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Camaraderie binds Ultimate community

About 80 expats braved the cold along the banks of the Gapcheon River in Daejeon on Saturday and Sunday for an Ultimate tournament.

The first Daejeon Frozen Fives, it is one of several tournaments in Korea, the biggest being the Dirty Dozens, an international annual event in Jeju.

Originally called Ultimate Frisbee, the sport is typically played with teams of seven ― although the Daejeon event is five-a-side ― moving a Frisbee by passing it, with the aim of reaching scoring end zones.
Ultimate players compete at the Daejeon Frozen Fives tournament in Daejeon on Sunday. ( Paul Kerry/The Korea Herald)
Ultimate players compete at the Daejeon Frozen Fives tournament in Daejeon on Sunday. ( Paul Kerry/The Korea Herald)

The players come mostly from Korea’s two main leagues ― ROK Ultimate (www.rokultimate.com), based mainly in the south, and Korea Ultimate Players Association (www.koreaultimate.net) based in Seoul. The leagues start in spring and run for about 6 months, and teams also go to international tournaments in Asia.

“It’s a great sport in terms of just staying in shape. I also like team sports where you have a group of people working together to solve a problem,” said Clay Thomas, one of the longest-serving members of KUPA.

“I’ve definitely taken an interest in seeing how big we can make it in Korea,” he said. “It’s definitely a goal of mine to make the sport big in this country.”

The efforts of Thomas and others like him seem to be paying off. He said that the Seoul league had started about 10 years ago, but when he came it was mostly for serious players. Now he says a wider range of people have gotten involved, including university teams and a lot more Koreans, although there are still slightly more expats.

ROK Ultimate also started in 2009, growing the sport outside Seoul, especially in the southern cities, and now has hundreds of players.

Many of those involved started playing in Korea.

Tournaments like the Frozen Fives are a good opportunity for players to keep their hand in and meet people from other Ultimate teams and leagues.

“In the ROK league it’s hard to get to know the people you are playing against,” said Natalie Wolfe.

“You only know the people on your team, so I love these tournaments because you get to meet the other people involved.”

Some players in Daejeon had come from further away. Lindsay Lang, who was visiting a friend in Korea on a trip to Asia, played on a successful university team until recently. She said the level of the sport here was good and was impressed with the community.

She said that was an important plus for the sport as a whole.

“I think the people are really fun and it’s really them that make it such a great sport,” she said. “Also, there are no referees, so even at a very high level, it’s on the players. It requires some sort of integrity.”

This balance was appreciated by other players.

“I think the competitive fire is there, but when you are actually playing its not the same as football or basketball, there’s a lot of camaraderie,” said Joe Gibson.

This camaraderie carried on off the pitch.

“Everybody knows that Ultimate people are the best people to hang out with, plus you know that if you go to a tournament there’s going to be a good party,” he said.

Wolfe agreed.

“That’s one of the reasons to go to the international tournaments,” she said. “It’s the best networking, because you get to know people from all over the world and now I can go anywhere and I’ll already know someone there.”

And it brings a sense of familiarity that makes many feel more at home here.

“It’s huge where I come from,” said Wolfe. “It’s great to come to Korea and see Ultimate being played here, something that’s close to my heart.”

By Paul Kerry (paulkerry@heraldcorp.com)
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