The Ultimate game: Burr and Burton brings new sport to Manchester

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MANCHESTER — Many people have thrown a frisbee around with their friends and family, a nice leisurely activity on the beach or at a holiday barbeque.

For the new varsity sport of Ultimate — formerly called Ultimate Frisbee — there's nothing leisurely about it.

The Burr and Burton Ultimate team, in its first regular season at the varsity level after three years as a club, finished 10-1

"Most of the kids have played the game in gym class and it's fun, but as a varsity sport, it's definitely more competitive," said BBA coach Tom Von Allmen.

The sport of Ultimate started about a half-century ago in New Jersey. It has grown exponentially since its start in 1968, as the sport is now estimated to have more than 5 million players around the world, according to the World Flying Disc Federation, or WFDF.

At Burr and Burton, the team was formed four years ago by a group of freshman, most of whom are still playing for the Bulldogs.

"Some of those kids are my starting seven," said Von Allmen, who has been a social studies teacher at BBA for four years.

One of those seniors, Nate Lalor, is also the Spirit captain, a position unique to Ultimate to help mediate on-field disputes. There are no referees at the high-school level for Ultimate and is self-officiated, similar to tennis in Vermont. Part of the game's official rules account for this, called the Spirit of the Game and is, according to USA Ultimate — the governing body for Ultimate in the United States — "... based on the belief that respect and honor between competitors make it possible for control of the game to be in the players' hands."

"Everyone has a responsibility to keep the game going fairly," Lalor said. "People can get heated in a close game on a foul call, but it's been really good and everything [has been] sorted out civilly."

When asked about his skill set, he said that he's all right at throwing and catching and getting open, but that his main skill is being a leader.

"My role is to hold that standard and be a leader for our team," Lalor said.

In Vermont, the catalyst for Ultimate came from Montpelier teacher and coach Anne Watson. She spent the better part of a decade to get Ultimate recognized as a varsity sport — meaning at least nine schools compete at a varsity level. That milestone happened this spring and made Vermont the only state in the country to have it as a school-based varsity sport. Montpelier is the top seed, having gone undefeated this season at 10-0.

"The last couple of seasons, it has been an exhibition sport in Vermont, similar to a club," said Von Allmen, who has played the game himself for the past decade and continues to do so with a co-ed team out of the Albany, N.Y., area. "We're a part of the Vermont Youth Ultimate League [VYUL] and we had a chance to showcase a couple games here."

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For the casual fan of the sport, there are many comparisons to other more established sports like football and basketball. There are end zones, albeit 20 yards long compared to the 10-yard end zone in football. The field is 70 yards long and 40 yards wide. The goal of the game, similar to football, is to catch the disc in the end zone to score a point.

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Typically, games can either go 90 minutes or to 15 points to determine a winner.

The game starts with a pull, a throw similar to a kickoff in football.

Offensive players start with the disc and they are not allowed to run with it, only a pivot foot, like a basketball player who has picked up his dribble.

"You have to work the disc up the field. You can't play hero ball in ultimate, it's a pure team sport in that respect," Von Allmen said. "You can only touch the disc every so often. It relies on downfield cuts and getting open, can the receiver beat the defense?"

Throwers have 10 seconds to make a decision where the throw is going. A completed pass keeps them going, an incomplete pass is a turnover to the other team.

"Aiden [Francomb] is our main disc handler," Von Allmen said. "He's waiting for people to move and it's his job to get people the disc."

Being athletic is key. Members of the roster also play soccer, basketball or swim, so their conditioning is at a high level.

Defensively, it is completely non-contact. The goal for the defense is to force the offensive team to make a mistake — a bad throw for an incompletion, an interception or breaking up a pass.

"We have person defense, the man-to-man, or the zone where you're guarding an area," Von Allmen said. "In Ultimate, you want to force the throws that you want [the opponent] to make as opposed to denying every throw. If it's in the middle of the field, we have zone defense to set up where we want them to throw it."

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Vermont does have boys and girls Ultimate, but Burr and Burton has a co-ed squad that will participate in the boys state tournament.

"It's an inclusive team sport," Von Allmen said. "The club team I play on is mixed. From an athletic perspective, almost everyone in high school is starting from zero since it's new. I had 20 people who had never played Ultimate before."

In a time when schools are cutting sports or have few junior varsity options, to have nearly two dozen kids come out for Ultimate is a big deal. It's another athletic option for kids who might not into the traditional sports like football or soccer.

"It's really awesome to have good numbers," Von Allmen said. "The first couple of weeks were chaotic, but it was fun."

Roster: Sam Cairns, Aidan Vogel, Theodore Andres, Enrique de la Rosa, Devin Deets, River DeFelice, Bailey DesRoberts, Ben DesRoberts, Aiden Francomb, Evan Hall, Aryn Iannuzzi, Nicholas Kristiansen, Nate Lalor, Sean Lam, Casey Mara, Itembe Matiku, Quinn Murnaghan, Ronan O'Brien, Benjamin Phillips,

Joseph Sogno, Shane Sullivan, Casey Vogel, Simon Vogel, Aedan Walsh, Yiming Wang, Tanner Williams.


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