‘Frisbee’ Passion Drives Student’s Choice of Seminary

Post a Comment » Written on November 11th, 2008     
Filed under: News
By Stan Friedman

CHICAGO, IL (November 11, 2008) –  Luke Johnson had to decide whether to work fulltime for Young Life or attend North Park Theological Seminary. The decision was a difficult one as the seminary had offered him a Presidential Scholarship, which would pay all of his tuition.

In the end, Johnson says he chose the seminary because it gave him the opportunity to play Ultimate Frisbee.

Johnson is one of a number of North Park students and Covenanters – especially youth groups – across the country who are passionate about the game. The school also increasingly has become a national presence in both men’s and women’s competition.

Frisbee AAccording to the Ultimate Players Association (UPA), the growing Ultimate Frisbee sport (often referred to as Ultimate or Ultimate Disc because of copyright issues) “combines non-stop movement and athletic endurance of soccer with the aerial passing skills of football.” A game of Ultimate is played by two seven-player squads with a high-tech plastic disc on a field similar in size to that of football. The object of the game is to score by catching a pass in the opponent’s end zone. A player must stop running while in possession of the disc, but may pivot and pass to any of the other receivers on the field.

The game emphasizes sportsmanship and is governed by the “Spirit of the Game,” (SOTG) says Johnson. There are no referees, and players make their own calls.

The UPA rules state that “Highly competitive play is encouraged, but never at the expense of the bond of mutual respect between players, adherence to the agreed upon rules of the game, or the basic joy of play. Protection of these vital elements serves to eliminate adverse conduct from the Ultimate field. Such actions as taunting of opposing players, dangerous aggression, intentional fouling, or other ‘win-at-all-costs’ behavior are contrary to the spirit of the game and must be avoided by all players.”

The sport was started around 1968, and students at a New Jersey high school codified the rules. Ultimate was conceived as a sort of anti-sport in that it was open to anyone regardless of athletic ability and its emphasis on what would become the SOTG.

“I think the sport fosters character in the way that others can’t,” Johnson says.

More than 40 players participate on the men’s team – The Lost Boys, a whimsical reference to characters in Peter Pan. Roughly 30 people play on the women’s team (see bottom photo) – Allihopa, which is Swedish for “all together.”

Frisbee BSophomore Luke Peterson of Northbrook, Illinois, notes that neither team has tryouts. “They are an open team, they do not exclude anyone, but allow everyone to come and join and participate,” he says.

The camaraderie of Ultimate was one of the reasons Peterson decided to remain at North Park University for another semester before possibly transferring to film school. The team has helped him work through issues related to his faith and future.

“The boys on the team not only supported me as a friend, but provided a model of modern Christians that I could relate to,” Peterson says.

Senior Kelly Marshall says the women’s team lives up to its Allihopa name and has been a source of encouragement. The men and women also are strong supporters of one another.

“I play because I enjoy being in community with my teammates,” Marshall says. “The brother and sisterhood that is created between our girls and guys has, and continues to, provide me with amazing friendships and partners in Christ.”

She adds, “Together as teams, we are able to share a common joy and passion of playing and also struggles in our faith. It is a very blessed community here at North Park that I am thankful for. Continually, Ultimate has pushed me to actively use my faith, on and off the field. It has been a huge outlet of spiritual growth in my life.”

Frisbee CEven as the players have grown as individuals, the teams have earned a measure of national recognition in a short time, success that is made all the more remarkable because the teams compete against those from much larger schools.

The idea for starting a team germinated with Johnson in 2000 while he was a student at the university. In order to get a better idea of what might be required, he and some friends invited a team from Wheaton College to play at North Park.

The North Parkers didn’t know what they were getting themselves into, Johnson says, with fond amusement. “We wondered, ‘“Why are they wearing cleats?”

The men’s team officially became a university extracurricular activity in 2001 and played their first “official” contest in 2002. The women’s team was formed a year later.

Allihopa has been the most successful. Two years ago, it was ranked among the bottom 10 percent of the teams, but is now one of the top 40 in the country.

They nearly missed an opportunity to advance beyond regional to national competition last year. “We hope to make it again this year, and our chances are looking good with an even tougher squad than in the past,” says Marshall, who also is a team captain.

Frisbee D“The dream of making it to Nationals is definitely something that never leaves my mind,” she adds, “This team has a lot of talent this year and, like they say, never say never.”

Last year, the men surprised themselves when they made it beyond the first round.
They never imagined they would advance so far into the tournament, so the number of athletes was greatly reduced for later competition because they already had made other plans.

Some could not be changed – like the player who scheduled his wedding for the same weekend and had invited a number of other players.

The men are looking for a stronger season and are not making any plans that might conflict with tournament time in the spring, which is considered the regular season. The Lost Boys recently captured a tournament title that included teams from schools as large as the University of Illinois.

The Lost Boys also have gained the attention of other schools. They finished their season last year ranked 56th out of more than 600 teams.

Regardless of how far the teams advance, just to compete requires a great deal of time – and especially money. The Lost Dogs and Allihopa travel across the country to play, including as far as Washington, D.C.

The school gives the teams $3,000 per year from student activity fees, but travel and tournament expenses amount to $16,000 a year, Johnson says. The students make up the difference themselves.

For more information on the North Park teams, visit their website. Anyone interested in sponsoring the team should email Johnson.

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