Growing Youth Ultimate in Minnesota

By Dave KlinkLet’s talk about the state of youth ultimate in Minnesota.  I’m approaching this from the perspective of a board member for Minnesota Youth Ultimate, an organization with the mission to provide high quality opportunities for Minnesota Youth to learn and to play the sport.  We’ve got a board of nine dedicated members (including DNT’s Jake McKean) who volunteer their time to help run the nonprofit.  We are an affiliate of USA Ultimate and we partner with them for our leagues, tournaments, and events.

High School.  Minnesota is on track for high school ultimate.  We have a robust Spring League and the State Tournament.  We also run a Summer League and send U19 and U16 teams to the Youth Club Championships.  The Spring League and State Tournament began in the early 2000’s.  Participation numbers have grown each year, and at last year’s tournament we had 48 Open teams and 19 Girl’s teams.  This year it looks like we’ll have even more.  We also have some excellent programs established in our state which run tournaments and are doing great work to grow the sport in their cities.  All things considered, things are pretty good.  However, you may have noticed that 48 is quite a bit larger than 19 – we need more Girl’s teams!  Also, there are still plenty of schools in the metro area without teams of any kind.  Beyond the metro, we have an entire state with relatively limited youth ultimate going on (with one notable exception being Cathedral in the St. Cloud area).  Compared to most other states we are doing pretty well, but we are nowhere near done growing.

Middle School.  Minnesota has some major work to do for middle school Ultimate, but we are making progress.  In 2013, several middle school leagues started up, including an official Minnesota Youth Ultimate hat league.  Run by Abby Hagel, Anna Hettler (of DNT), and other selfless volunteers, we had a good crop of kids learning to play the game.  This effort also involved getting in contact with gym teachers across the metro area to advertise our league and to encourage them to teach Ultimate in class.  Some of our high school programs also include 7th and 8th graders on their teams, and there are some summer camp opportunities as well, so the sport is getting some play at this age level.  But we don’t have a dedicated team league yet.  It is our hope to transition the hat league to a team league in the near future, but we need more 6th-8th graders playing Ultimate to help us get it off the ground, and we need more organizational resources too.

Elementary School.  Minnesota has done very little for elementary school Ultimate, but we hope to change that in the near future.  One building block in this process (and also to help continue growing middle school and girl’s ultimate) will be at the US Open this summer.

The US Open.  We are very lucky to have this huge USA Ultimate event coming to Blaine, Minnesota on July 3-6.  The US Open is an adult club tournament, bringing together the top 5-6 teams from the United States in each of three divisions (Men’s, Women’s, and Mixed, including Drag’n Thrust!), and testing their mettle against some talented international teams.  It is also a convention, bringing together many of the best minds in Ultimate.  There will be an opening ceremony immediately following a Minnesota United soccer game and Minnesota Youth Ultimate will be hosting two learn to play clinics on the morning of Saturday, July 5.  One will be a K-8 clinic, and the other will be a dedicated Girl’s-Only clinic for 7th-12th grades.  Participation is free, and all participants will also get free admission to watch semifinals in the stadium for the adult tournament during Saturday afternoon.  We are hoping that, with your help, we’ll spread the word to elementary and middle schoolers all over the metro area (and beyond) and get them out to these clinics!  Additionally, we are hoping that the presence of this big event will help to raise awareness of the sport in our state, as USA Ultimate helps us to advertise it.

Next Steps.  As great as the US Open will hopefully be for the growth of youth ultimate in Minnesota, it needs to be a launching point to additional programming.  It’s great to give a bunch of kids their first experience in the sport, but it isn’t enough.  We need to be able to tell everyone about the next opportunity to play ultimate too.  We need to establish more clinics, leagues, events, camps, and tournaments to give those kids additional opportunities to get involved with the sport.  At the elementary level, those opportunities simply do not exist right now (at least not with MNYU), or they are few and far between.  It’s partially an issue of resources.  Our board of directors does great work (if I do say so myself), but we are already stretched thin to manage and grow our high school and now middle school offerings.  If we are going to start something at the elementary level, we’ll need more help.

Employee?  We are currently in the process of planning to hire our first employee.  Our next board meeting is in mid-July, and we will likely be searching for a part-time employee soon after.  We hope this employee will help us to start up some new programming, grow our current programming, and also to coordinate with other Ultimate organizers in the state.  The long term goal is to grow large enough for multiple full-time employees to manage a plethora of programming.  But for where we are at right now, a single part-time employee is a big step forward, but we’ll need help from the entire community to achieve our goals.

Organizers Wanted.  Most urgently, we need a group of organizers who are willing to run some youth clinics throughout the summer and fall, starting after the US Open in July, to help keep the ultimate torch burning bright until the spring season.  And then we’ll also need a dedicated groups of volunteers who are fired up about an elementary league for next spring.  If either of these ideas interest you, please contact me!

Coaches.  For all of this additional programming and growth, we’ll also need many more coaches, so hopefully Sarah Mecksworth’s article inspired a few people.  We hope that our high school programs will help us to start recruiting extra coaches to send down to their new middle school teams in their respective cities, so we can hit the ground running when that middle school league upgrades to a team league.  (High school coaches – we’re building towards a future where every handler on your C team can drop a full-field flick!)  If you are interested in coaching your local city’s team (or future team), please get in touch with the high school coaches in your city.  You can find them all listed on the MNYU website under seasons.

Volunteers.  And of course we always need volunteers at our events.  We have three big events this summer at the National Sports Center in Blaine.  The High School State Tournament is 9 days away, on May 31-June 1.  The US Open is on July 3-6.  And the Youth Club Championships are on August 9-10.  Please visit our volunteer page to volunteer!

Thank you for your consideration.

Best regards,
Dave Klink
daveklink@gmail.com

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of Dave Klink in his capacity as Dave Klink and as one member of the MNYU board of directors.  He’s not wearing any other hats officially or speaking for organizations or other people.

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