Ultimate player takes a run at the big leagues

Junior Tova Breen heads to World Junior Ultimate Championships.

Cole Nicholls, Staff Writer

During a pause in our interview, Junior Tova Breen discreetly checked her phone. She abruptly laughed, a piercing guffaw that echoes through the monochromatic halls of South High. “This six year old I babysit just followed me on Instagram!” she remarked, baffled and amused by this uniquely 2016 phenomenon.

The World Junior Ultimate Championships is a biennial event meant to bring together the best Ultimate players under 18 from around the world to compete together. The tryouts for the 2016 event happened in Florida in late January and coach Tobie Albers Miller recommended she apply. “My coach said I should try to get in,” she explained. “I said fine, but I didn’t expect anything. Then I got an e-mail from USA Ultimate, saying ‘come to tryouts.’”

With such a prestigious acknowledgement, you’d think that Breen must have been in intensive training since birth, Not true – she joined the team for the same reason many South students do. “I started playing spring freshman year. I did skiing and a lot of the people who did skiing also did Ultimate. It seemed cool, and my parents had played it in college, so I figured, why not?”

Breen does not parse words about her love for the sport. “It’s probably been the best part of my high school career,” she gushed. “One thing I love about frisbee is there aren’t refs, so it’s self-officiated. A big thing in Ultimate is ‘spirit of the game’, which basically is just respecting yourself, your team, your opponents, and the game, not being unfair or annoying about stuff, so that creates a lot of respect and a really great community.”

Breen especially appreciates the Ultimate community because she hasn’t always had those positive experiences. “In other sports, I never got attached to the people because it was so much about winning. In Ultimate, it’s about enjoying the game.”

The amicable nature of Ultimate also “relieves [her] anxiety”, and provides a good counterpoint to her standard way of doing things. “I’m a super competitive person, so being laidback is good for me.”

Tova Breen
Junior Tova Breen toes the line. Her coach nominated her for the World Junior Ultimate Championships, which took place in Florida this January. Now she’s waiting to learn if she made the tryout. Breen derives her passionate for Ultimate from the communal atmosphere and the focus on gender equity.

“I even fell in love on the frisbee team,” she admited, blushing.

Another aspect of that communal respect she sees in Ultimate is the progressive gender politics – especially when compared to other teams she’s been a part of. “[Being involved in sports] has made me think of a lot of gender inequalities. When I was little, in the first and second grade, I played on a mixed gender soccer team. I was super athletic, I could keep up with the guys, so it was weird we got separated into two different teams.”

“It’s awesome because on Ultimate, there’s men’s and women’s teams in the spring, but it’s mixed in the fall. There’s a lot of discussions about gender equity, and that carries off the field too.”

Because she is so passionate about Ultimate, Breen is somewhat disappointed with the way South treats its Ultimate team. “We’re considered a club at South. We don’t get funding from the school, so we have to drive to all our games.”

Breen cited common perception of Ultimate as “a beach game, for dogs, not people,” as one reason why it isn’t as well funded as other, more well-established sports, and why people generally don’t treat it as seriously. “They’re considering putting Ultimate in the Olympics right now, and I’m hoping that will draw more people in.” At the end of the day, she adds, those who demean the sport have no substantive arguments. “You have to work out, you have to be in shape, it’s a real sport.”

Breen, always humble, is cautious about her naming her prospects. “There’s a lot of people who go to tryouts, so I don’t know how I’m gonna compare nationally.” But if she went to Florida with as much passion and energy with which she came to our interview, I’d say she’s a shoe-in for the victors’ circle.