ultimate: past, present & Future

By Miranda ROth KNowles

Miranda Roth Knowles.

Miranda Roth Knowles.

Hi there!  I just recently realized that I’ve been playing ultimate for exactly half my life (17 years, if you must know) and coaching almost as long (12 years) which I think gives me an interesting perspective on our sport.  Particularly as it seems like ultimate is having a bit of an identity crisis at the moment, it feels like a good idea to reflect on the past, pay attention to right now and project toward the future. Enjoy!

Ultimate Past

  1. The ultimate community.  Back before cell phones and Facebook, if you drove by a pickup game in a park, you could hop in and make 20 new friends in a snap.  Being a shy person by nature, this is how I made friends in college, Seattle and Shanghai and believe pretty much any of us could still do this anywhere in the world.  It’s maybe not as necessary now since we’re all so connected, but the community that made those instant in-person friendships possible still exists and is good to its core.

  2. Girls & women playing open ultimate.  Some of my favorite players were rostered on top boys’ and men’s teams in the 1990s and 200s.  Leslie Calder played for Furious George, Tina McDowell for UGA Jojah, Pauline Lauterbach for Paideia Gruel.  Other girls, including me, played for Gruel, but Pauline was a lynchpin in the team’s offense for her years in high school.  She, along with Roxanne Reigherd and Nikki Aldridge, paved the way for me and Rebecca Simon in later years.  While I’m so so so glad that young women don’t have to play on boys’ or men’s teams anymore (perhaps a topic for another day), it’s pretty cool that there were truly open teams that helped foster the growth of some super badass female players.

  3. Coaches coaching for free.  One of the main reasons I am so passionate about coaching and encourage my athletes to coach is that all of my ultimate frisbee coaches did so for free with the dedication and care of salaried staff.  Michael Baccarini started and ran the program at Paideia High School basically as an afterschool hobby, driving teams all over the southeast (and flying them to the northeast) before he was ever compensated to do so.  Phil Bowen, now one of the most respected coaches in the college men’s game, coached Syzygy pro bono my senior year.  The Karlinsky brothers were Riot’s first true coaches in 2008 and did so for free.  While many coaches are still unpaid to this day, many of us are compensated by our schools and we have these trailblazers to thank for it.

Ultimate Present

  1. The girls’ division at Paideia Cup XII (paideiacup.com).  I think there has never been a more stacked high school girls’ tournament.  In a full round robin of 6 of the nation’s top teams (including 4 of the top 5), you’ll get to see the east vs. the west vs. the south vs. the mountains.  Personally, I can’t wait to coach in it and I’m so glad we have tons of byes so I can go watch the stars of tomorrow compete today.  And yes, literally today – Lone Peak vs. Paideia is at 4:45 eastern time!  Check out paideiacup.com or @paideiagroove to catch the action.

  2. The growth in number of college teams, especially in the women’s division.  When I was growing up in Atlanta, there was 1 club women’s team (Ozone, still going strong), zero high school girls’ teams and UGA was the only college women’s team.  Georgia Tech’s team started in the early 2000s, but there just wasn’t much going on around here and the need to choose a college that already had a team was at the forefront of my class of 2000 mind.  This weekend, you can follow the action of 10 women’s teams in the Southern Appalachian section alone (http://play.usaultimate.org/events/Southern-Appalachian-D-I-College-Womens-CC-2017/schedule/Women/College-Women/).  This means that girls playing in the area have way more options for colleges than they used to…see Future #3.

  3. The buzz around gender equity in ultimate.  While we are a long way from achieving anything resembling equality or equity in our sport, the conversations that have occurred in the last year are making me feel really hopeful.  Particularly the 28 Days of Food, Frisbee & Feminism, the Bamasecs/Atlanta Hustle Futures game and Gender Equity Forum, and the USAU Vision Tour have capitalized on the work that the All-Star Tour has done and some blind eyes have been opened to the issues here in the south.  

Ultimate Future

  1. Lifelong athletes playing ultimate.  I was a medium-good basketball player – a 2/3 guard who was an exceptional passer, a poor ball handler and an ok shooter, a D3 benchwarmer.  On most ultimate fields, I was one of the best athletes and often the tallest player, looking amazing in ways that would have been quickly shut down by a D1 center midfielder or a AAAA high school’s starting power forward.  I’m really looking forward to what women’s ultimate looks like when we start attracting the best athletes to our sport at a young age.

  2. An ultimate frisbee population that reflects the population in the cities where ultimate is played.  Our sport has some very rich, white, privileged roots and while it is being played all over the country, the ultimate population does not look like the population of the United States.  While it’s understandable that ultimate frisbee is that way at the moment (having started in upper crust high schools and universities in the northeast), it doesn’t have to stay that way and I’d like to be part of a more diverse community in the future.  

  3. The day that Paideia varsity girls lose in the GA state tournament.  Has she gone mad?  Doesn’t she coach that team?  Probably and yes, with pride.  But what business does a small hippie private school have dominating an entire state’s worth of a sport?  Shoutout to Grady HS and Brookwood HS as the only two public schools with girls’ ultimate teams in the state of Georgia.  While there are now 8 teams competing in the GA state tournament, 4 are from private schools (3 from Paideia alone) and one is a combo team.  There are over 400 public high schools in this state and I’m really looking forward to the day that ultimate is picked up as a cheap, character-building, exciting sport by more of them. On that day, I will *try* to be a gracious loser.

Miranda Roth Knowles is a super star and legend in our sport. After starting her ultimate career playing on the Men's Varsity High School team in Atlanta, she went on to win the 2004 Callahan Award at Carleton College and multiple world and club championships. She is also a highly decorated and respected coach, who has traveled the world teaching others how to play. She is currently coaching the Paideia Varsity Girls' Team.