Frisbee finds a way: Led by Summit High student co-founders, coachless ultimate club launches with laid-back style
When the Jefferson County Open School ultimate team stumbled upon the motley crew of Summit High players on March 8, their coach had an initial question for the teens from Summit County.
“Can you help me find ‘Coach Jake?’” he said.
“That’d be me,” Summit High junior Jake Lowe replied.
Lowe and his group of frolf — disc golf — friends were there on March 8 for their first game in the Altitude Youth Ultimate high school league. It’s an annual eight-week spring interscholastic league operated by a nonprofit organization independent of the Colorado High School Activities Association, the official governing body of the kind of traditional, state-sanctioned high school competitions the Summit High Tigers participate in.
Its own entity, Altitude Ultimate’s high school league includes 33 boys teams, mostly coming from the flatland of the Front Range near Denver and Colorado Springs. But this season, Lowe and his fellow Summit High junior London Shell co-founded the league’s effective disc golf expansion up and over the Continental Divide.
They are — as they call themselves — the “Summit Frolf and Ultimate Club” — even if they don’t have a coach. Even if transportation expenses come out of their own collective pocket. And even if their jerseys — complete with the simple “Summit” written in green marker across the chest — came from the same 10-pack of medium plain white T-shirts the team purchased at a random Walmart right before their inaugural game, a 15-1 loss to Jefferson County Open School.
But when Summit High junior Sam Block scored that solitary first-ever team goal on March 8, after catching a loose disc in end zone, the Summit players celebrated like they won the state championship before continuing to bask in their glory at the spot that’s become a post-game tradition of sorts: Chick-Fil-A.
Chick-Fil-A was also where the Summit Frolf and Ultimate Club celebrated after their third game of the season and first victory in the program’s infant history, a Monday road triumph against Lakewood.
For the fun-loving team, the win was not expected the moment they got out of their SUVs and walked onto the Lakewood pitch. Their opponents, complete with a coaching staff and sharp, official-looking jerseys — like most Altitude Ultimate teams — had 50 kids lined up in the field, executing drills and warming up with burpees.
“It was like that scene out of the movie ‘The Mighty Ducks,’” Lowe said. “A handful of guys against an army. We were in shock at that point. We were thinking, ‘this is gonna be awful.’”
The Summit crew soon realized the dozens of players comprised several Lakewood teams, one of which was “Lakewood X,” a group of underclassmen.
Though the Summit kids lack Lakewood X’s kind of coaching, plays and routes, the club grinded out a 15-7 win. The team pulled away after halftime thanks to their endurance, pace and improving cohesion.
“Jake was throwing all kinds of point-passes,” Shell said. “We were catching all kinds of stuff. It was definitely a team effort. And everyone was having fun.”
The Summit Frolf and Ultimate Club’s first-ever win on Monday was the result of a trying process over the past few months, one chock-full of discovery and trial and error for the junior tandem of Lowe and Shell.
The friends initially had the idea to try to cultivate a Summit High ultimate team back before the new year. Lowe and Shell share their “Advisory” class at Summit High, and it was conversations there, combind with YouTube binge sessions watching professional ultimate that spawned what was to come.
“In December, we thought, ‘let’s actually make this happen,’” Lowe said. “But we had no clue where we were looking — had to research a little bit.”
The Summit teens did a little sluething, turning to Google, where they stumbled across the USA Ultimate Frisbee page. One thing led to another, with Lowe eventually emailing Justin Salvia, the high school league director for Altitude Youth Ultimate.
The duo then turned to the Summit High Athletic Department, who tried to help the upstart team find a district teacher who could help coach and lead practice. But the efforts proved fruitless, even though one middle school instructor, band teacher Mark Koob was interested, having played collegiate ultimate.
But with the schedules for the league not out until February, among many other outstanding question marks, Koob couldn’t commit. Lowe and Shell understood. But rather than sulking, they moved on, finding another way.
The nature of the team became the kind of laid-back high school club where Lowe and Shell would ask friends throughout the school if they wanted to join practice later that same afternoon.
It’s a pilot season without traditional high school sports structure. But that’s precisely what makes the Summit Frolf and Ultimate Club’s story unique.
They are an almost outlaw, student-run athletic team that has recruited enough potential players to suit up each game, even if the squad looks different each time out.
They are the kind of unofficial operation that, for example, set up desks on the side of the room at the school’s spring sports team information session in the Summit High commons.
“There were three or four of us with a piece of notebook paper asking, ‘hey, do you want to play ultimate Frisbee?’” Lowe recalled.
And they are the kind of tight-knit, ragtag group of friends that hang out in their team’s unofficial sprinter van, one they hope will soon be their own personal mode of transportation to and from competitions.
Looking ahead to the future, Lowe and Shell hope this club is also able to enter high school-aged competitions. A coach next year for ultimate might be nice, too.
As for the jerseys? Well, those won’t be changing any time soon.
“We are going to stick with the Sharpie on the shirts,” Shell said. “That’s our thing now.”
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