Let’s make this clear right away: Tommy Gallagher does not play Frisbee.
Tossing around a flat disc often conjures up images of college campus lawns where a few friends stand in a kind of haphazard triangle and throw it back and forth without any rhyme or reason. That is “playing Frisbee.”
The Jacobs senior plays Ultimate, a fast-paced sport in which two seven-player teams try to score by passing a flying disc to a teammate in the opposing end zone. Players can pivot to pass but are not allowed to run with the disc.
Once one team scores – worth a single point – the teams switch directions and the scoring team throws off to the other to begin the next possession. It once was called Ultimate Frisbee, but now goes simply by Ultimate because Frisbee is trademarked.
Gallagher happens to be very good at Ultimate.
“Many people [who] don’t take Ultimate seriously have simply never witnessed a high-level game of Ultimate,” Gallagher said. “It is an incredible spectator sport and the amount of athleticism and sportsmanship on display can rival any one of the more ‘established’ sports.”
Gallagher has the credentials to be a fair critic. He played on successful Golden Eagles varsity soccer teams and understands soccer’s spectator allure. Gallagher also has seen how soccer in the U.S. has moved away from its niche label. That’s how he knows people will love Ultimate if they give the sport a chance.
Jacobs administrators have. Gallagher has helped maintain the Ultimate club at Jacobs, and the Eagles are talented. Last year, they lost to Neuqua Valley in the state title match played on Jacobs’ football field. Gallagher cites the experience as one of the most memorable of his Ultimate career, which his older brother, Joey, encouraged him to try.
“For me, Ultimate means competition and it means going toe-to-toe with players from all over the country and seeing who has it in him to go the distance to win,” Gallagher said. “Aside from that, Ultimate means community. I have met so many incredible people through Ultimate and many of them will be close friends for the rest of my life.”
The community is growing. In four years, the Chicago area has gone from having one mixed-gender team to having three high school leagues each spring and year-round club programs scattered throughout the suburbs.
Gallagher has helped start middle school programs too, so Jacobs will have a feeder system. He also plays on Ultimate club teams that compete all over the country and last year reached the Youth Club Championship quarterfinals. Gallagher plans to continue playing Ultimate in college and, hopefully, beyond. The American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL) formed in 2012 and Chicago’s Windy City Wildfire is expected to join the Western division this year.
This spring will be the first time Gallagher won’t need to balance Ultimate with club soccer, which he also played year-round. Jacobs soccer coach A.J. Cappello wasn’t surprised with how well Gallagher managed his time when he was playing both sports, especially because Gallagher also maintained good grades, was active in school council and took advanced placement classes.
“He’s a natural-born leader,” Cappello said. “He does a great job balancing everything and really is a class act. He’s the kind of quality kid anyone would want on their team.”
As for the quality of play he brings to the field, Gallagher likes to focus on the fundamentals such as positioning, which he thinks often is overlooked. Making the perfect throw? There are tricks to it, but essentially it’s all in the wrist.
But to be sure, even the toss requires strategy. Remember, this is not Frisbee.
• Maureen Lynch is a freelance sports writer. Contact her at email@example.com.