Far from a casual game among friends, club ultimate frisbee is a competitive sport with a heavy emphasis on teamwork and communication. For 5C club ultimate team the Claremont Braineaters, the foundation for a strong team was set in 1979 by Pitzer College students, although the team is currently open to students from each of the 5Cs.
Their latest success came at the men’s DIII College Ultimate Frisbee League in December, where they finished 8th.
A unique sport, ultimate frisbee represents the true definition of parts of a team creating a whole, well-functioning organization. The central rule of play includes catching a disc and relaying it to a teammate before taking any more strides down the field. This requires constant communication and creates an acute sense of camaraderie.
Gunnar Mikko PZ ’25 has played ultimate frisbee for years and has enjoyed continuing his career as a member of the Braineaters this year.
“You have to throw it to your teammates in order to score a goal or to advance, so just by its nature it can’t be just a one-person-dominated-team or sport,” Mikko explained. “That really just makes it so that you have to work together, all seven people out on the field at once.”
One unorthodox practice includes the lack of third-party refereeing, meaning the players decide the ruling amongst themselves on the field of play. This dynamic creates interesting relations among opposing teams and even players on the same team.
Previously, Mikko felt that the lack of outside refereeing was a poor attribute of the game.
“I used to really wish in the past that there were referees and there was someone there to make a definitive call on if something was a foul or a turnover or a travel,” Mikko said.
But as he continued playing the sport, he realized that this aspect wasn’t a flaw; rather, it helps maintain the “spirit” of frisbee.
“Everyone has [it] at the back of their mind the whole time [that] we’re playing this game, and we’re going to play it fair,” he said. “I think that’s really cool and it makes it easy to connect with the teams you play against.”
Another newcomer for the Braineaters, Rory Beals PO ’25, echoed Mikko’s sentiment.
“There’s not any animosity towards the other team,” Beals said. “We’re competing, but we still want to keep it respectful and figure out this call together.”
Beals first discovered ultimate frisbee in high school, thanks to his sibling’s involvement in the sport.
“The only reason I started is because [my sibling was] my ride home and they went to practice so I kind of had to go to practice with them,” he said. “Over the course of high school, I got really into it … By the end of high school, my primary social group was the ultimate frisbee team.”
His passion for the game encouraged him to find the Braineaters.
“I knew that out of college, I wanted that same opportunity to have a social group,” Beals said.
Compared to his involvement in other sports before college, including tennis and soccer, the friendly coaching style of ultimate frisbee was unique to him.
“Once we start going through the drill, it doesn’t feel like a huge hierarchy or anything, you’re just sort of playing,” Beals said.
Though the first semester of frisbee saw a natural separation of teammates by school and year, Beals has found that those divisions have gradually subsided.
“Over the course of the first semester, those walls started breaking down to the point where I really don’t feel the difference between who is a freshman and who is a senior on the team,” he said. “It’s been a really good time because there doesn’t feel to be any sort of divide between players on the team.”
Ultimate’s unique rule configuration allows for a fulfilling team sport opportunity and a great environment for cultivating a community of like-minded individuals.
“When we’re scrimmaging our own team, I think that promotes everybody learning the rules together, which is important,” Mikko said.
The ultimate goal is for teammates to foster an enjoyable environment while supporting each other on the field.
“The main thing is being open-minded and welcoming to pretty much everybody,” Beals said. “It’s obviously a pretty niche sport, so in order to field a team you have to make people want to be there.”