Western Mustangs Ultimate Frisbee? You Bet!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Jeffrey Reed, Editor, LondonOntarioSports.com

If you’ve tossed a Frisbee at a London park or at Port Stanley or Grand Bend beaches this summer, then you’ve partaken in one of today’s fastest-growing sports.

That’s not to say throwing the plastic disc is something new. The sport has been around since 1948, and 10 years later toy manufacturer Wham-O changed the game piece name from Pluto Platter to Frisbee – good decision.

Head coach Tawnya Gonzalez (top right) and the 2018-19 Western Mustangs women’s Ultimate team. Photo: Ed Kung.

More than 60 years later, the sport of ultimate Frisbee, or Ultimate as it’s called by those passionate about the game, is vying for inclusion in the Summer Olympics. The non-contact, self-refereed sport has been a favourite pastime on college campuses since the late-1960s and today is played in more than 100 countries.

Ultimate, governed globally by the World Flying Disc Federation (WFDF) and recognized by the International Olympic Committee, failed to make the short list for the Tokyo 2020 and Paris 2024 Summer Games. But with the sport wildly popular in California, the WFDF is hopeful that Ultimate will be included in the 2028 Los Angeles Summer Olympics.

That’s great news to Western Mustangs long-time ultimate Frisbee head coach Tawnya Gonzalez, who at age 37 is one of Canada’s top Ultimate players. The Clifford, Ont. native competed at the 2018 World Masters Ultimate Club Championship in Winnipeg with the fifth-place Toronto-based squad, lowercase.

“As a group we used to play for an elite Toronto team called, Capitals (who qualified for the U.S. Ultimate Championships in 2014 and ’15), but we’re getting older so we changed our name to, lowercase,” Gonzalez explained.

Tawnya Gonzalez. Photo: Facebook.

A member of the London Ultimate Club, Gonzalez has been playing Ultimate on Western’s campus since 2005 before moving to coach of the student-organized team in 2007. In 2013, Gareth Cunningham, an Ultimate enthusiast who then was Western’s manager of campus recreation and sport clubs, helped spearhead the sport’s move from club status to Mustangs varsity club.

“Being recognized by Western, we can advertise that we exist and people can look into the sport,” Gonzalez said. “And with the sport growing, we now have athletes from other sports who say they’re glad they can play Ultimate at Western. In the past, we had to go looking for players.

“Our men’s team has had up to 100 student athletes try out, and our women’s program is growing but still successful,” she said. About half of last year’s men’s and women’s squads will attend tryouts beginning September 3.

The teams practice up to three times a week for a short season, beginning with the September 28-29 Steeltown tournament in Burlington, then the Canadian Eastern University Ultimate Championship in Belleville on October 5, followed by the October 18 Canadian University Ultimate Championship in Brampton.

Three indoor tournaments in Markham, Brampton and Waterloo from January through March “give us a longer season, but it’s still considered our off-season,” Gonzalez said.

Western women finished seventh overall, and Western men finished seventh in Division II at last year’s Canadian University championship. This weekend, a number of Western Ultimate players are competing with various clubs at the Canadian Ultimate Championships in Edmonton.

Mustangs’ Jocelyn Li. Photo: Ed Kung

Gonzalez has seen plenty of national tournament success, co-captaining the PPF women’s team of Kitchener-Waterloo from 2008 to 2014 and in 2016, with a Canadian gold medal win in ’14. She plans to continue competing at the elite Masters level.

“Ultimate is a sport which requires speed, agility, endurance,” she said. “It’s a combo of soccer, football and basketball, with a disc. You play man-to-man defense. You have end zones, and handlers – who are like quarterbacks, and cutters who are your downfield receivers.”

Soccer players are often considered the best athletes on the planet, but Gonzalez doesn’t mince words when it comes to promoting her sport.

She said, “Like soccer, we play on a field, but in ultimate you have to be more fit than soccer players – which sounds terrible, I know. But there’s no standing around by any player. No matter what part of the field you’re on, you’re able to be part of the action. We have more endurance than soccer players, and we need to throw. In fact, soccer players will join our team, and they’ll say, ‘OK, this takes more skill than I thought it would.’”

A highly-successful inaugural Ultimate exhibition tournament at Western’s Alumni Field last April helped introduce the sport to a whole new crop of student athletes, which bodes well for the sport’s growth on campus.

Photo: Ed Kung

Ultimate, with governing body Ultimate Canada in its corner, was added to the World Games in 2001. Gonzalez said it’s a shame breakdancing has a shot at being including in Paris in 2024, with Ultimate left on the curb.

“We’re a skills sport played by skilled athletes,” she said, “so we’ll get our shot.”

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Award-winning journalist Jeffrey Reed has been covering sports in London and Southwestern Ontario since 1980. He is also editor of LondonOntarioGolf.com (est. 2004). Contact him at jeff@londonontariosports.com.

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About jeffreyreed

A leading Canadian communications professional. Corporate office http://www.JeffreyReedReporting.com established 1989. Publisher/Editor of this website and https://londonontariogolf.com.

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