“Ok, so remember, if anyone catches us practicing on the Alumni Field, we’re all on the football team and you’re our younger sister. Got it?”
I was the only girl to show up to practice that day. Granted, at the time, there were only four of us out of the 20 people on our Ultimate team.
On my first day on the team, during the first few weeks of my freshman year, I knew it would be a fight to be able to catch up. All of the guys ran circles around me in drills and I was shocked to see the two returning female players keeping up with them.
The first Ultimate Frisbee team I was ever a part of consisted entirely of high school girls.I joined the White Bear Lake Girl’s Ultimate team during my senior year of high school after I played a game the previous summer and discovered how much fun it was. Our school had a strong enough program at the time to have two boy’s teams and one for the girls. I wasn’t the best on the team nor was I in the best shape, but I enjoyed the sport and knew I wanted to continue playing anyway. I believed it was a sport I could actually do and had the determination to improve on, and at the end of the day, I was hooked.
My freshman year at Bethel, four of us stayed committed until the end of the year. There were more to start the season; eight made it to October, but one by one, the others quit. We played in the open men’s division, where teams were allowed to be co-ed, though we rarely saw other teams with female players on them.
Playing with the guys made me aware of how dangerous Ultimate actually can be. More than once, I would run towards a disc that a teammate threw to me, thinking I was completely open. But out of nowhere, a guy two or three times my size would appear in front of me, trucking me to the ground. I would also rarely get open for the disc. As a 5-foot-2-inch female, my opponents were always bigger than me and better able to prevent me from getting open. When I was the one defending, they would always put one of their fastest guys on me, run around in circles to tire me out and then streak past me deep for the score. Often, this impacted my playing time in games. When our team was losing, I often grew frustrated because I wanted to do something about it, but I knew I couldn’t. All I could do was cheer from the sidelines.
The guys on my own team respected us, but the ones on most other teams — not so much. That year, I learned my opponents always sized me down and would underestimate my ability. They would play lazy defense and not try as hard as they would if they were guarding my male teammates. Sometimes this worked for them, but other times, determined to prove them wrong, I would make them pay for their mistakes by finding opportunities to get open.
One time, one of the guys on the other team commented on one of our best female players, saying, “we can’t keep guarding her like she’s a girl.”
Of course, it wasn’t all bad. I grew rather fond of the dynamic that a mixed team provides. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my girl’s team, but it doesn’t beat the community created by the multiple mixed teams I’ve been a part of. When I play mixed, my competitive side comes out more than it did when I played on the girl’s team, helping me to play a more intense and energetic game.
Despite the challenges I faced, something inside me attached itself to the game and forced me to stick it out. The summer after my freshman year, my love for the sport solidified as I finally had the ability to see what real mixed Ultimate looked like. In the recreation league I joined, my male captains not only respected us women on the team but also gave us opportunities to thrive. They made sure we got thrown to, set plays that were just for us and advocated for us when issues came up. For once, I actually felt like a valued member of the team. While it was only a local summer league for players in the Twin Cities, my captain invested in me as a player and helped me learn how to better myself at the sport.
Coming back in my sophomore year things started to change for the better. Our captain had played on a mixed club team that summer and knew all about how to make things more inclusive. I was one of the leaders on the team. We also had four more women players join and stay with us, giving us six in total. Additionally, we went to mixed tournaments and even attended a discussion about gender equity. In this discussion, we talked about topics such as recognizing each other’s perspectives, advocating for ourselves as women on the field and about the importance of representation in the sport. The discussion we had sparked many other conversations about it, helping the men on our team understand what the women face when they play and empowering the women to see their potential.
Since my freshman year, many things stayed the same. As a female, I’m still in the minority and the guys I play with are bigger than me and can outrun me. At the same time, a lot has changed. I have had more opportunities to play mixed, I can out throw a lot of the guys on my team, and I am getting faster and stronger. I have a better knowledge of how to implement skills and strategies that I learned from my club and summer league teams and now have several new resources that I can consult upon. I’ve become driven to demand respect on the field and to be taken seriously as a player, despite my gender.
As I mourn the loss of my spring, summer and probably fall seasons, I remind myself of what I told myself when things got tough: if I love playing the game, I should keep working at it. Let the setbacks motivate me to work harder and get better. I have to remember that I fought hard to get to where I am now and I can be proud of that. Most importantly, I have to remember that I’m proud to play like a girl.
This is an opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Clarion, its staff or the institution. If you would like to submit a response or an opinion piece of your own, please contact Editor in Chief Molly Korzenowski at firstname.lastname@example.org.