The Facts: What is the youth scene in your area composed of? Are there leagues/varsity-teams/programs? Who runs these? We are looking for general numbers and feel here, so don't feel like you have to find exact statistics...your best impressions will do.
I coach in Minnesota. We have a league in the spring with a state tournament at the end of the year. The school I coach at, Cretin-Derham Hall (CDH), Ultimate is a varsity sport where the kids can letter. As a coach, I decided the criteria for this and submit to the school which kids lettered. To my knowledge, CDH and Cathedral High School in St Cloud, MN are the only two schools where Ultimate is a lettered sport in MN. The league is run through the MN HS Ultimate League (mnhsultimate.org). Minnesota either has the largest youth league in the nation by number of kids participating or by number of teams, I am not sure which this is and the UPA could probably verify. Spring of 2004 was our first year with separate boys and girls teams.
The Development: How did Youth Ultimate in your area begin? What events or programs were the most influential in bringing Ultimate up? Were there any specific people....if so, what did they do that worked?
I am not 100% sure when Youth Ultimate was developed in MN. I do know the CDH team has been around since the late 1990s. There has also been a state tournament since about that same time in MN, but in the spring of 2004 was the first year with separate boys and girls teams; previously it was mixed teams. When we went to boys and girls teams, rather then mixed teams was when the numbers really grew for Youth Ultimate. Not every team has a girls team, but the number of open teams has seen the biggest jump. Of course, since they are open teams girls will play on them.
John Sandahl has probably had the most influence on Youth Ultimate in MN. I wouldn't say because of what he did with a specific team or anything like that but mainly because he helped organize the youth league in MN and also promote the coaches to take the coaching certification program.
The Highlights: What have you seen in the Youth Ultimate in your area that you think exemplifies the sport, the players, or the programs?
What truly exemplifies Youth Ultimate in MN are the players. There is a lot of spirit on the field during games which makes for good competition. I feel at the higher levels, players will start to use the rules of Ultimate to their advantage (i.e. foul on purpose, always contest a foul even if it shouldn't have been, etc.) where at the youth level this just doesn't happen. I don't know if it is because there are coach's on the sideline that will tell their player after the point if the call was a good call or not or if because they are young and just haven't played in games where this happens yet. Either way, it really feels like Ultimate at the purest level when watching youth play.
The Future: What is next? How do we keep the growth going? The UPA, in particular, has made huge investments in growing Youth Ultimate...if you were in charge of the UPA, what would you do to allow the growth to continue? What would you do if you were in charge of the local scene? Can those two entities work together?
This is really good question, and I don't think the UPA wants to hear this but I don't believe it involves them. In MN we have so many kids playing that there more the UPA is involved, the more work that is created for the coaches. Many club teams and college teams have a hard enough time making sure their kids are UPA members and rosters are in on time, now try to do that with 16-18 year olds who can barely remember they have a test the next day in math. Also, since most of the kids are under 18 there is extra paperwork involved with waivers and med forms. Besides the UPA, typically the schools will also have their own paperwork that needs to be completed. This all becomes a logistics nightmare. What makes it even more difficult is the kids who wants to try Ultimate because they heard their friends talk about it. When did you get hooked on Ultimate? It was at your first tournament or game. So now, if a kid wants to try the sport for the weekend I have to make him pay the $20 to be a UPA member, fill out all of their forms, etc. just so they can figure out if they "like" the sport (the medical forms are understandable incase they get hurt but I could easily use the school one, not the UPA one).
Think of all of the money the UPA makes from having youth players. Minnesota alone has around 200 youth players, at $20 a pop they get $4000 a year from us. All the UPA does for us is give us a trophy for our state tournament and a way for us to register our players online. The UPA will say it also offers insurance to the players, but most school already have this and include their club sports in their own insurance. We don't have a series to play in to get one overall champion in the nation like college and club has, nor is it necessary. We do have Westerns and Easterns championships, but the UPA has even admitted that they want the UPA youth club championships to take place of these. When you played high school sports did you ever travel to another state or out of the country to play another team? Most likely not, so why does Ultimate need to? The answer is because there aren't enough local games/tournaments, but for a state like MN there is enough.
The youth league in MN already costs $30 a player, which goes towards field for the state tournament and a couple other items used to run the league. By eliminating the UPA fee, you just made the sport $20 cheaper for kids OR you have just given the league an extra couple thousand dollars to put towards paying coaches, creating a scholarship, offering reduced rates for kids in need, and much more.
State leagues know what they need to survive and make their own league grow. Each state is different. What MN needs may be different then what WI or WA needs. The UPA cannot accommodate what every state requires, nor should they try. By allowing each state to be run in a matter that suites them, they have in a sense, given them the power to succeed.
The UPA needs to realize that Youth Ultimate does not need to create an overall champion like college and club does. The UPA should look into the principles that many of the state high school leagues currently use. Most of them will probably say something like, educational opportunities through interscholastic athletics (mshsl.org)
The UPA wants to grow the sport of Ultimate, where leagues want their players to grow through Ultimate.
Ben Fisher coaches at Cretin-Derham Hall, a team with a long history of strong Ultimate in Minnesota