When kids get involved in sports, the legends who inspire them are usually athletes who have spent their entire lives perfecting their craft to become the best in the world. They are all over television, and they might have a shoe named after them. They may seem larger than life, and it can be difficult to picture yourself reaching that same level of success.
Imagine, however, that the legends you look up to aren’t celebrity, god-like figures, but rather your own hometown peers — people you went to school with and who are from your community. You might change your perspective and begin to think, “That could be me!”
That’s certainly what went through June Rapisura’s mind when he decided to try out for the U.S. U-20 Men’s National Team that would compete at the 2018 World Junior Ultimate Championships (WJUC) in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.
“Seeing my role models around me, like Khalif [El-salaam], Henry [Phan] and Ivan [Lee], made me want to be classified as a Worlds player,” recalled June.
June dedicated his life to ultimate in the sixth grade and has never looked back. He picked up the sport at Asa Mercer International Middle School in South Seattle, a community known by its inhabitants as the “Soufend.” Seattle has long had a reputation for producing top ultimate players, but historically, many of them went to private schools on the north side of town.
However, when Sam Terry became a teacher and ultimate coach at Mercer, the dynamic in Seattle youth ultimate shifted. As described by a 2015 Seattle Times article, Terry “brought more economic and racial diversity to the sport, all while giving his players something to help them grow.” His goal was not to win championships, but rather to provide positive opportunities for the marginalized kids in his community.
One of the kids who embraced that opportunity was June.
“I fell in love with my ‘Soufend’ ultimate community, who taught me to embrace all parts of the Spirit of the Game,” commented June.
The values of Spirit of the Game and community are especially important to youth development in Soufend, and ultimate serves as a catalyst for spreading those positive values. A 2008 Seattle Times article describes ultimate as “an antidote to the appeal of gangs” in that it gave the kids in the community “a productive way of spending their time, and the game reinforces positive social values.” Through positive reinforcement of these values, ultimate has impacted many kids like June.
Terry also introduced ultimate to Khalif (Leaf), Henry and Ivan, three of June’s mentors who attended Mercer as well and would go on to win a combined eight gold medals playing for various U.S. national teams. Seeing kids from the Soufend representing the United States and wearing gold medals inspired June to want to accomplish those same feats.
Already in his young ultimate career, June has played for the Franklin High School and Rainier Beach High School ultimate teams, the Seven Hills Ultimate club team and the DiscNW club teams Olympus, Bonzai, Seattle Splash and Seattle Supreme. By competing with DiscNW’s teams, June has become no stranger to high-stakes competition, especially at the coveted Youth Club Championships in Blaine, Minn. In 2015 and 2016, he won gold in the U-16 division with Olympus and Bonzai, respectively, and won silver in the U-20 division with Seattle Supreme at the 2018 Youth Club Championships.
Representing the United States, however, was his ultimate dream. With financial assistance from the Ultimate Foundation’s Play It Forward scholarship program, June was able to turn that dream into a reality.
“Having the opportunity to try out for this team means the whole world to me because this is one of the reasons why I work so hard — to reach a position where I can showcase my skills, talent and heart that I play with.”
June’s tryout opportunity was an unforgettable experience for him. He felt a sense of pride in showcasing his talent in front of elite coaches and athletes, as well as a sense of humility in learning about their perspectives on the game and realizing there is still more work for him to do as a player and teammate.
One takeaway from the tryout that June is most thankful for is the friendships he formed while he was there, an aspect of ultimate he truly appreciates.
“I made so many friends that I know will be with me in my ultimate career, because what I love about ultimate is the sense of community, family and brotherhood.”
When the tryouts were over and everyone went their separate ways, June knew, regardless of whether he made the team, he would cherish and grow from the amazing experience he had just been a part of.
“I’m not stopping there,” explained June on whether making the U.S. National Team meant the hard work stopped. “I want to learn more, experience more and do more with ultimate because I’ve come from nothing. To try out for this team means so much because there are many people that don’t have faith in me.”
Ultimately, the National Team people who mattered did have faith in him, and they selected him to be a member of the U-20 men’s team. Upon seeing his name on the list, June couldn’t hold back his emotions.
Photo: Jolie Lang — UltiPhotos
“When I found out I made the team, I cried because I knew I have been praying and working so hard for this moment,” expressed June. “Dedicating my life to this sport since the sixth grade made making the team much more special, especially knowing my coaches early in my career were at the tryouts seeing a young kid like me grow into a young man that many kids can look up to.”
So how did things turn out for June and the U.S. U-20 Men’s National Team at the 2018 World Junior Ultimate Championships? 11-0 and a gold medal to show for it. June finished with one assist and four goals, including the winning goal in a pool play match up against Great Britain and starting a break train to help win the championship game against Canada.
June accomplished what he proclaimed he would do if he made the team — he proudly represented his country, the Soufend community and the sport of ultimate. This certainly will not be the last time the ultimate community hears the name June Rapisura.
Photo: Jolie Lang — UltiPhotos