Photo by Frank Couch.
Jordan Doss attempts to move around Drew Stricklin to make a pass.
When lunchtime rolls around on Tuesdays and Fridays, a few Hoover residents and workers forego a packed lunch in favor of a change of clothes and a pair of cleats.
The Hoover pickup Ultimate disc group is a group of friends and coworkers who have been playing at the field next to the dog park on Loch Haven Drive for more than 15 years. Organizer Chris Laney, a Greystone resident who has played with the pickup group since 2000, said it draws players from around Birmingham, but most have a connection to Hoover.
“It generally draws people who live and work right here,” Laney said.
Ultimate disc, often called Ultimate Frisbee or shortened to “Ultimate,” is a game based on two teams passing a disc between players and attempting to score by catching a pass in the end zone. The game requires athleticism and strategy, but Laney said the sport draws people by being both competitive and friendly.
“It’s more social than sport,” Laney said.
David Templin, one of the original members of the group, described Ultimate as a blend between football, soccer and basketball: It shares football’s object to reach the end zone, soccer’s continuous running and passing and basketball’s rules on traveling. When a player has the disc, he or she must stop and has 10 seconds to throw to another teammate.
“Everybody’s a quarterback; everybody’s a receiver; everybody’s a defender all the time,” Laney added. “It’s a whole lot of exercise, not much impact.”
The pickup group has its roots in a single company — BE&K Engineering — that decided to create an Ultimate team about 1995 to compete in the Charity Mudbowl, a tournament hosted by the Birmingham Ultimate Disc Alliance (BUDA). Templin worked for the company and was one of the original members.
“We just started going out and playing. We’d just show up at a day’s tournament and play, and we’d lose. We were terrible at the game. Somebody came up with the idea in 1999 that why don’t we take our lunch break a couple days a week and go over to the fields in Hoover and start up?” Templin said.
They started with about 10 people, several of whom are still playing, and the group gradually expanded to include friends and people who heard about the pickup games through BUDA or word of mouth. Now they range from six to about 15 players at each game, which starts at noon. Templin said many of the regulars work from home, take off work early on Fridays or have arranged to have occasional long lunches in order to play.
“Most of the people that are out there are out there at least twice a month,” he said.
Templin said they’re all eager to trade work clothes for T-shirts and cleats, sometimes getting covered in grass stains or mud if they leap for a particularly challenging catch. It’s good exercise and stress release, but the pickup games are also about the friendships built on the field.
Those regular practices, Laney said, also helped members of the Mudbowl team get to know each other’s style and skills. Their team — which grew to include several engineering firm employees and other players — won the Mudbowl from 2001 to 2006, Templin said.
“Then we started getting old. We started losing after we got old, but we still have fun, and we come back out here twice a week,” Templin said.
Most of the regulars at the Tuesday/Friday games still play on a BUDA league team, including the Birmingham Ironmen regional club team. Laney said their league team name is the Enginerds, a callback to their group’s start. Others are total newcomers or just play for fun.
Despite Templin’s jokes about the group’s age, Ultimate is not just a sport for younger players. It’s non-contact, and anyone willing to move around the field and throw the disc can continue to play.
“Ultimate is really, really popular from high school — it had its roots in college — on up until you die,” Laney said.
“I’m 56 years old. I never thought I could play this long. I think the fact that I’ve been doing it continuously for as long as I have has made me keep going,” Templin said.
Even competing against younger players in the Hoover pickup group doesn’t necessarily put players like Templin at a loss. Jarrid Latta is one of the other original players who still attends. He was 26 when the pickup group started and has had to defend against Templin many times over the years.
“I’m 41 now, and I still have a hard time covering Dave,” Latta said.
The pickup group gets its largest numbers in the summer, and Laney said that around holidays they will sometimes get requests from people traveling through Hoover to drop by and play a game.
“Ultimate attracts intelligent, friendly people, and it’s not too competitive,” Laney said.
The Hoover pickup group’s information can be found through BUDA or through pickupultimate.com, but Laney also sends an email to his list of players twice a week. As long as the weather is good and at least six people can attend, the game is on.
For more information, contact Chris Laney at email@example.com.