- Jessie Moss
Frisbee Team Finds Success at First-Ever Travel Tournament
The Walls boys’ team lines up before a point at the New Jersey tournament / Credits: Gabriel Webster
Walls competed in the Spring Fling ultimate frisbee tournament located in Freehold, N.J., on April 22-23.
The tournament, played at Turkey Swamp Park, was the first travel tournament the Walls ultimate team has attended since its founding in 2011. Moreover, it was the first tournament in which the Walls girls-matching team (for those who identify as girls or non-binary) competed.
“Spring Fling is an annual event that has been occurring since 2016 here in New Jersey and is our largest spring event with 24 teams in attendance from six different states,” tournament director Ryan Belline said.
To compete in the tournament, the Walls team had to qualify for the competition. Out of only eight girls teams and sixteen open (players of any gender, but mostly boys) teams accepted, Belline said that he was “very excited to offer School Without Walls a spot in their first application since they received some positive reviews from local teams in the area.”
Belline added that “about 30 teams in total applied for this event.”
While the team did not expect to win, it was a great learning experience for the players, who had the opportunity of playing teams from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, Virginia and D.C. (including Jackson-Reed High School).
“You only get better by seeing the people above you, and that will give you something to strive for,” Walls math teacher and ultimate frisbee coach Gabriel Webster said.
Their performance at the competition was also a resounding success: The Walls open team placed third, and the girls-matching team came in fifth, milestones for the team at its first-ever regional tournament.
Preparation for the competition was strenuous, involving three to four practices per week. Students competing worked diligently to “learn more advanced plays and strengthen ourselves,” according to one of the team’s captains, Amaia Noursi (‘23).
This hard work culminated in a weekend of competitive ultimate. Walls began in a pool of four teams, out of which the best teams moved forward to a bracketed competition. “If you’re the best in your pool, you get the best position when they seed the bracket based on that,” Mr. Webster said. From there, the competition followed a single elimination structure, in which “if you win, you move on.”
“On Saturday, during pool play, games take 80 minutes unless a team gets to 11 points before then,” Noursi said. “Then, on Sunday, bracket games, take 90 minutes unless a team gets to 13 points first.”
But practice was not the only aspect of preparation for the tournament. For Mr. Webster and team parents, an additional step of logistical preparation was required: Prior to competing, they were tasked with “organizing the hotel rooms and paying for hotel rooms in advance — which is really expensive — getting carpools figured out, a lot of parent communication, and figuring out team meals,” Mr. Webster said.
These expenses accumulated, and in order to compete, the team was required to fundraise, and did so using methods such as a bake sale, which was held outside of Walls on April 14. While the HSA offered some funds — such as participation fees for players who struggled to pay their own — Mr. Webster explained that the team was attempting to cover the expenses themselves.
Another struggle arose in finding enough students to compete in the tournament. “We have a lot more boys than girls,” Mr. Webster explained, “so it wasn’t hard to find a full squad for the boys’ team. For our girls-matching players, we have some new ones that I really wanted to encourage to come out, even if they’re a little less comfortable on the field.”
The team found a creative solution: They brought five other girls-matching players from schools including Montgomery Blair High School, Bethesda Chevy Chase High School, and Walt Whitman High School in Maryland in addition to the 13 girls-matching and 17 boys-matching players from Walls. “They’re very good,” Mr. Webster said of the girls from other schools who joined Walls for the weekend, “but they don’t have a single gender match opportunity, and now they’re able to compete regionally.”
Because of the small number of girls-matching competitors in ultimate frisbee nationally, there are fewer opportunities for girls-matching players in the sport.
This gender differential in ultimate has limited the tournaments girls-matching players at Walls have historically been able to compete in, making the New Jersey tournament — a first for the Walls girls-matching players — particularly special.
“I’m excited to participate in this tournament and finally get some recognition for the Walls girls’ team,” Walls girls-matching player Jillian Sanders (‘26) said before the tournament.
For the girls matching-players and Walls as a whole, the Spring Fling served as an important landmark. Still, Mr. Webster urged for the players to enjoy themselves in addition to their hard work, and the team also relaxed with a trip to the beach and dined together at the hotel both nights. “This is about learning and getting better, but really also about bonding and finding chemistry as a team,” he said.
“Of course, we hope to win! But we also hope to have a great time as a team and play our best yet,” Noursi said, prior to the competition. “Our chemistry has only been building up more and more the whole year and we want to show that.”