PORTLAND, Maine — The athletes lay panting Saturday afternoon in a shady patch of grass before their next — and final — game in the Class B Ultimate Frisbee state championships.
The scrappy team from Belfast had been a long shot to make it to the championship game after a day of sprinting miles back and forth across a field in the previous three games. They had nine players, allowing for just two substitutes, and the youngest player was only 11 years old and 4 feet, 9 inches tall.
Belfast Area High School senior Ari Snider said this week that he wasn’t counting on anything as the team waited for their last game against a 25-person Portland team called Forest City.
“I called my parents and told them we only have nine people. We are exhausted. We are sunburnt. We are all so sore. We just collapsed in the shade,” he recalled Wednesday. “But I thought this is so great. I am totally satisfied with this. We’re guaranteed second.”
Snider, 18, started playing pickup Ultimate Frisbee around Belfast when he was 12, and he loved the camaraderie and fun he found in leaping, diving and racing for the Frisbee. That’s why he helped to start the high school club team four years ago.
“Ultimate is just so fun. It’s hard to say why a sport is so fun. There’s something about the simpleness of chasing a Frisbee that you just want to catch it,” he said. “Pickup is kind of scrabbly. Everyone’s running in every direction. But when you work as a team, the game moves in a very fluid way.”
That had happened during the long day of tournament matches, he said. The Belfast team went down to Portland with 11 people. The youngest players were his brother, 11-year-old Daniel, and 12-year-old Timmy Clemetson. Although the boys were in elementary school, and Ultimate is a club team and not affiliated with a high school, they did not raise eyebrows among opponents, Snider said.
“What’s really illegal is having people who are older,” he said. “In any normal situation, having younger players would be a liability.”
But that didn’t prove to be the case Saturday. Belfast won its first game 13-1 against a team from South Portland. They had to fight to win their next game against a team from Merriconeag Waldorf School in Freeport.
“We really like this team — they play hard, and they play well,” Snider said. “It really pushed us to elevate our game and tighten it.”
In the third game of the day, Belfast player Ashley Flanders dislocated her jaw and had to go to the hospital, and another player had to leave because of a church obligation.
By game four, the title match, the team was wrung out. But the first point went to Belfast, and then another and another.
“We didn’t have any energy to spare, so we weren’t wasting energy. We were playing in a really relaxed way,” Snider said. “We were playing more efficiently than we had ever played before.”
Players couldn’t leave the field for water breaks, so coaches Ryan Stanley and Scott Giroux came down to hand them a water jug between plays. Meanwhile, their opponents had more players, more breaks and more instructions from their coach. But Snider said it didn’t matter.
Belfast kept on racking up points — and won, 13-0.
“We’re state champions! I don’t even believe it,” Snider recalls telling his teammates. “It was so improbable and such a beautiful moment.”
Stanley said that the last game was really fun to watch.
“They jelled,” he said of his team. “It was quite a show of talent.”
The coaches expect that the state championship will help them recruit more area youth, curious about a game that might be new to them. But maybe better was seeing the look on the players’ faces after they realized they won.
“There was a sense of awe and pure joy,” Stanley said.