Filling a void for one of the up-and-coming sports, this year’s Maccabi Games will be adding ultimate Frisbee to its slate. Atlanta will be fielding three teams, led by coach Matt Dickson.
He first was involved with Frisbee in high school at a prep school in New Jersey, where he served as an ultimate captain. He would go on to play at Lehigh University, and explained that the sport’s accessibility is part of the reason he still loves it today.
“The only cost of playing is a disc, and a really nice Frisbee costs $15,” he explained. “Kids from any means can get engaged in ultimate, and that’s one of the reasons I’m such a fan of it.”
Philip Rubin, the athletics and fundraising chair for the 2019 games, explained that the growth of the sport locally was one of the reasons he thought about including ultimate Frisbee in the games. He was given the final push in 2018’s games in California.
“The way it works is most team sport competitions end on Wednesday, so they have ‘second sports,’ which lets the kids enjoy themselves and do something else with their leftover time,” Rubin said. “Ultimate really took off there. A lot of kids wanted to play, and it’s a fun game that you can learn fast.”
With its spot then set for the roster of sports this year, tryouts surpassed all expectations.
“We had 60 kids show up at the initial tryouts,” Dickson said. “The interest is out there and there are children already playing, it’s not like we had to go out and recruit heavily. It’s a growing sport and it didn’t take much to put together three teams.”
His team has been training at least once a week since early January, and for Dickson, each practice starts out the same way, drilling the team to make sure they have the names down.
“We’ve put a lot of time in, and the reason we did that was not just to get reps, but these kids come from at least 12 different schools and they’re getting together once a week, and they all have other commitments too,” he said. “My biggest rule is that you have to know every kid’s name.”
Fielding three teams is no small feat, and part of the challenge in a new sport is not knowing what to expect from the competition.
“I have no idea what to expect, but neither do they,” he said. “A lot of the other kids are on multi-city teams, so kids from New York and Los Angeles might be on the same team. We’re trying to put out three competitive teams, but they could be all-star teams, for all we know, but that’s sports.”
With three teams, each athlete will get their chance to see the field and leave their mark on the games, and that’s something Dickson wants to recognize.
“I went out and bought a bucket of little gold Frisbee pins, and every game we’re going to be awarding player of the match,” he said. “It’s going to go to the player who had the best hustle, the biggest impact on the game. I think it’ll be cool at the end of the week for that effort to show visibly.
But his team’s hustle won’t be the only thing on display, as Dickson is bringing them a unique opportunity, the Atlanta Hustle, the city’s professional ultimate Frisbee team, to lead a clinic.
“With only a two-hour window it’s more about giving the kids fundamentals to work on, then developing skills immediately at the clinic,” Hustle captain Matt Smith said. “Ultimate is fundamentally a game of running, catching and throwing. We’ll try to touch on all three using some basic drills we run through. … I also hope to give individual players some tips that might help refine their games a bit.”
General Manager John Boezi added that one of the Hustle’s main goals is to bring the sport and its core values to more young athletes.
“At the youth level, the game is self-officiated by the players,” he said. “This fosters a culture in which players prioritize mutual respect, fair play and knowledge of the rules. Youth ultimate players learn how to resolve conflict with their opponents in healthy ways.”
While he hopes the clinic with pros will give his team a chance to learn and improve, Dickson noted that the Hustle’s team name is appropriate.
“I think the team’s name is great — the Hustle,” he said. “If you want that disc more than the other guy and you’re willing to work harder, you’re going to get there.”