Steamboat man starts ultimate frisbee league to build community, encourage integrity
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — James Hix loved pick-up frisbee.
He started a league in Steamboat Springs five years ago and played with a group of about 15 to 20 people regularly, but this year, he wanted more.
“My pickup players wanted a different experience of ultimate that’s a little more competitive and more official with the city. We love pickup, but when we hear other players talking about, ‘Oh I’ve got volleyball league tonight, or softball league, or soccer,’ it’s kind of like, ‘Well, we should have one of these too, so we can compete and other people can learn about what we love, too, and why we love it.’”
So, Hix started the Steamboat Organized Ultimate League, or SOUL, a city-sanctioned ultimate frisbee league that competes Tuesday nights through the fall.
It’s a mix of his pick-up league players and newcomers, which he’s attempted to split up evenly amongst the teams. The teams are also well balanced with men and women.
“We have a very strong emphasis on being co-ed, actually. We try to start off each game with three men and three women for each team. Although our women attendance is a little lower than the men, we’re able to start each game like that pretty consistently.”
The league will have it’s finals from 6:15 to 9 p.m. at Vanatta Field at Howelsen Hill on Tuesday, Oct. 15.
“I think it’s gonna be a really exciting night of ultimate,” Hix said.
SOUL attracts frisbee players of all ages and experience levels, from 50-year-old Sarah Jones to Steamboat Springs High School junior Dylan Dietrich.
Jones played in and after college. She hadn’t been around the sport in a while when Hix created a pickup league in Steamboat, which she’s been a part of for years.
“Having it be league and be official games, it makes it a little more exciting and competitive than just pickup,” Jones said. “I think, also, people will commit because it’s league.”
Dietrich, while quite a bit younger than most of the other league members, said he doesn’t feel out of place at all. In fact, his experience in the league makes him a leader on the field.
“I personally love a lot of the long throws and long catches,” he said. “It’s really satisfying when you can put it right where you want it and lay out for a disc in the end zone.”
Ultimate is the common denominator for the athletes, who all seem to share the reasons for showing up and playing the game.
“The appeal of ultimate is the physical exercise of it, and it’s really, really fun, but different from other, traditional field sports,” Jones said. “The cool thing about ultimate is it’s all self regulated. There’s no ref, so it’s all about telling the truth if you’ve made a mistake. It’s just a great game with spirit and integrity.”
Frisbee follows Hix
This isn’t the first league Hix has started. When first arriving in Steamboat, he began the pickup league, which features about 20 people. Before that, in his home state of New Jersey, he started another pickup group.
Hix was introduced to the sport his freshman year of college at Eastern University in Pennsylvania, and when he left college, Hix created a way to keep playing it.
“I’ve been playing ultimate for over 10 years, and it’s the thing I love in the sports world more than anything else,” he said. “I just like to invite people to give it a shot and have fun with it. I like how it cultivates community naturally. It’s a sport that’s very competitive, but at the same time, it has a high degree of treating the people you’re playing against as people, not somebody you have to destroy.”
Hix’s love for the sport even brought him to Israel, where he worked with Ultimate Peace to conduct a camp for young kids. Through playing frisbee, kids from different Arab and Hebrew cultures came together to work towards a common goal, and, of course, have fun.
“Ultimate, because it’s self officiated, is all about integrity and owning up to your actions on the field.
“If you have two groups of people who have conflict and you give them something fun to do, and teammates unlike them, they have to grow to rely on them,” Hix said. “Also, they end up having fun together. It’s just a natural thing that happens. When that happens, growth and change can happen through that.”
Ultimate Peace was the inspiration behind Hix’s next project: a Steamboat Springs youth ultimate frisbee league.
Hix tried to start a league this past summer, but didn’t have enough registrants to keep it going. He hopes to give it another shot this upcoming summer. Until then, he helps out elementary school gym teachers by teaching the basics of the game in classes.
“I look at our community, and Steamboat has some awesome opportunities for kids, especially in the sports field,” Hix said. “But, I still believe that ultimate has an extra something that can draw people together in communities.”
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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