Track and Ducks football make a lot of noise, but they aren’t the only sports getting national recognition these days. Lesser-known, but ever-growing in popularity, Ultimate Frisbee has carved out a niche. Fugue, the UO women’s Ultimate Frisbee team, won nationals at the USA Ultimate College Championships in May, while the men’s team, Ego, entered nationals the top-ranked team but was eliminated in the semifinals.
Dylan Freechild, a UO junior and in his first year as a captain for Ego, won the Callahan Award for his performance this season, an honor that is considered the Heisman of Ultimate. To put his winning this award into perspective, he went up against some of the more than 12,000 athletes on the more than 700 teams who participate nationwide and annually in the USA Ultimate College Championship Series, according to usaultimate.org. Women’s team player Bailey Zahniser was also a Callahan finalist.
Frisbee isn’t just a game friends play in a neighborhood park anymore; it is a rigorous, fast-paced sport, hell-bent on versatility, quick reflexes and strategy that is essentially Quidditch — without that whole flying part — and a Frisbee instead of a Quaffle.
Freechild started by tossing around a Frisbee with friends, but lately, he’s been playing on television. Ego’s game against Pittsburgh at nationals was the first men’s Ultimate match ever shown on any ESPN channel. “I think with teams that take it seriously, like us, it makes it look like a real sport, which it is,” he says. “And I think that is evident by the fact that ESPN signed a deal with the governing body of Ultimate. It’s pretty big for a sport to get that recognition.”
Disappointed by his team’s early exit but appreciative of the Callahan Award, Freechild says he’s happy to see just how popular it has become across the country. “It’s pretty big,” he says. “There’s high-school state championships, regional championships. There’s no nationals at the high school level, but I would almost argue that every college has a team.” And UO’s teams are doing their part to put a sport once solely seen as a recreational activity on the map.