As ultimate Frisbee continues to grow, the Hornets stand at the forefront. In his third season as a member of the ultimate Frisbee team at Edina High School, senior Daniel Brunker still remembers his first practice. “I was pretty intimidated,” Daniel says. “I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had thrown a disc before, but I had never played. We went through a couple drills, and once we started scrimmage, it started to click a little bit. As soon as that started to happen I knew I was going to love it.”
Sam Hammar, another senior on the team, began playing ultimate Frisbee after breaking his left leg and tearing his ACL and MCL in his left knee as a freshman at Edina High School. Sam says his mother wouldn’t allow him to play football after the injury, so he had to find a new sport.
According to USA Ultimate, this non-contact sport combines the non-stop movement and athletic endurance of soccer with the aerial passing skills of football. It’s played by two teams using a flying disc on a field with end zones, similar to football. Daniel and Sam have since developed into two of the Edina program’s best players. They serve as captains alongside fellow senior Jack Rosenthal.
While the captains and the rest of the players on the Hornets roster compete because they’re passionate about the sport, they’re also an integral part of something bigger than themselves. Ultimate Frisbee is one of the fastest-growing sports in the nation. There’s been an incredible increase in participants over the past 10 years or so. And programs like the one at Edina High School are a huge reason.
“It’s been amazing to see the growth of the sport,” says coach Nate Wohl, who’s in his sixth year as the head coach of the Hornets program. “We are scratching the surface of potential here. The opportunity for more growth is so huge. There is so much room to grow outside of the metro areas. The more we see these high school kids get involved, I think the earlier the interest is going to start.”
Though ultimate Frisbee is not a sanctioned sport by the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL), Wohl thinks it actually works better that way at the moment. “We operate as an independent club in conjunction with Minnesota Ultimate,” he says. “As of right now we have the ability to travel to tournaments nationwide and schedule opponents that best fit the talent each program has. They have everything they need to run a really great league. So we get the best of both worlds.”
Wohl played ultimate Frisbee for Edina High School back in 2004 before going on to play five years for the University of Kansas. He eventually returned to Minnesota and got involved with the Hornets program. Wohl says the number of participants has skyrocketed since he was with the program 12 years ago.
“It’s rewarding to see that growth,” Wohl says. “I don’t think a lot of people realize how competitive this sport actually is. It really pushes athletes. It offers a lot to athletes out there. I think people are starting to realize that.”
Daniel has seen that growth firsthand in his time at Edina High School. He’s had friends ask about joining the sport and has served as an ultimate Frisbee ambassador. “We have one of the biggest state tournaments in the country,” Daniel says. “[Ultimate Frisbee] is open to a wide variety of people, so I think that’s an appealing part of the sport.”
Sam’s experience has been similar, with other students constantly asking about the sport. “It’s been really cool to see how so many more people are interested,” he says. “They ask about the sport in the hallways. I take a lot of pride in spreading the word.”
An obstacle is getting athletes to choose ultimate Frisbee over other sports. Technically a spring sport, with the state tournament held in June, it could conflict with other MSHSL sanctioned sports out there for kids. Still, there are more than 90 teams in the state right now, according to Wohl, and more and more talent is showing up.
“It’s starting to get recognition from top-tier athletes at each school,” Wohl says. “It’s gaining that respect and credibility, and that’s what’s really exciting about it. That boom is going to come.”
“It’s become a more popular sport at Edina High School for sure,” Sam says. “We have seen more and more of the best athletes join the team over the last few years.”
Wohl says the atmosphere makes his position a lot more worthwhile. “It’s a ton of fun for us as coaches,” he says. “That camaraderie the kids have with each other makes it so rewarding.”
Ultimate Frisbee also offers opportunities to play at the next level. Daniel and Sam have thoughts of playing in college. “It’s very exciting to know that it doesn’t just end when I graduate from Edina High School,” Sam says, although that’s not the main focus for the captains right now.
“I’m just trying to enjoy my last year [at Edina High School],” Daniel says. “It’s a unique sport. It’s like my second family to be honest. I’m already looking forward to the season.”
Ultimate Frisbee, a sport that requires the endurance of soccer and the aerial passing skills of football, is one of the fastest growing sports in the nation.
The highly competitive nature of ultimate Frisbee is attracting more and more elite athletes to the sport.