Ultimate Frisbee program takes flight

Eric Augustin couldn’t be happier. The teacher of Middle School English and social studies is also the head coach of the Colorado Academy coed Ultimate Frisbee team, and his sport is having a moment.

Coach Eric Augustin with members of the Ultimate Frisbee team

Founded by Associate Director of College Counseling Cathy Nabbefeld and Upper School math chair Steve Hammer around 12 years ago—about the same time Augustin was first arriving as a CA faculty member—the Ultimate program has had its share of ups and downs.

Once seen as an “outsider” sport, Ultimate for a time struggled to gain players—and momentum—at CA. Augustin, who took the coaching role with the coed squad shortly after he came to CA, watched as athletes gravitated toward increasingly successful programs such as Lacrosse, Field Hockey, Soccer, and Golf.

But today, he says, “We’re busting at the seams.” More popular than ever with CA students, Ultimate now occupies an important place in the varsity athletics lineup.

An inclusive environment

Coming together before a game

The reasons for the recent surge of interest are varied, Augustin explains.

Fundamentally, he says, Ultimate is inclusive. “Look, you don’t have to be the world’s greatest athlete to play—I’m a testament to that,” he admits. In fact, when he first started coaching the sport, he had to learn how to throw, along with many of his players. “If I can do this, anyone can. If you can figure out how to make a disc fly, you can make an impact on the field.”

In welcoming all comers, Ultimate at CA breaks barriers: between players with years of experience and those just learning the rules; between standout athletes and those looking for nothing more than friendly competition; and between students of all genders whose approach to sport may be very different.

“No one rides the bench, either,” Augustin continues. “Athletes come to us from other sports where they may not have seen much playing time, and we tell them, ‘Every single player gets time on the field in every single game.’”

Juggling, with joy

Ultimate is especially attractive to those Upper Schoolers who want to take advantage of all that CA has to offer. “I think of CA like a giant candy store,” Augustin says, “and there are students here who want to pick as many candies as they can carry. They want to excel academically, they want to do theater, they want to play multiple sports, they want to run clubs.”

But some days, that deep engagement in the life of the school means they have to miss practice due to conflicting priorities. “And for me, that’s okay; I want to let them juggle,” says Augustin. “They’ll still get playing time in our next game. Everyone understands that we all have a lot going on—that’s the beauty of CA. We just want to play the game and grow the program.”

Importantly, Augustin says, Ultimate is a sport where joy and laughter are part of every practice and every match. As academics and athletics grow ever more intense and more competitive—not just at CA, but at schools of all shapes and sizes all across the country—Ultimate offers an alternative.

“Here, they can escape the pressure, not find more of it,” says Augustin. “My players love coming to practice. Boys and girls competing together, having fun, and laughing every day—there’s nothing else like it.”

A different kind of winning

The unique nature of league Ultimate competition contributes to the atmosphere out on the field. As with other Varsity sports, CA’s coed squad plays against other high school teams during the regular season, in the fall. But unlike other sports, the results of those matchups have zero bearing on who makes it to the state tournament.

“Everyone’s invited to compete for the state title,” Augustin explains. “So we could be shut out in every regular-season match, and still go to the state tournament in November. That means there’s none of the pressure during the season to make it to playoffs and win that other teams experience.”

Even “winning” means something different in Ultimate. At the State Championships, two titles are awarded—one to the team that wins on points scored, and another to the team that best embodies the spirit of the game.

In 2021, the spirit award went to CA—a point of special pride for Augustin.

“As a self-officiating sport,” he says, “Ultimate asks the players themselves to maintain the integrity of the game. Every time you compete, you ask yourself, are you playing the game the right way? Are you being respectful? Are you demonstrating sportsmanship? Are you enforcing the rules?” Teams literally evaluate each other on their spirit after each competition.

Little moments with a big impact

The spirit of the game is clearly alive and well at CA. It’s what makes Ultimate so appealing here, says Augustin.

“Players introduce themselves to their opponents at the start of every match. They negotiate with each other when there’s a disagreement about a call. Team members support each other off the field as well as on. Playing Ultimate, these young people are learning skills that will be with them for life.”

At the beginning of every new season, Augustin pairs up veteran and rookie players for an easy jog around the playing fields. The goal: nothing but conversation, time spent getting to know one another.

“It doesn’t seem like a big deal,” he says, “but my Senior players, who have been with the team for years, tell me they still remember who they ran with when they were new to Ultimate, and how important that was to them.”

Little moments like a jog around the CA fields, Augustin says, play a big role in making Ultimate an athletic experience like no other.