Since they were first established in 2005, the Youth Club Championships (YCC) have been the pinnacle of youth club ultimate. Hundreds of youth athletes from around the country and, more recently, the world travel to Blaine, Minn., and put everything on the line to be named their division’s YCC champion.

In 2017, the Youth Club Championships merged with the U.S. Open Championships and became the U.S. Open Club Championships. Youth club players now get the opportunity to compete in their championship tournament alongside their adult ultimate role models who are competing in their own championship event. The U.S. Open is now a place where elite youth and adult club teams compete side by side, making for a truly magical experience!

“Having the U.S. Open alongside YCCs was wonderful,” commented Maine Rip Tide’s coach Kate Patterson. “I know that a lot of the girls really enjoyed being able to watch high level play, especially seeing the Brute Squad vs. Revolution game.”

To help assist organizations that have expressed interest but previously struggled to send teams to YCC, in 2019, the Girls’ Ultimate Movement (GUM) created the Girls’ Development Grant. The grant’s goal is to give new or developing U-20 girls’ teams the funding they need to succeed and, ultimately, to help grow the girls’ division. The grant covers the player fees for 10 girls to help mitigate the costs of attending YCC. This year, two teams were awarded funding and, as a result, were able to compete at the tournament: Equi’Knox from Knoxville Youth Ultimate and Rip Tide from Maine Ultimate.

“Being a ‘Girls’ Start-Up’ recipient was helpful for us to get our program going, so we very much appreciate it!” acknowledged Mia Letterie, one of Equi’Knox’s coaches.

Photo: Courtesy of Equi’Knox

Equi’Knox was a first-year U-20 girls’ team organized by Coach Josh Mayor and others, comprised of girls from the high school team that Josh coaches and other girls who competed in the Knoxville youth league. Josh has been spearheading the effort to increase girls’ participation in ultimate in the Knoxville area for the past three years.

“I noticed that we didn’t have many girls playing [in our open league], so when I began coaching the Knoxville Hornets (as an assistant coach three years ago), one of my main goals was recruiting more girls,” described Josh. “The rest of the league has not been very ‘gung-ho’ about recruiting girls, which is why I wanted to start a YCC team.”

Josh’s high school team has been to the state championships every year since first forming in 2017, placing second in their inaugural year and first in each of the last two years.

“I wanted to show that Knoxville, Tenn., has some amazing girls that can compete at a higher level.”

Photo: Courtesy of Equi’Knox

During their first-ever YCC tournament, 17th-seeded Equi’Knox battled valiantly against their opponents but struggled early in the weekend. In their one close pool play game, the Equi’Knox girls went back and forth against DEVYL and, at one point, were only down 10-9. Despite the effort of Anna Huss, who dished out a team-high four assists during the game, Equi’Knox eventually fell to DEVYL.

Entering the final day of competition without a win, Equi’Knox pulled zero punches in their matchup against Illinois Hypnosis. Sarah Badgett led the way with five goals while Emma Patterson matched her with five assists, and Ellie Stanfield chipped in three goals and five assists herself. Equi’Knox finished their first YCC experience with a resounding 15-2 victory!

“Equi’Knox had a great time at YCC,” said Mia. “It was an incredible opportunity for the girls to play high-level ultimate, and they are excited about the prospect of returning next year.”

Sarah Badgett and Macy Hudson led the team in scoring for the tournament, while Ellie Stanfield displayed her phenomenal passing skills and led the team in assists.

While Equi’Knox celebrated attending YCC for the first time, Maine Rip Tide was just as excited to be back at the tournament after a two-year absence.

“Maine has sent U-20 girls in the past, but it was, for lack of better words, a flop,” explained Rip Tide’s coach and Ultimate Hall of Famer Jackie Pierce. “I am so fired up to make a U-20 girls’ team successful and return year after year.”

Photo: Kevin Leclaire – UltiPhotos

Rip Tide entered the 2019 tournament as the 14th seed, but they had much higher aspirations than finishing 14th. The girls from Maine dominated pool play, going 3-0 and allowing only 11 goals total in those games.

In the championship bracket, Rip Tide easily defeated fourth-seeded Texas Tango in the quarterfinals and D.C. Rogue in the semifinals to set up their championship match with the top-seeded Triangle Warhawks. Unfortunately, back-to-back lightning delays forced the championship match to be canceled after just a few points, but that didn’t deter the Rip Tide girls’ excitement at the success they achieved one bit.

“I think our girls really enjoyed their time at YCCs,” described Kate. “They were able to experience playing different teams from around the nation, learning new strategies and making friends.”

Photo: Jolie Lang – UltiPhotos

One of the opportunities afforded to Equi’Knox and Rip Tide in attending the Youth Club Championships was experiencing the GUM Ball. At the GUM Ball, hosted by the Girls’ Ultimate Movement, girls, women and non-binary ultimate athletes, coaches, observers and organizers connected with each other — sharing experiences, taking pictures in the photo booth and forming new friendships along the way.

“The GUM Ball was a great idea,” said Kate. “[The girls] definitely enjoyed the photo booth and being able to meet some of the Brute girls.”

If you are an organization looking for financial assistance to help send a new or developing U-20 girls’ team to the 2020 Youth Club Championships, make sure to apply for GUM’s Girls’ Development Grant!

“We believe GUM has been a vital way to help girls gain the confidence to speak up,” added Jackie. “GUM has also been wonderful in showing girls how to be supportive of one another and has aided in bonding girls together from different towns.”

“Girls empower other girls when they play together — that’s what GUM is about in my mind,” summarized Josh.

To the donors who have supported GUM and therefore helped send Equi’Knox and Rip Tide to YCC this year, we cannot thank you enough, and we look forward to your support in giving a new group of girls a chance to have the unforgettable experience that is the Youth Club Championships!