Ultimate Frisbee 2

Yorktown High School senior Hunter Schumacker makes a pass during Ultimate Frisbee competition in April 2016.. (Photo by Patrick Kane)

Arlington school officials are aiming to be regional and statewide leaders in introducing the sport of Ultimate Frisbee to a wider audience.

School Board members in mid-August are slated to approve its addition to the ranks of intramural sports in county middle schools, high schools and specialty programs, with competition starting in the fall.

“This is a first step,” Superintendent Patrick Murphy said at the board’s July 20 meeting. He called plans to add the sport “something that we’re very proud of.”

Ultimate Frisbee already is a growing niche sport among Arlington youth, who play on club teams that, while representing individual schools or groups of schools, have no direct involvement with the school system.

That will change if the School Board OKs the program for intramural (“co-curricular” in school-speak) status.

Under the proposal, each secondary school or program will field teams for girls and boys, with practice taking place in September and competition running throughout October. The estimated $92,000 cost of managing the program and funding equipment and uniforms will be carved out of the existing school-system budget.

School Board Vice Chairman Barbara Kanninen, whose sons have played Ultimate Frisbee at the club level, pressed to add the sport to the school system.

“It’s a great step,” she said of the sport’s moving up to intramural status.

Kanninen expressed hope that other local school systems will add the sport. “Maybe we’ll be building as we go,” she said, noting that the city of Fairfax’s school system has expressed interest in following Arlington’s efforts.

Adding Ultimate Frisbee to a crowded fall sports season is not without its challenges. Michael Krulfeld, director of student activities at Yorktown High School, mentioned availability of field space in a season dominated by football and field hockey, plus finding sufficient numbers of athletic trainers, as areas to be worked through.

Availability of field space also was cited as a concern by Tyrone Byrd, the school system’s new director of secondary education.

“There’s a challenge there,” he acknowledged.

But Murphy said the kinks could be worked out in coming weeks, and that the greater good was served by getting the program up and running for the 2016-17 school year.

“We need to recognize opportunities for students and provide them with a host of activities,” said Murphy, who began his educational career as a physical-education teacher.

Ultimate Frisbee – often known just as “Ultimate” – is a non-contact sport featuring seven players on each side competing on a 70-by-40-yard field. Teams score points by successfully passing flying disks into end zones. The disks only can be moved by passing; players can’t run with them.

While it has not been a team sport locally, Arlington schools have offered Ultimate Frisbee in physical-education classes, said Debbie DeFranco, supervisor of health and physical education for the Arlington school system.

The sport – which admittedly has a slightly counterculture vibe to it – developed in the groovy 1960s, with the first intercollegiate game held in 1972 between Rutgers and Princeton. (Rutgers won, 29-27.)

The sport is not recognized by the Virginia High School League, but eventually could be if enough school systems across the commonwealth show interest. But that could take years, as supporters of girls volleyball found when they attempted to get the sport added.

During the July 20 School Board discussion, no voices were raised in opposition to the proposal. A final vote is slated for Aug. 18.