Imagine you’re 15 years old and, after working hard all season with your team, you’ve finally made it to the Youth Club Championships. As you and your teammates sit down to eat and watch one of the adult International Club Championships semifinal games, you feel a tap on your shoulder and hear a voice ask if they can sit next to you. You turn around and it’s your idol — international ultimate phenom Manuela Cárdenas!
Rambling to find the right words, you look down at your nametag and introduce yourself. Not believing this is true, you look to your teammates, but they are also in awe and busy getting autographs from Live Ultimate Ambassadors Claire Chastain and Jesse Shofner! When you finally muster up the courage to ask Manuela for an autograph, she obliges but also suggests a photo, not from a phone, but rather the photo booth! As you two arrive at the booth, another player rushes in and asks if they can join you in the photo: national champion and World Games gold medalist Opi Payne!
This scene perfectly describes the atmosphere at the second-annual GUM Ball during the 2019 U.S. Open Club Championships. Hosted by the Girls’ Ultimate Movement (GUM), the GUM Ball brought together girls, women, non-binary folks and more to break down barriers and build long-lasting friendships among people who might otherwise never cross paths.
“The GUM Ball itself plays well to the tightness of the ultimate community,” described Laurel Oldershaw, a member of D.C. Scandal in the women’s division. “It’s cool to start to see them [YCC girls] at least have that confidence of interacting with older players.”
There were plenty of ultimate celebrities in attendance this year. GUM Ambassador Teams San Francisco Fury, Philadelphia AMP and Boston Brute Squad took over the new photo booth this year, while other teams like Denver Molly Brown, Colombia Revolution and the German Women’s National Team engaged in deep conversations with other youth players roaming around. DeAnna Ball, the current U-20 Women’s National Team coach and former USA Ultimate president also stopped by for a second year in a row, along with partners and sponsors Adriana Withers (VC Ultimate), Dan Konisky (Spin Ultimate) and Pad Timmons (Discraft) who showed their support for GUM.
Building self-confidence and reducing the intimidating feeling of meeting one’s role model was the focus of this year’s GUM Ball, and there were plenty of ice-breaker activities to make things easier. Each table had questions attendees could ask each other about their favorite tournament memory, women who inspire them, how they first discovered ultimate and more. GUM Ball Bingo was also brought back for year two to help create spaces for different teams and players to have fun interactions and conversations that weren’t limited to the sidelines.
“It’s also really nice to be in a friendly setting with other competitive women’s players and competitive women from the mixed division,” explained Laurel. “Often we are pitted against each other in a very competitive setting, and I think we could use more spaces like this to remind ourselves that we are on the same page and that we’re all really working together. It really makes the competition more fun.”
Also, new to the GUM Ball this year was a Polaroid photo map! When attendees first arrived and checked in, they were greeted with a Polaroid photo-op where they would have their picture taken and then place it on a map that showed where all of the youth players were from. The map highlighted just how many different communities were represented at the GUM Ball, as there were youth teams from way up in Maine and Vermont all the way down to Texas!
The photo booth was an opportunity for the players to show off their creativity, with different signs, discs and props available to help create the ultimate GUM photo. Each photo came with a magnetic frame and magnets that had different “girl power” words and phrases: fierce, driven, dare to be, confident and together to name a few. Some of the ICC players even joined YCC girls they had previously coached in the booth.
“The GUM Ball was a great idea,” said Kate Patterson, coach of the U-20 girls’ team Rip Tide. “[The girls] definitely enjoyed the photo booth and being able to meet some of the Brute girls.”
“I think one thing that’s always been really cool about the women’s division is you have a very high percentage of players who also coach their local youth teams, and what’s really awesome is you see…those same players again and cheer them on,” added Laurel. “You’re really seeing a connection between the younger and older communities to really develop a greater women’s game for the future.”
The GUM Ball not only serves to build relationships between youth and adult players, it also helps raise awareness about inequities that exist involving women and non-binary folks in the ultimate community. Even with initiatives like GUM, the Girls’ Team Startup Project and the College Women’s Startup Project, ultimate’s player pool is still largely dominated by male athletes. However, gender equity projects and movements like GUM continue to help move the needle forward towards creating a more inclusive environment within the ultimate community and beyond.
With the release of the new strategic plan for 2020-2022, GUM has re-dedicated itself to growing girls’ and women’s ultimate by empowering girls to find their voice, increasing girls’ participation in the sport and creating safe environments for girls to have meaningful connections and positive involvement in ultimate. The GUM Ball has been, and will continue to be, a place that fosters that growth and helps it thrive.