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Team Meets Ultimate Success

Yorktown, H-B Woodlawn students take sports club all the way to nationals.

Athletic directors dream of winning percentages like H-B Woodlawn’s. The countywide alternative school in North Arlington landed 100 percent of its sports clubs in the national top-five this year.

100 percent — that’s one-for-one.

Because Woodlawn draws its students from across the county, most athletes participate in varsity sports at their neighborhood schools. But four years ago, a group of Woodlawn students began gathering after school to play Ultimate Frisbee.

It’s a fast-moving, non-contact game, with similarities to both soccer and rugby. Ultimate players pass a Frisbee back and forth, trying to score points by getting the Frisbee into the opposing team’s end zone without letting the disc touch the ground or flying out of bounds.

With youth and speed on their side, it didn’t take the Woodlawn team long to realize they could win in DC-area Frisbee leagues and tournaments. “We’re a Frisbee powerhouse, unexpectedly,” said David Soles, a Woodlawn chemistry teacher who coaches the school’s only sports club.

In just a few years, the program has grown to over 30 members on two different squads. Woodlawn students don’t take all the credit for the team’s success—Yorktown joined up, and the club now plays under the name “YHB,” from the two schools’ initials.

Last month, YHB entered the high school national championship tournament in Birmingham, Ala., seeded fourth out of 16 teams from across the country. They swept through the first three rounds on Saturday, May 24, before falling to a Chapel Hill, N.C., team, finishing fifth in the country.

ULTIMATE FRISBEE presents different opportunities from other sports. For one thing, it’s co-ed. In preliminary tournaments before nationals, each team must have at least two girls on the field at all times.

Andrea Duran and Jenny Fey gladly pass up all-girls sports for the chance to run with the boys. “I don’t envy the girls lacrosse team running around in those skirts,” said Fey. Co-ed sports simply hold more of a thrill, she said. “It’s a lot more intimidating and intense.”

That intensity results in more learning experiences, said Duran. “Guys in general are more aggressive, and since we’ve got to play up to their level, we have to develop that skill as well,” she said.

Competing with the teenage boys takes its toll. Fey suffered a broken collarbone early in the season and missed the national tournament this year. But last week, she was back at practice.

BECAUSE ULTIMATE Frisbee isn’t a varsity sport, practices aren’t subject to Virginia High School League limitations. So YHB plays almost year-round. In the summer time, alumni who are home from college are common visitors to the practice field. Ultimate Frisbee team captains at Syracuse University, University of Virginia and James Madison University are all YHB graduates.

Interest from alumni keeps the team strong, said Chase Raines, a Woodlawn eighth grader. “It’s good to play with all the seniors and the college guys,” he said. “They teach a lot.”

Soles looks for Raines and other young Woodlawn students to continue the team’s dominance in years to come. This year’s team was heavy on sophomores, after seven starting players graduated in 2002. “We have to come up and fill the gap,” said Danny Cherlow, a Yorktown sophomore.

LIKE ULTIMATE FRISBEE in general, the appeal of the YHB team goes beyond wins and losses. The competitive spirit is less cut throat than on other teams said Woodlawn sophomore Peter Ketcham-Colwill, finishing his first year with the team.

“You don’t need any refs,” he said. “It’s just the spirit of the game. It’s unlike any other sport. It’s not trying to fight for a place on the team.”

There’s more emphasis on team bonding for YHB team mates than on intrasquad competition. The night before major tournaments, all the players bleach their hair white as a show of team unity.

With national success becoming more likely for the team, Woodlawn principal Ray Anderson jokes about the fate of the school’s reputation. “It just goes to show that we’re better in sports than academics,” he said.