Victoria Jacobsen
The Bulletin

How to get in on the action

The high school season is over, but the games are not. Anyone of high school age or older can take part in the Bend Ultimate Summer League, which will host games on Thursday evenings from June 21 through the end of August. Registration details will be announced shortly at the Bend Ultimate Facebook page. Players of all skill levels are welcome. The Bend Ultimate Facebook page also announces pickup games, information about traveling club teams, seasonal leagues and tournaments around the state.

If there is such a thing as a counterculture sport, it is Ultimate. It is a sport that embraces self-officiating as part of the “spirit of the game,” in which coed leagues for adults are common and shoe sponsorships are not.

Which makes the setting in which Jakob Kappus learned about Bend High School’s club Ultimate team all the more surprising: football practice.

“I had some friends on the football team who played last year, and they had a lot of fun, so I thought I might give it a try,” said Kappus, who this spring started playing Ultimate, in which teams of seven pass a disc downfield to a designated end zone. “It was way harder than I thought it was going to be. A lot of running. It took a while to get the basic skills down, but after that it was easier.”

In Bend, at least, a player with a background like Kappus’ is no longer the exception. The Bend High club team, which doubled in size from its first season in 2017 to 34 this year, includes a number of football and soccer players, former track and field athletes and skiers.

Earlier this month, at one of Bend’s thrice-weekly practices, coach Joel Pitney broke players into groups and instructed them to run through drills at full intensity. When he called the team together so he could explain the next drill, he grew exasperated by boys strolling back to the huddle.

“Jog!” Pitney shouted across Mountain View Park.

“Obviously you want to have fun when you play a sport, but also you want to be taken seriously,” Pitney said later, when the players returned to practicing. “Almost every college has (an Ultimate) team now. A lot of high schools are starting to have teams. Eventually, we’re probably going to be in the Olympics in the next eight to 12 years, and I think that will help a lot. There are now pro leagues, although people don’t get paid a lot. So Ultimate’s on its way.”

Caleb Campbell, a senior who has played Ultimate since middle school, said he and his Bend teammates have not found it difficult to recruit new members, even among kids who had played traditional high school sports in the past.

“A lot of the other sports, it turns out, play Ultimate as a conditioning exercise for their teams, so pretty much everybody who came out to our meeting had played a little bit before, and the idea that they could play on a competitive level was really exciting for them,” Campbell said. “I think they’ve all come to it because it’s easy to learn and it’s fun to play in the offseason of their sports. And I think a lot of people have found Ultimate to be an ‘on-season’ sport, too, not just an offseason sport.”

Campbell played with the Summit High club team until a number of Bend students and their parents broke off to start their own team.

“The super key part, in addition to having people to sign up, is you got to find a team mom,” Campbell said, referring to team organizer Chrissy Christoferson. “Nobody on this team has the organizational skills that you need to organize a whole team like this. Fortunately, we have a really great organizer who did all of this.”

Christoferson and other parents reached out to Pitney, who had recently moved to Bend from New York, where he had coached a professional Ultimate club called the New York Empire.

“From what I’ve experienced, I think there’s a pretty large demand for Ultimate out there, it’s just a matter of finding the people to organize and coach it,” Pitney said. “It was really just a matter of having a coach come on board. And I get the feeling that’s probably the case all around the country.”

The Bend program, which added a second team this summer as the roster expanded, quickly established a foothold in Oregon’s maturing high school Ultimate scene. Although there had been season-ending “state tournaments” in the past, this year the top 10 of the state’s 15 high school teams were accepted to a championship at Meldrum Bar Park in Gladstone on May 19 and 20. Bend lost to eventual second-place finisher Marist by one goal in the semifinals and finished in third place. Summit took sixth place, and the Bend junior varsity team — the only JV team to reach the tournament — took 10th.

Bend is also home to one of Oregon’s three girls Ultimate teams, the Stormbears, which is composed of girls from Summit and Bend high schools.

“I would say Central Oregon is a little ahead of the curve when it comes to youth Ultimate, and I don’t know why that is,” Pitney said. “I think the history of the Summit program is part of it. I also think that Bend is sort of an alternative sports community, and so people just are really open to playing nontraditional sports. In a town like Bend, I don’t know, maybe you can do that.”

Campbell said he stuck with the sport precisely because it was less adversarial and more friendly than his experience with club soccer. High school Ultimate has become more formal and competitive during his four years in high school, Campbell said, but he believes the sport will retain the “spirit,” that is, inter-team camaraderie, that differentiates it from most other sports available to high school students.

“I definitely think that there is a risk of (losing) that, and I see it happening with some teams, for sure, but in the bigger scheme of things, 90 percent of the teams that we ever play with are really spirited,” Campbell said. “We played a couple of weeks ago in California against some of the best teams on the West Coast, and those teams were really, really spirited even though they were competing with other teams for the chance to represent California in the national championships.”

And while Ultimate is not yet an established sport at Bend High in the way that basketball, soccer and lacrosse are, Kappus said he can envision a day when it is.

“I definitely do want it to change, and I think it is,” Kappus said. “It’s only the second year of this program, so I think that’ll come with time, more than anything. I did track during my other years of high school, and I did that to get in shape and get faster for football. And I’m definitely glad I did that. But it would’ve been cool to play this and see how good I could’ve gotten.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0305, vjacobsen@bendbulletin.com

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