Laughs, Love, and a Lively Atmosphere! Sponsored by the Girls’ Ultimate Movement (GUM), the GUM Ball that brought together youth and adult athletes at the U.S. Open and gave amazing women a chance to meet and share experiences.
Among the many phenomenal people at the ball were Live Ultimate Ambassadors Jesse Shofner and Octavia “Opi” Payne, GUM Ambassador Teams San Francisco Fury and Philadelphia AMP, and the U-20 women’s national team head coach and USA Ultimate President DeAnna Ball.
“It’s always really cool to meet the young and up and coming players, the next generation of stars,” reflected Opi, a member of San Francisco Fury, a three-time national champion and a two-time U.S. World Games athlete. “It wasn’t that long ago when I was in their shoes looking up to the older stars and being really starstruck. So that’s really cool to see that and remember that we all were there.”
Everyone in attendance felt like a kid again as the girls shared laughs, played games, took selfies and competed to win swag from some of the country’s best teams and players. Food, ultimate, great people and big excitement all came together to make the GUM Ball an unforgettable experience.
Two players from the U-20 girls’ team Atlanta cATLanta, Katie and Eliana, shared how meeting the adult, ICC players was truly inspirational to them.
“My goal is [to go to] Worlds at some point, so I’m just trying to gain as much [knowledge] as I can,” stated Eliana. “It’s really cool seeing them.”
“I’ve tried out for Worlds, but I feel like if I work harder and watch them and see how they play and get better at doing what they’re doing, that will make me a better player both on and off the field, and that can really help me get farther along,” reflected Katie.
If you can see her, you can be her.
As exciting as it was for the youth players to meet their older role models, it was equally as moving for the adult club players to interact with the younger generation.
“It’s easy when you see players only on the jumbo screen or YouTube to think of them as other worldly,” commented Opi. “It’s nice to humanize and get face time [with the YCC players] so that they see we’re just like them and they’re just like us, and to encourage them to keep doing what they’re doing.”
Ultimate is a truly unique sport in that it focuses heavily on sportsmanship and promoting the values of Spirit of the Game. Opponents congratulate each other for making great plays, and many games end with teams coming together in spirit circles to reflect on how the game went.
“I think it’s really cool getting to a personal level with the players even after playing with them,” remarked Katie. “Ultimate is very big on Spirit of the Game, and I appreciate that.”
One area where ultimate is not unique, however, is the disparity between male and female participants. Currently, female membership at USA Ultimate is slightly above 30 percent, and it is especially noticeable in the youth scene where there are more than three times as many boys’ teams as there are girls’ teams. That disparity is why initiatives like GUM were created – to help foster girls’ participation in ultimate.
“I think in society we [women] are very disadvantaged,” reflected Opi. “We’re very much taught to take up less space, be smaller and be deferential. So the more we can get girls to play ANY sport, the better.”
Opi knows that encouraging more girls to participate in sports is bigger than just athletics – it’s also extremely important in impacting girls’ lives outside of sport.
“The idea of work ethic or confidence you gain when you are successful on the field, you can take that and apply it to your life when you’re going through school, going on job interviews or dealing with interpersonal relationships. It’s so important in raising this generation of strong, confident and independent women.”
As a member of the GUM Ambassador Team program, Opi’s San Francisco Fury has focused on being stewards of the game and are really cognizant of their platform and opportunities to give back to the community.
“Especially being a women’s team, it’s really important for us to be as visible and as involved [as possible] with the up and coming youth ultimate scene, especially the girls’ teams. You can’t be what you can’t see.”
Katie also mentioned how GUM and the focus on girls’ ultimate has had an impact on her life back home in Atlanta. She and other members of the Atlanta-area ultimate community helped start a girls’ team with players from four different high schools. Now each of those schools has their own girls’ team. Being part of that initiative to help get more girls involved through GUM was very inspiring for Katie.
GUM aims to continue helping to create more stories like Katie’s.
“Initiatives like GUM help girls find their self-worth,” said Opi. “In a world where there are so many hurdles and so many paradigms that tell them otherwise, it’s really important to keep these programs going where you give them that confidence and that self-worth that they are enough and that they can do anything.”