Ultimate is no joke.
Chad Gerber, one of the captains of the Bulldog men’s Ultimate team, came to that realization soon after he joined the team five years ago.
“I was recruited by a former player simply because of my height, and I was definitely reluctant at first” said Gerber. Since joining the team he has grown from a skeptical first-timer into one of 32 nominees for D-III Player of the Year.
“That’s one of the great things about Ultimate as a college sport,” Gerber said. “Most of the guys on our team and teams across the country didn’t come to college having played Ultimate their whole lives. They start out as competitive guys who need a goal to work towards, and end up forming a team of Ultimate players that can compete at a high level.”
As a club sport, Gerber says the team works hard to be competitive against other schools in the region.
“The way we have fun is by working hard in practice and winning tournaments,” Gerber said. “That’s the message we get from our coach constantly: ‘Let’s work hard, and the better we are the more fun we’re going to have while we’re playing.’”
Alumnus and former Ultimate team member Kyle Silva '13, now a math teacher at Owen High School, has been coaching the Bulldogs for two years now.
“We can’t stress enough how pivotal Kyle has been to the success of this team,” said Charles Bridger, another captain on the Ultimate team. “The amount of time and effort he puts in to developing us as athletes and individuals has been the greatest determining factor in our past two seasons.”
Since Silva took over as head coach for the Bulldogs, they've picked up wins against teams like Georgetown, Clemson, and George Mason on their way to back-to-back trips to the D-III College National Championships, solidifying themselves as one of the top 16 teams in the country from schools with less than 7,500 students.
Bridger, a graduating senior, has also been working hard to make progress off the field for UNC Asheville’s Ultimate team, where he hoped to increase school spirit and community engagement.
“We really take pride in the fact that we represent more than just ourselves when we play,” Bridger said. “We’re proud to represent our school, our loved ones, and the community in which we live, and I wanted our on-campus presence to reflect that.”
Both of those goals were achieved this year. Even with three practices a week and a tournament every month, the Ultimate team still found time to volunteer with elementary and middle school students in the STRIVE mentorship program and to cheer on the Bulldogs at athletic events—often dressing in banana costumes. The team was even recognized with a “Best Fan Award” at the UNC Asheville athletics department’s annual ASHPY’s awards celebration for 2016-17.
Part of what makes Ultimate a unique sport is that it’s largely self-officiated, meaning fair play is insured by the athlete’s own integrity and understanding of the rulebook (which is extensive) instead of a referee. It all comes down to a concept known as the “spirit of the game.”
“One of the cool things about Ultimate is that people really do rise to that occasion,” Gerber said. “It ends up being the most well-officiated sport I’ve ever played, and I’ve been playing competitive sports all my life.”
For Gerber and Bridger, though, perhaps the most important part of Ultimate is the friendships forged on the team. That bond starts from day one.
“At the beginning of the year there are freshman walking around who haven’t established lasting friend groups yet.” Gerber said. “That’s part of the appeal of this team. We’re friends; we’re a tight group of guys. And if you want to have 20 best friends at week one of college, this team is here for you.”
“It was here for us,” Bridger noted.
The Bulldogs Ultimate team heads to nationals on May 20, 2017. For more information, visit the USA Ultimate website.