Although some doubt their sport’s legitimacy, members of the Sticky Fingers, Stuyvesant’s girls’ Ultimate Frisbee Team, practice intensely and strive for success in high-level tournaments. After finishing last year with a first-place win at the St. Johnsbury Invitational in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, the Sticky Fingers had high expectations going into the 2007-2008 season. Despite losing six seniors to graduation last spring, junior and co-captain Grace Lin is confident in her current team’s ability. “We [can] fill the void,” she said.
In September, the Sticky Fingers beat college teams in the New York Metro Sectionals Tournament and “almost became the first high school team [to qualify for] the Metro East Regionals,” Grace Lin said. Stuyvesant was tied with a Yale University club team for the final qualifying spot. The Yale club team moved on to make the tournament, but members of the Sticky Fingers don’t understand why Yale was chosen over them.
They find out about college-level tournaments through individual players’ online memberships to the Ultimate Players Association. High school teams normally are not invited to college tournaments. However, their coach is able to use his connections as an alumnus of Pennsylvania State University’s Frisbee program to get them invitations.
For the next six months, the Sticky Fingers did not participate in any national tournaments. Instead, they played and easily defeated the only other New York City high school with a girls’ Ultimate Frisbee team: Beacon High School. Even with the lack of competition, they continued to “work really hard” and “practice every week whether it was raining, snowing or icy,” junior and co-captain Nicole Lau said. Because 15 players this year were rookies that had never played the game before, such commitment was needed to train them.
“Basically everyone who join[ed] the team ha[d] never played ultimate before,” senior and co-captain Natasha Mishchenko said. The Sticky Fingers spent two hours every Tuesday and Thursday and four hours every Saturday doing “plyometrics, throwing, disc drills, and scrimmaging,” Mischenko said. Plyometric exercise involves the rapid and continuous contraction of muscle to improve strength and reflexes. She said their practice regimen also included “track workouts [and] running stairs in school.”
These vigorous workouts were to prepare the team for intense out-of-state competitions, where the level of competition can be significantly higher. “College teams often have more experience,” sophomore Amy Lin said. “Sometimes, there are entire towns devoted to Ultimate.” Frisbee is much more popular in other cities, such as Amherst, Massachusetts.
Members of the high school teams they do play in out-of-state competitions often “start playing in middle school,” Grace Lin said. She said these teams “are coached by some of the best Ultimate players around.”
A major disadvantage for the Sticky Fingers is that these teams “have grass to practice on. Whereas in New York, we have to travel pretty far to find a nice field,” junior Angel Li said.
“The only piece of grass around Stuy is Battery [Park], and it’s usually too crowded to do anything productive,” Grace Lin said. “We have to travel to Prospect Park.” Team members said it takes them slightly more than 30 minutes to reach this destination.
Despite all these challenges, Mishchenko said the Sticky Fingers “still match up well against those teams.”
All the preparation and practice has kept the team competitive. In a game against Bucknell College at the Spring Phling, a college tournament at Penn State on the weekend of Saturday, April 5, the team “was down at the half 7-3 and came back to win the game 13-9,” Lau said. “This game really gave us a boost and showed the college teams not to underestimate us. We were seeded last, 10th, at that tournament and the fact that we got third place surprised many people.”
The following week, the team flew to Georgia for the Paideia Cup, which “was with some of the best high school teams in the country,” Amy Lin said. They came in fifth.
Although the team has to travel out-of-state in order to play competitive games, Ultimate’s popularity at Stuyvesant is increasing. “The girls’ team has doubled in size from two years ago to 27 players,” Lau said. However, it is still not accepted by the Public Schools Athletic League (PSAL). This is seen as a benefit by many team members.
“PSAL has so many rules and restriction and it is just a hassle, so it is great to not have to deal with them,” junior Michelle Ma said. “I don’t really have a problem with us not being a PSAL team.”
Lau echoed this sentiment. “We have an awesome coach and great support from our families,” Lau said. She said it “allows us a lot more freedom and gives us more of an opportunity to compete in out-of-state tournaments.”
The lack of PSAL acceptance, however, does have drawbacks, namely lack of school funding. “We have to sell candy and have bake sales to raise money,” Li said. Overall, they are successful in fundraising, often raising just enough money to fund their out-of-state trips. Nonetheless, they need to fundraise year round in order to finance all their expenses.
The team believes this affects its performance. “Because we don’t have the money, we can’t go to all the tournaments we want,” Mischenko said. “Sometimes, we can’t bring our entire team to tournaments because we have to fly and it costs too much.”
Another drawback is the lack of respect the team gets from the rest of the Stuyvesant population. “Many people don’t consider Ultimate a real sport so we don’t get much support from the school,” Grace Lin said.
To combat this, the boys’ and girls’ Frisbee teams encourage each other by going to each others’ games, cheering each other on and playing recreational games together. “The members of the boys’ and girls’ Ultimate teams are very close partly because of the fact that we are not part of the PSAL,” Grace Lin said. “We support each other because we know that nobody else will.”
Members of the Sticky Fingers believe that Ultimate is a legitimate sport. Amy Lin said, “Ultimate is discipline, tolerance and integrity wrapped up conveniently in a 175-gram disc.”