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Youth Ultimate Eugene Rec dives into programming for the city's young ultimate Frisbee fans

Ben Schorzman | Content Coordinator, Eugene Rec

On a spring evening in March, a group of teenagers gathered on the new artificial turf field at Kelly Middle School in northwest Eugene.

The teens huddled around a few adults at midfield then broke away, picking up white Frisbees. They started whipping the discs around the field in a warm-up. After a time, the group followed their coaches in a few drills followed by a game of ultimate.

Participants in the Eugene Rec youth ultimate program listen to program manager Erin Maloney during a practice.

To anyone walking around the track, the ultimate Frisbee practice appeared common-place. This group, though, was part of the first foray for Eugene Recreation into youth ultimate. The City typically leaves youth athletics to organizations like Kidsports, but Eugene Rec Athletics supervisor Ethan Wing is all about making the opportunities for Eugene’s kids more diverse. Wing partnered with local ultimate player Erin Maloney to create an offering with a lower barrier for kids who just want to learn to play.

“There’s a service gap,” Wing says. “I’m not necessarily looking to branch into youth programs. I think there are enough organizations out there that are covering most of our traditional youth sports right.

“But when it came to me that there was nothing like this out there, and it’s something that kids aren’t being offered, I thought, ‘Well, if no one else is going to do it then we will.”

Maloney is well known in the ultimate Frisbee world in Eugene. She has networked extensively with other players and manages her own teams. In her day job she is a program coordinator for Connected Lane County & Lane STEM where she works with schools in Lane County to give students and teachers professional development. She turned her professional eye on her passion of ultimate to see if she could help more kids play and learn.

There’s currently a youth league in the city, but it’s more competitive and tends to draw from certain high schools.

A girl makes a long grab of the disc during a practice game.

“We think it’s really important, especially for our youth that age,” Maloney says, “to have the opportunity to develop skills. … We also want to make sure that they have the opportunity to play. And just for the pure joy of it all to be there and run around and chase the Frisbee.”

“There’s a barrier to participation,” Wing says, “which is basically what we’re here to break down.”

The structure is simple. Maloney draws on her contacts in the Oregon ultimate community to bring in coaches who teach participants certain techniques and strategy. Then they play.

Scenes from a Eugene Rec youth ultimate practice.

“I wanted it to be an opportunity for those that don’t have a steady coach or a structured program to be able to experience some of that,” she says.

The turnout for the wet and cold season was good, Maloney says. They of course hoped for a larger group than the 10-15 regulars that showed up each Tuesday for eight weeks, but she says it’s a great base to build from. It was popular enough that Wing green-lighted it for a summer session, with the hopes the warmer, drier weather will draw more participants.

“I’m super happy with the way that it turned out,” Wing says, “I’d love to see it grow.”

Two ultimate players throw the disc on the sidelines.

Maloney is known amongst her peers as being a passionate advocate for the sport of ultimate. She sees this partnership with Eugene Rec as another avenue to spread the game.

“I think [this program] can be a uniter,” she says. “It can be a force for evening out the playing field so to speak for equity because there are a lot of students that maybe have played for three years but are now at schools where there aren’t coaches that are keeping that program going.

“Having the opportunity to bring students together to play and feed off of each other and get excited about the sport is pretty important.”

The 2018 Summer Rec Guide

Photos and videos by Ben Schorzman

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Ben Schorzman

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