone’s so welcoming that there’s no fear in trying something new.”
Roscoe suggests ultimate frisbee for people who might not feel like they fit into traditional sports communities.
“It’s a place where you can really surprise yourself and you can come for a lot of different reasons,” Roscoe said. “It doesn’t just have to be about the sport, but, um, it’s amazing to discover what our bodies are actually capable of.”