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Frisbee soars to ultimate goal
Frisbee soars to ultimate goal
By TONY LANGE
It's kind of like football.
Spectators grill food. Players run routes downfield. Deep passes are thrown for touchdowns. It's even played on Sundays -- in summertime, that is.
While hundreds of Bainbridge residents swell the Lake Lucerne neighborhood during its Independence Day fireworks celebration, those who live there to pride in their grassy common grounds, dubbed "The Meadow," for another summer pastime -- playing ultimate Frisbee.
The Freestyle Ultimate Players Association, now in its seventh season of action, is an eight-team league that meets every Sunday evening for 10 weeks throughout the summer. The friendly yet competitive sport brings together high school athletes, college students and a diverse group of not-so-young players from throughout the community.
Although the FUPA season will conclude this Sunday (Aug. 14) with an all-day tournament and grill-out -- mixed with some cooling off in the neighborhood lake -- many players will continue to indulge in the easy-to-learn game all year long.
At the high school level, at least at Kenston, ultimate Frisbee is looking more and more like a club sport. A group of 14 athletes, most of whom are Lake Lucerne natives, won the Cleveland high school ultimate regional tournament this May and advanced to the USA Ultimate Ohio high school championships at Denison University in Granville near Columbus.
Kenston, or, one might say, Lake Lucerne, has sent a team to the state competition every year since the tournament began five years ago. Matthew Olson, a rising Kenston High School senior, has represented Kenston the past three years.
"It's great," Olson said about playing Frisbee with his neighborhood buddies. "We all get along very, very well. Seriously, every player on the team, they're all my best friends. Outside of practice, we all hang out at bonfires and stuff like that. We work together very well when we're playing the game, and it's just a lot of fun."
The state tournament in Granville includes eight teams from around Ohio. Each team at the tournament won its respective regional tournament to get the bid for states. There are about 30 teams that compete for a bid at the regional level.
The first three years, Kenston placed third at the state tournament. In 2010, Kenston was runner-up. This year, the Bombers won it all.
There's not a lot of competition in Northeast Ohio, said Robert Olson, a 2004 Kenston graduate and older brother of Matthew. Robert, who started playing ultimate Frisbee in 2000, founded FUPA in 2005.
"Kenston destroys everyone in Cleveland," he said. "It's tough. There just are not a lot of huge players out there, because they don't get an opportunity to play that often."
That is part of the reason Robert Olson established FUPA, he said. He wanted to create an opportunity for himself and his friends to get together, compete and get better at a game they love, he said.
Although he's not around when the high school team practices after school during the spring, Robert Olson traveled to Granville and acted as the team's official head coach at the state tournament.
Another Lake Lucerne native and rising Kenston senior, Karl Randall, said having Olson coach the high school team down at the state tournament was special.
"It's special, because this is the guy who brought the game into every one of our lives," Randall said. "We wouldn't be playing if it wasn't for him. There isn't a ton of stuff to learn, but there are the little things like cup defense and how we want to run our defense and how we want to move the disc and who we want to throw it to. He taught us all that. It's just good, because he knows everything about anything when it comes to ultimate."
When FUPA flew into action in 2005, Robert Olson also established the Frisbee Ultimate Junior Players Association for the younger disc-throwing enthusiasts. They play games two hours prior to their older counterparts. Many of the players on the 2011 state championship team, including Matthew Olson and Randall, started playing at the junior level as fourth-graders under Robert Olson's direction.
While everyone plays both offense and defense during this seven-on-seven, self-refereed sport, there are several different strategies to the game. What won the state tournament for Kenston was its cup defense, which is highly effective in the wind and at the high school level, Robert Olson said.
The cup defense involves three players guarding the thrower and shuffling to where the disc is. The other four players act as zone with a mid-deep clogging up space about 15 yards behind the cup in the center of the field, two wing men protecting the disc from advancing up the sidelines and a deep-deep, which guards the end zone from a hail-Mary pass.
"It forces our opponents to move the disc laterally across the field and then move the disc up the sideline," Olson said. "At the high school level, it's very effective, because a lot of the time high school players can't throw the disc back and forth faster than our cup can run."
Ultimate Frisbee is a contagious sport, and once a player gets involved, he or she is hooked, Matthew Olson said. It has to do with the enjoyment of a football-like sport where the disc doesn't go as fast and players are working it down the field into and end zone, he said.
"It's like running downfield for a deep football pass, but it hangs a lot longer. If you're running a post route, you can just put it out in space, let it float a little bit and sprint to it from far away," Olson said. "But it's more like soccer in a sense that the movement continues, no matter what. It's a high-endurance sport for sure."
Matthew Olson and his three older brothers, Robert, Danny and Michael, all play all the time, he said.
"It's great," he said of the brothers' participation. "That's all we do is go out and toss the disc around and play a pickup game. It makes it so much easier, because we're always helping each other out with throws and trying to one-up each other."
Primarily a handler, or a quarterback-type player, Matthew Olson played a major role in the state championship with his 27 assists during the six-game tournament, when the Bombers scored 69 touchdowns.
Each game is won by scoring 15 touchdowns. If no winner is determined by the 90-minute mark, the next team to score the go-ahead goal wins. For example, if the game yields a score of 10-5 after 90 minutes, the first team to 11 wins.
Randall, who also plays lacrosse for Kenston during the spring sports season, said it's a lot to have two practices after school every day, but it's all well worth it.
"It's awesome just meeting up with everyone every day and being able to scrimmage each other for an hour or two," Randall said. "It definitely helps a lot. I lived in Lake Lucerne my whole life. I've known all these guys since we were kids growing up and riding bikes around the neighborhood. It's great. Frisbee is just another thing we can do together to have fun. It's just another thing we can say we did is win states. That's what I like about it."
Robert Olson said he is not surprised a neighborhood team like Lake Lucerne can go to states and beat wider-spread teams like Westerville North, 15-6, St. Xavier, 13-12, Bexley, 12-8, Liberty Olentangy, 11-10, and Moeller, 10-9.
"I mean, they all play together a lot, and they're all athletes. They all ended up growing up to be athletes," Olson said. "They all train for every sport, so they're all in really good shape, and it showed. We had sleeveless jerseys this year, and everyone was cut up. The other teams were like, 'Kenston is on steroids.' They could not believe how jacked these guys were."
While Matthew Olson does cross country in the fall and wrestling in the winter for Kenston, he devotes his spring season to Frisbee.
"It's incredible, absolutely incredible," he said. "It's the highlight of my spring. That's the only thing I focus on, and to be able to go down and play at the state tournament in my favorite sport -- it's my dream basically."
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