Sadie Appleton, Sports Correspondent
The sport of ultimate frisbee is not new to the campus of Jacksonville State University.
Firebird, the men’s team, is currently in their fourth season and recently hosted their first tournament which attracted teams like UAB, Middle Tennessee State and Arkansas State. However, this semester has brought on the inception of the school’s first ever women’s team – Fuego.
Fuego, founded and captained by Emily Yeend, has already started making a name for itself in the rapidly growing activity. Before the establishment of Fuego, women practiced and competed with Firebird in the men’s division of USA Ultimate, the governing body for ultimate frisbee in the United States. While having females on the men’s team is not uncommon in the sport, Yeend saw potential for a women’s team while playing with Firebird.
“In my first year playing with the men’s team, starting a women’s team had been talked about, but I was always too nervous to do it,” said Yeend. “In my second year, we had six girls who regularly came to the men’s practice and it seemed like a good foundation to start a team with.”
After completing an impressive season with Firebird, Yeend and co-captain Katelyn Bowles began hosting girls-only practices in the later half of the Spring 2019 semester to focus on teaching and garnering interest for the team.
Over the course of their summer break, the teammates brainstormed a plethora of names for the group. Ultimately, the name Fuego was decided, giving the fresh-faced squad an identity and officially establishing themselves as the first women’s ultimate frisbee team at Jacksonville State.
Jordan Smith competes with Firebird while also serving as a coach for Fuego. He says coaching the girls has been exciting.
“The ladies bring so much energy to literally everything,” said Smith. “At first, I thought coaching the women’s team was going to be this hard task that was going to be stressful and full of roadblocks. It’s actually been the complete opposite of that. These ladies pick up on almost everything the first time I teach it. I’ve learned that ladies learn and retain knowledge so much faster than guys do, which makes coaching one of the easiest things I’ve ever done.”
The team has already been off to a great start in their inaugural season. For their first ever tournament, they traveled to Tuscaloosa to compete at Gulf Coast Warmup and placed first, beating teams like Alabama and UAB. One week later, the team traveled again to compete at Hootenanny in Auburn, AL and beat out Tulsa, UAH and UAB again and claim the third-place spot in the tournament. With the majority of the team being made up of rookies, this is a huge accomplishment. Savannah Scott, a rookie, says she’s learned a lot since she joined the team and is proud of how well Fuego has played.
“I had thrown a frisbee before and even played a few games but since being on the team I’ve learned that there are more rules and awesome teams out there,” said Scott. “I’ve learned that it has a level of competition that takes effort but has awesomely eventful and fun moments. The teams we’ve played are big schools that I never expected we would travel to and play much less beat – which we have. For a first-year team we’ve already shut out teams 13-0 and I couldn’t be prouder of the commitment to growth and fun this team has shown!”
Ultimate frisbee is a self-officiated, non-contact sport that is often described as a mix between soccer, football, and basketball. However, instead of using a ball to score points, players utilize a disc to make passes to their teammates. Points are scored by catching the disc in the opponent’s end zone.
Additionally, the sport relies on what is known as “Spirit of the Game” which is described as “a spirit of sportsmanship that places the responsibility for fair play on the player.” This has been the foundation for the sport since its creation and allows for a friendly and welcoming environment for all players.
Teammates on Fuego say that many new girls are hesitant to come out to practice because they don’t know how to throw or catch. However, they say that almost everyone on the team had never played until they went to college.
“The only prior experience that would be needed is being a part of a team in some way whether that’s marching band, or theatre, or something else where everyone has to perform a specific role so that the entire process comes together for a collective success,” said Bowles.
Looking forward in their inaugural season, Fuego hopes to grow the team and begin playing in sanctioned tournaments before competing in sectionals.
Coach Smith says his goal is to have a roster of 25 girls who are committed and can give their all to the sport and the team next semester. When asked what they would say to girls who may be interested in ultimate frisbee, many of Fuego’s players say that new girls should give it a try, regardless of skill level, and that everything can easily be taught.
“If anyone is thinking about playing at all, they should come out and try it. Everyone is really nice and will help you learn. I don’t regret trying it at all. I love playing for Fuego!” said player Taylor Moon.
For more information about Fuego Ultimate, you can email the team at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow them on Instagram and Twitter at “jsufuego.” Practices are on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Dillion Field and are open to anyone interested in playing.