| March 20, 2018

Club Sports: All Weather, All Fun

May 5, 2016

The Idaho women’s ultimate frisbee club team won four of eight games at the Big Sky Conference championship tournament in Missoula last month.

The Idaho Gems placed second at the Big Sky College Women’s Conference Championships after falling to Whitman in the final game of the tournament.

Senior Marge Fitzgerald is the team captain and student coach. Because club sports are run by participants, Fitzgerald said she and her teammates organize travel, costs, registration and practices.

“We have people who go to school here, but they don’t qualify to play anymore, so they act as our coaches,” Fitzgerald said. “We come up with our own schedules for practices.”

The College Division of USA Ultimate began in 1984, and includes over 700 teams consisting of approximately 14,000 student-athletes. The College Championships began broadcasting on ESPN3 in 2013. Eligibility for club sports is based on a student’s grade point average and collegiate enrollment.

The Gems compete in year-round tournaments, though the bulk of competitions take place in the spring. The spring season begins in January, and the sport is played all weather.

“The only time we stopped playing was when it was torrential hailing and it was painful on the head,” Fitzgerald said. “We usually play through the weather because a lot of tournaments will be in that kind of weather — really torrential downpour.”

The senior said the team’s competitions usually involve six or seven games, but the program travels no more than a six hour drive from Moscow.

“A lot of our tournaments are in either Seattle or Montana area,” Fitzgerald said. “We have a couple that are just in Spokane, or we’ll go to Walla Walla.”

Fitzgerald said tournaments are not always serious athletic events.
“They’re really fun,” she said. “We’re dancing a lot of the times on the sidelines and we’re playing a lot of frisbee.”

Ultimate frisbee is a mix of football and soccer. The field is slightly smaller than a football field at 120 feet long and 70-80 feet wide.

“It’s really complicated,” Fitzgerald said. “Basically you run, you throw, you catch it in an end zone.”

Catching the disc in the end zone constitutes a goal, much like the sport of soccer. Teams must have seven players on the field at all times, and each game must have 11 points and a length of one hour at minimum.

“The best way to learn is to play and watch at tournaments,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s when you learn the most about frisbee. When you see it and compare with other people, see what the teams are like at other schools.”

Fitzgerald is from Fairfax, Vermont, and said she has used frisbee to expand her west coast connections.

“You get to meet people outside U of I,” she said. “For me, being able to network outside University of Idaho is super great because I don’t know anyone in this area.”

The Gems compete against teams from Whitman, Montana, Montana State and Utah as part of the Big Sky league.

A typical practice includes drills, conditioning and plenty of loud pop music.

“It’s competitive to a point where you can work to improve,” Fitzgerald said. “But at the same time we’re having the time of our lives out here. I love the ratio of fun to competitiveness that we have.”

At USA Ultimate-sanctioned tournaments, teams are required to wear matching uniforms. But at co-recreational mixed tournaments, teams can declare a specific theme. Players dress according to the respective theme chosen by the team.

Sophomore Sierra Wallace said she enjoyed dressing in country attire during a tournament earlier in the season.

“(We) wore all flannel and camo and jean shorts,” Wallace said. “It was a good time.”
Wallace said Fitzgerald approached her during a class on campus and asked the sophomore if she wanted to join the program.

“She was like, ‘Hey Sierra, you look like kind of athletic, is there any chance you’d want to play frisbee?’” Wallace said. “And I said, ‘Sure, why not?’”

She said she was instantly hooked after meeting with team members.

“It’s a lively group of girls,” Wallace said. “Every time we practice there’s a ton of energy and it’s a great stress relief. It’s a great way to spend two hours of my day.”

Tess Fox can be reached at arg-sports@uidaho.edu or on Twitter @tesstakesphotos

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