Pat Harris remembers his first national ultimate championship back in 1987 in Ottawa, when the game was young and relatively unknown.
The championship had a few teams in one division, and Harris helped pave the way for a sport breaking out of its stigma as a glorified game of Frisbee. Harris, 48, played for the Calgary Cynics and went on to the world championships more than a few times.
“We’ve travelled the world – Belgium, Hawaii, Madison, Wisc. It’s a worldwide sport,” Harris says. “To represent your country if you win nationals, go to the worlds, it’s a special thing.”
Ultimate is a disc-based field sport with elements of football, soccer and basketball. Players throw the disc to advance up the field toward the endzone, but a player with the disc can’t run – they can pivot and pass, like a basketball player.
For the first time in 15 years, Victoria will host the Canadian national ultimate championships, which expects to draw 1,500 athletes from top teams from Newfoundland to B.C.
Since that first championship, the egalitarian sport that prides itself on fair play, no referees and co-ed squads has found a following of fiercely loyal players.
“(Ultimate) is co-ed, competitive and self-officiated. There’s no cheating. It doesn’t go on,” Harris says. “I like the community nature of it. You play hard and after go out and enjoy each other’s company. Nobody pays you to play. You have to love this game.”
Harris’s master’s team, Republic is one of two Victoria-based squads in the nationals. “The key word in Republic is ‘pub,’” he jokes. “As in we are a group that can either hang out at the pub, or choose to play ultimate.”
The other, the Skysharks, is a mixed team in its second season, and with one national championship tournament under its belt. Clayton Howlett, 27, of Saanich, helped launch the Skysharks after playing competitive ultimate in Vancouver for three years.
“This is a young team, about a year old. Last year we went to the nationals in Ottawa seeded 10th and we came out of it 10th,” says Howlett, one of four team captains on the Skysharks.
“I had no idea we’d make it to nationals. We expected to get trashed an use it as a learning exercise, but we held our place and showed we could contend.”
This year the Skysharks came in second in the province behind Vancouver-based 7 Deadly Spins, the former Canadian and world champions. “We hope to contend with them, we want to contest the world champs,” Howlett says.
The tournament is spread through fields at Lansdowne school, St. Michaels University School, Topaz Park and Royal Athletic Park for the finals.
“Victoria has great facilities in terms of fields,” says Danny Saunders, executive director for Ultimate Canada. “And it’s an ideal location in the summer for Canadian players,”
Tournament director Kevin Bruleigh said organizing a national event for 72 teams with 1,500 players and their families and coaches will help raise the profile of ultimate in Victoria.
“The instant perception of the sport is people think of the beach and dogs and hippies hanging out. It’s not like that. These are athletes training for competition. It is a huge commitment,” Bruleigh says. “The best of the best in Canada, coming to compete in the capital city.”
The Canadian ultimate championships run Aug. 16 to 19 on fields in Victoria and Saanich. See www.cuc2012.ca for details.