Ultimate Frisbee at the 5Cs: A workout, support group and feminist agenda all in one

A female student stretches out her arms to catch a frisbee flying through the air.
Ellie Dekker PZ ’23 catches a frisbee during a Claremont Greenshirts practice Oct. 2. (HuxleyAnn Huefner • The Student Life)

Claremont’s women’s ultimate Frisbee team, the Greenshirts, is many things — competitive, fun-loving, passionate and supportive — but they don’t actually wear green shirts.

The team can be seen practicing on Scripps College’s Alumni Field on Monday and Wednesday evenings, and competes in Division III level tournaments for USA Ultimate.

The sport’s popularity (those in the know call it ‘ultimate’) is nothing new to the Claremont Colleges, whose first team was founded in 1979. Now, the 5Cs have two club teams, the Greenshirts and the Braineaters, which include members from across the consortium.

Ultimate Frisbee is no easygoing game of catch — it’s fast-paced and competitive, combining elements from several other sports. 

“It’s like playing basketball on a soccer field, except you can’t run with the [disc],” said Lizzie “Guinn” Willsmore SC ’20, one of the Greens’ captains. 

There are seven players to a side, and players score points by catching the disc in their team’s endzone, like in football (except without running or tackling). As in other sports, ultimate players are assigned to certain positions and execute plays.

But unlike most other sports, the players are also the referees for their own games.

“The fact that you really have to build on your communication skills and conflict resolution in a way that is incredibly respectful of yourself, your team and the person whom you’re working out a foul call, or the disagreement or whatever it may be with I think that to me has been one of the most powerful parts of playing the sport,” Willsmore said. 

The sport’s emphasis on mutual respect and positivity appeals to many who take it up, she added.

“Especially if you are a woman, or honestly just a non-cis man, I think that it is a really empowering sport because it is focused so much on spirit, and on being respectful, while still holding each other to incredibly high standards of competitiveness,” Willsmore said. 

And the team has seen some impressive successes, too. 

The Greens were the Division III national champions in 2012 and placed third at Division III nationals the following year. 

The region Claremont’s ultimate teams compete in consists only of Claremont and Occidental teams, so the Greens’ shot at nationals is determined not by how they play at regionals, but by their season record versus Occidental

As a result, for the first time in several years, the Greens didn’t make it to nationals last season, even though they trounced Occidental at regionals. 

“We ended up beating [Occidental] by a substantial margin at regionals, but by then they already had the bid to play at nationals,” Evangeline “Sheba” Erickson PO ’22 said.

Nationals aren’t currently the team’s primary focus, but the Greens have Occidental in their sights in the long term.

“Right now during fall season we’re just focusing on building up the team and playing at less significant tournaments,” Erickson said. “But a spot at nationals is definitely a goal for us during spring semester and we’re hoping to take that title back from Oxy.” 

The Greens also have a deeply distinctive culture.

The team’s quirky, fun-loving spirit is perhaps best summed up by their slogan: “We are obscene and green.”

For example, their shirts are not, in fact, green, but blue. Per an urban legend chronicled on the team’s site, an earlier version of ultimate rules prohibited green uniforms. In response, the team designed shirts that said “this is not a green shirt,” eventually evolving into the team’s current name.

The team’s numbers have continued to grow along with its lore.

“The Greenshirts are honestly not like any other group of women I’ve ever met before — such a mix of wonderfully strange and quirky girls who know how to have fun but also genuinely care about each other,” Mei “Jedi” Ge PO ’22 said via message. 

The connection has made the team a tight-knit community.

“Being able to walk into an environment of some really impressive female athletes, and being able to bond and work together with them was something really special for me,” Erickson said. 

As a club sport, the team also gets to decide how it spends its budget and which tournaments it can go to. 

“Especially for female athletes, having that … financial power over what you’re doing is really important,” Willsmore said. “It’s very empowering to have a lot of that autonomy.”

On the horizon for the Greenshirts this fall is the October Huckfest tournament at UC Irvine. In the meantime, the Greens are practicing hard and looking to recruit new team members, Ge said.

“It’s … about building a community around the 5Cs and in little interactions when we see each other around,” Ge said. “I think that’s the quality of the team I found most surprising, this sense of care and support that each player gives to one another.” 

The Braineaters is the men’s ultimate team. The team could not be reached for comment.

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