After a five-year journey, Ultimate becomes a fully sanctioned varsity sport in Vermont in the Spring 2019 season. Thus, ends a long development process for a sport that many people still do not see as a sport.
In September 2013, a meeting was held between the Vermont Principals’ Association (VPA) and representatives from the Vermont Youth Ultimate League (VYUL) to discuss possible sanctioning of Ultimate as a VPA activity. Up to this point, Ultimate existed as a non-sanctioned activity in a number of VPA member schools and was growing in popularity among the students in these member schools.
As a result of this increased popularity, school teams who were members of the VYUL became interested in having Ultimate sanctioned so that these schools could then access resources within their own school (budgets, transportation, coaches’ salaries) that were currently unavailable to them as an unsanctioned activity. Sanctioning would also provide a structure/format that other sports within their schools currently used.
At the initial meeting, in addition to representatives from the VPA and the VYUL, USA Ultimate (the sports national body) also sent a representative from its national office in Colorado. USA Ultimate was very interested in the sanctioning process as Ultimate was not a sanctioned activity in any state association and USA Ultimate was hoping that the process used in Vermont could serve as a potential blueprint for how Ultimate could approach other state associations.
Ultimate already existed at the collegiate level and a high school group did exist (for tournaments), but no state high school associations affiliated with the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) had sanctioned Ultimate as an activity.
During the next several months, work was done on the rules for Ultimate. There was considerable give and take between the rules of Ultimate and the rules of the VPA, but after much work, the sport of Ultimate was presented to the VPA’s Activity Standards Committee (ASC) at its meeting in February 2014. At this meeting, Ultimate was approved as an “Exhibition” activity that was to begin in Spring 2015.
In Vermont, any new sport begins as an “Exhibition” activity for a minimum of two years. During this time, normal application of VPA rules may be suspended or modified and it is the hope that the activity can “smooth out the bumps in the road.” The intent is to present a polished product to ASC at the end of the Exhibition period so that the activity can be fully sanctioned as a varsity sport.
During its Exhibition status, Ultimate addressed many issues and concerns. Most of the feedback from schools involved school personnel not understanding the sport of Ultimate (they still thought of it as Frisbee) and the culture that comes with it. It was hard for some traditionalists to understand and embrace a sport that self-regulates itself and operates in an environment that stressed positivity, good sportsmanship and fair play.
Others could not see Ultimate as an “athletic endeavor,” but rather saw it as an activity that was designed to be fun and non-competitive. Because of these issues and a lack of understanding, Ultimate requested to remain in an Exhibition status for an additional two years, until it could overcome some of these perceptions on the part of schools and school personnel.
Finally, at the November 2017 meeting of ASC, Ultimate presented itself for full sanctioning as a varsity sport and it was approved by ASC unanimously with an implementation date of the Spring 2019. Since being approved, Ultimate has received a lot of attention in Vermont and nationwide, including being mentioned in a skit on Saturday Night Live.
Individuals watching an Ultimate game for the first time will see a fast-paced and positive event being conducted by some very talented athletes who possess some incredible athletic skills. Colleges have embraced the sport of Ultimate and it is time for high schools to do the same.
Bob Johnson is associate executive director of the Vermont Principals Association and is in charge of all sports for the VPA. Before joining the VPA, Johnson was a principal for eight years and an assistant principal/athletic director for nine years at two Vermont schools.