Ultimate Frisbee Meets Girl Powered Social Justice

In Seattle, GOOD Maker winner AGE UP uses ultimate frisbee to both empower female teen athletes and transform them into social justice leaders.

Frisbees and girl power make up a typical day at south Seattle’s All Girl Everything Ultimate Program (AGE UP.) Roughly 30 Ultimate Frisbee enthusiasts, from 7-12th grade, not only learn the ropes of their sport from Ultimate’s superstars, but also get molded into social justice leaders over a series of workshops. Having recently won GOOD Maker’s “Doing GOOD This Summer” challenge, AGE UP is using the $5,000 grant to expand its multi-year programming by adding summertime sessions.

Founded in 2010 as a response to the stark drop-off of female high school Ultimate teams in the Seattle area, AGE UP hoped to reinvigorate the scene by empowering the young, female players to become ambassadors for their sport. The solution was to connect the girls to a diverse group of peers and Seattle’s best players—older, more experienced women from Ultimate clubs and teams including Seattle Riot, Seattle Underground, and University of Washington’s Element.

“In most sports, the rate of girls playing is lower than boys, so we saw the need for larger support—a strong, positive community around Ultimate, because after middle school, a lot of girls didn’t have programs to join and they weren’t connected to other girls who were playing,” says Hana Kawai, a member of AGE UP's leadership staff. “That’s where the cross-age, cross-school relationship building comes in. We connect college, high school, and middle school female Ultimate players, so even if your school doesn’t have a support for the program, you still have opportunities to connect with other women playing Frisbee.”

While female underrepresentation in Ultimate Frisbee fueled AGE UP’s creation, the factor that distinguishes AGE UP is its commitment to forging community leaders out of these teen athletes. It's not only about ingraining a sense of girl power in sports, but also creating a diverse, open-minded network of social leaders. “We are committed to seeing how racism, sexism and social justice concepts exist in real life dynamics,” Kawai says. “That’s our number one priority in terms of workshops--thinking about social issues in critical ways within this community that we support.” AGE UP builds social leaders through direct mentorships and a series of social justice workshops on topics including racism, oppression, social class, body image, health, and leadership.

For first-years, the program is split into winter and spring sessions. In the winter, the program mixes Ultimate Frisbee practices with social justice leadership workshops following the Women’s Sports Foundation’s GoGirlGo! curriculum. Come spring, the girls lead outreach clinics in surrounding elementary schools, providing them with the opportunity to coach younger students.After the girls graduate from the first year program, leadership opportunities continue to grow. Second-years in the program have the chance to become social media mavens by writing and managing AGE UP’s blog, specialize in outreach, or take control of the kitchen, cooking meals after practice. In three years time, Kawai projects that the program will run full circle: AGE UP’s first cohort will be running the program themselves.

“In addition to coaching at clinics and middle schools all around the area, the fact that we learn about different kinds of oppression like racism and sexism and can discuss them with girls from all different backgrounds takes away insecurities," says Amanda Somvilay, 17, who is entering her third year in AGE UP. "It helps us to lead.”

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Photos courtesy of AGE UP

Julian Meehan

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