by Caroline, Maynard Jackson High School

If there’s one word I would use to describe my ultimate Frisbee team, it would be “scrappy.” Unlike many teams in the Atlanta area, more specifically in the Atlanta High School Girls’ League, we don’t have a dominating presence. With Paideia girls’ ultimate being ranked fifth nationwide and Grady boys’ third, Maynard Jackson girls’ ultimate isn’t quite a common household name yet.

I’ve been playing for six years now, on multiple teams, and this year I was left with a difficult decision: stop playing ultimate completely, or start my own team (state regulations prevented me from joining another high school team, regardless of the fact that my school didn’t have one). Not wanting to give up the sport that changed me so drastically as a person, I decided to tackle the challenge of forming my own team for my school. Around January 2019, I got in touch with both past coaches and local ones to figure out if this was even possible. We had no funding, a half-full roster and zero field space or transportation. It wasn’t until I was told about the GUM (Girls’ Ultimate Movement) start-up fund, the Girls’ Team Startup Project, that I began to feel this would be possible. Regardless of what logistics we still needed to confirm, I applied for the grant. A few weeks later, we found out we got the grant and were on our way to creating a fully-fledged team! We managed to snag about 10 girls from Maynard Jackson High School and the neighboring ANCS & Wesley Middle Schools, and we began to practice and build our team. The first few weeks were relatively easy, with only one game, but a few weeks into our team’s inaugural season, I left for three weeks on a school exchange trip to France. I was worried that the girls would lose motivation, as they faced a few tough losses against well-established varsity teams – after all, we were a JV team at the time. I got off an 11-hour transatlantic flight at 10 p.m. on March 23, and by 8 a.m. the next morning, I was standing on a field with my team on the second day of Terminus. I was exhausted, but when I arrived at the fields, I was greeted by what seemed like a completely new team. Our chemistry was that of a team established years ago, and the girls moved like a well-oiled machine instead of the hodgepodge that I had left. That day, we ended up not only holding our own, but beating two challenging varsity teams.

Almost immediately, I began to see a change in my team, but it wasn’t until our match against Paideia varsity that I saw the makings of a team that could challenge anyone. We went into the game on a windy Thursday afternoon after school. We had seven girls, two of whom were sixth-graders and two eighth-graders, along with me and two other Maynard students. I remember talking with Merrick, the other high-schooler (who’s played on the same teams with me for years), and joking that if we scored one point against what seemed like this army of Paideia players, it was a win in our book. What we did next, however, completely blew the two of us away. Our team of seven girls, with the average height being about 5’0” even, not only managed to rally back and forth with Paideia in the first half, but scored three consecutive points against them in the second half. We ended up finishing that game with a loss, 5-9 in favor of Paideia, but it was the best I’ve ever felt after a game in the six years I’ve been a part of this sport. To look around at my teammates – most of whom have many more years of ultimate ahead of them – and see how excited everyone was to hold our own against a team so celebrated across the country, made all of the struggles I had faced in the beginning seem worth it.

From that moment on, we went forward with an undefeated season and renewed energy. We beat every team we played after that by a minimum of three points and grew exponentially as a team. We developed our own defensive strategy that allowed us to be competitive on all levels of ultimate, and each girl found her strength and contributed to the team in a way that made us a powerhouse. We finished off the 2019 spring season as JV champions, only three months after our team had first been established, and even managed to secure victories over three well-established varsity teams. Every single player on my team ended the season with a newfound confidence and love for the sport, and as the captain, I couldn’t be more proud. Being able to establish a team in our area and give these girls a way to explore such a fun sport has been so incredibly rewarding, and I cannot wait to see what next season brings.

To return to the self-describing word at the beginning of this blog, “scrappy” perfectly fits our team because that’s what it was born from – a mix of girls from all levels of play, with different backgrounds and interests, learning how to love such a unique sport in what was just a few months of actual practice and game time. We developed our own strategies that worked for us – ones that other teams had never even seen – because we had to find a way to be competitive against strong opponents. We had girls leave and come back, sometimes playing with rosters of six to 12 people, but throughout it all, we managed to focus on continuing to move forward. We kept pushing forward, and our scrappy little team ended up on top of our league, eager for even more. Our story makes sense when you consider it, though, as everyone does like to root for the underdog.