Vt. schools catch Ultimate Frisbee

People enjoy a pickup game of Ultimate Frisbee earlier this year at Giorgetti Park in Rutland. The game has been granted varsity sports status in Vermont schools. ROBERT LAYMAN / STAFF FILE PHOTO

MONTPELIER — Vermont is the first state in the country to be granted Ultimate Frisbee varsity sport status in schools.

The decision Friday followed a unanimous vote by the Vermont Principals Association Activity Standards Board, which sanctions which school sports receive varsity status.

The news was warmly greeted by Montpelier High School math teacher Anne Watson, who coaches the school’s Ultimate team and has led the Vermont Youth Ultimate League’s campaign to achieve recognition as a varsity sport for the last seven years.

Ironically, following the decision, Watson may have to give up some of her Ultimate responsibilities, which include school team coaching, Sunday family pick-up games at the school, running summer Frisbee day camps, hosting the schools’ annual Capital City Classic one-day tournament in May, and league board duties.

Monday at noon on the steps of City Hall, Watson — who is already a city councilor — announced an election run for Mayor of Montpelier in March. It follows last week’s announcement by Mayor John Hollar that he will not seek another term.

Asked how she would juggle her scholastic (she also recently took charge of the school’s robotics team), civic and extracurricular responsibilities, Watson was sanguine about making it work.

“ I may need to cut back a little bit on my time commitments to Ultimate, but there may be more support and I will probably take a smaller role on the Vermont Youth Ultimate League Board now that it’s been approved,” Watson said. “It’s all a question of giving the right amount of time to the priorities.”

Nor was Watson worried about the additional work being mayor on top of her other responsibilities.

“ I fit a lot into life. I just go all the time. I’ve got a lot of time,” Watson said. “I’ve made priorities out of civic service and playing Ultimate. I may have to find someone to find help with coaching. I think a robust system like Ultimate has built-in redundancies, so I think it will be fine.”

Montpelier High School’s Ultimate Frisbee teams have risen into the top rankings over the years under the tutelage of Watson since she joined the school as a math teacher in 2005 and began organizing and coaching games.

“The men’s team have reached the state finals of competition five out of the last six years,” Watson said. This year, the women’s team won the state title.

The Ultimate varsity status in Vermont will begin in 2019, giving schools throughout the state time to lock in budget funding to support the sport on a par with other recognized sports, as required, and organize and field teams.

“ The season is in the spring, so it won’t take effect until spring of 2019,” Watson said. “But it definitely feels like a moment in history for the Ultimate community, for me.

“I started on this quest about seven years ago when I started coaching here, and that’s when the seed of this started. We said, ‘Hey, we’ve got a great team here, and we’d like to be a varsity sport.’”

It was a slow process lobbying for recognition and build a process for the VPA to sanction varsity status.

As a condition, the Vermont league persevered through the requisite two years as an exhibition sport. It was granted an extension to raise enough support from the required minimum of nine school districts.

“We got those nine letters of support just two days before the ( VPA) meeting,” Watson said with a sigh of relief, and credited the school’s Athletic Director Matt Link for rallying last- minute support from other schools in time.

Under the rules, Montpelier High School will organize men’s and women’s junior varsity and varsity division teams but girls will continue to be able to play on boy’s teams, Watson said.

“Girls can still play on boys’ teams. They just have to know they will be playing other teams that are mostly boys,” Watson said.

One benefit of varsity status is that school districts must fund the cost of the sport that allows for equal access for all.

For Watson, recognition of Ultimate as a varsity sport is the culmination of a long interest in the game since her college days, graduating to club games in Essex where she learned to play competitively, and rekindling a dormant high school Ultimate activity through the Community Connections after-school program.

“ I just found it really addictive,” Watson said. “ It’s the kind of thing that you can work at and see improvement, and work a little more and see more improvement, and you can continue that trajectory for years, so it’s very satisfying.”

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