Humans of Ultimate - Leah Parker and the École Riverview Raccoons.

June 2, 2020 at 2:59pm

Humans of Ultimate is a new initiative at MODS to highlight key spirit leaders in our community who value spirit of the game, integrity, sportsmanship and fun above winning and rivalry. Without these amazing pieces of our community and their leadership our sport and organization wouldn't be where they are today!

“School Ultimate teaches more than the game”

Written by Corey Draper - Contributions from Leah Parker - Edited by Sean Seywright

Junior Ultimate has had a huge influence on the growth and success of MODS. This is seen in the results that Winnipeg has achieved over the years at Nationals. MODS on average is finishing much higher than Manitoba teams in other sports typically do. Including several national championships. But the impact of the junior leagues was well beyond tournament results at CUC. The school leagues were an opportunity to introduce the rules of Ultimate and more importantly the concept of Spirit of the Game to young athletes.

A struggle at that time for MODS was massive expansion of adult teams and players which included a very large portion who hadn’t played before. More importantly they didn’t always have experienced mentors on their teams to help learn the game and embrace Spirit of the Game (SOTG). The school leagues by comparison had great leadership and could instill respect for SOTG from the outset.

In 2006 then MODS employee Danny Saunders helped to launch the Middle School League as a way to support and feed into the existing High School League. Middle School play had already been introduced at the tournament level through the St John’s Ravenscourt hosted “Hold Back the Snow” fall tournament. Over the last 14 or so years of Middle School Ultimate one of the most unique school programs has been the École Riverview Raccoons. The best way to tell their story is through the lens of the teacher and coach that founded the team. For many MODS was a small tight knit community back in the early years and if you were part of that era you likely need no introduction to Leah Parker.

Leah was a very prominent player in our local leagues, at the prairie summer tournaments and of course at elite levels with many Winnipeg and some other Canadian squads. Her playing career included a large number of CUC and UPA / USAU events and a handful of WFDF (World) events. Her league teams number too many to list but include: Sailor Moon, Savage, ChihuAhua, Nuts ‘n Gum & KA. Additionally, Leah has participated in almost every season of the Indoor Women’s Competitive Leagues.

Savage - Summer Mixed Champs (featuring 4 MODS Lifetime Members)

Competitively, Leah has been a big part of both the Women’s and Mixed scenes. These include Crave, Fusion and Mint over several years as well as with Hussy from Vancouver. In Mixed Ultimate Leah played with Chaos including a Silver medal finish in 2006 in Halifax and the Gold finish in 2003 in Montreal that led to the Chaos bid as Team Canada in Finland in 2004. Leah also played on a few Vancouver mixed teams. Her play led to a total of 5 WFDF World Championship Event including Fusion’s qualification for 2014 in Lecco Italy and with Mint in our own back yard in Winnipeg for WMUCC 2018.

While still fully immersed as a player Leah also began to give back to the sport by coaching in our school leagues. This allowed her to bring her passion for the sport of Ultimate and the unique connection to SOTG to the students she teaches.

We asked Leah a series of questions to help learn more about her experiences in Ultimate and the École Riverview Raccoons.

How and when did you get involved in Ultimate and who was the biggest early influence in the sport for you?

The league team my brother, Kyle, and his friends had (Disgruntled Goats) needed a female player one night, so I was asked to play on that night in 1998 (or was it 1997?). I didn’t have a clue what I was doing/know how to play, as prior to that day, I had basically never heard of “Ultimate”. The extent of my disc experience had been on the beach, as a child…And let me just say, throwing and catching a disc on the beach – and barely successfully doing either – had NOT prepared me for the game of Ultimate… Fortunately, one thing I did know how to do was RUN. I was hooked on Ultimate from that day forward.  My brother then put me in touch with a league team that supposedly needed another female player.  Little did I know this team was in desperate need of female players, as in a “co-ed” league team that consistently played with only five players, where I was (more than once!) the only female playing. I was hooked and wanted to be a part of this sport. I knew this right away.

What would be the biggest early influences on you in Ultimate?

Hmmm…That is a tough one. The “biggest” early (first) influence would be, I guess I have to say (oh brother), my brother…for connecting me to the game. He inadvertently (or knowingly?) reeled me in to a sport I love. I guess I have him to thank for introducing me to Ultimate (and will consider texting him so). I was hooked and wanted to be a part of this sport/game/culture/community (Call it what you will!). I knew this right away. The many people (oh, the list is long) involved in this sport and with whom I have had the chance to play or watch playing, since – some of whom remain my closest friends – along with the integrity and high level of competition were essential ingredients in fostering my love of Ultimate. I hope my love for this sport – the joy of playing at a competitive or recreational level, its inclusivity, its central principle of Spirit of the Game, and my firm belief that it needs to be shared – is apparent through children I have coached or coach now. Thank you, people (players, teammates, captains, coaches, spectators) of Ultimate. Thank you, inventors – and current leading bodies/organizations – of the game of Ultimate. My life has been completely changed – for the better – because of this unique, accessible LIFE sport. Moreover, it has provided me the opportunity to SHARE and PASS IT ON…

You have a long history of representing Winnipeg at national and international events. When did you start playing competitively?

Well, easy now. I am not sure I would use the terms “long” or “history”, however…

Being unskilled in much other than running, somehow, in 1999 (the year after I began playing), I began practising and playing competitively with Winnipeg’s revamped (previously Aurora) competitive women’s team – Crave (now Fusion), captained by Nat Kosteckyj. I learned a tonne and had the opportunity to play under and alongside some amazing, knowledgeable, skilled, fun, and athletic women, a few of whom I am very fortunate to still have in my life, off the field.That year (1999), we placed fourth at the Canadian Championships (CUC) in Ottawa, losing to the then top women’s team in Canada, Prime (known as Traffic these days). I had nothing to do with how well we placed…I was just happy to be there, “the rookie”! I continued to play Crave until I somehow switched to mixed and played with Winnipeg’s Chaos. I then played women’s when I lived in Vancouver and again in Winnipeg, with Fusion (for about a decade), then Winnipeg’s competitive women’s masters’ team, Mint (for a couple short stints, including Masters’ Worlds – WMUCC, which took place in Winnipeg in 2018). Until I somewhat officially stopped playing competitively last year (2019), I had the opportunity to play in 15 Canadian Ultimate Championships (women’s AND mixed divisions), 5 World Ultimate Championships (mixed and women’s divisions) at WUCC/WUGC and at a World Beach Ultimate tournament (mixed), MANY national and international tournaments, as well as in 3 UPA (now, USAU) Ultimate Co-ed Championships (which involved winning Sectionals, then Regionals in order to qualify for the Championships).

Who helped cement your connection to Spirit of the Game in Ultimate and what - if any - effect has that had on your life outside of the sport?

MANY folks embodied and modelled Spirit of the Game…Back when I started playing, (Whoa. ALMOST used “Back in the day…”, but I do not want to be portrayed as the grandmother who had to walk 10 miles uphill just to play Ultimate, sans cleats, on a field full of rocks and holes, with millions of mosquitoes buzzing about…), there were fewer people playing and it was a tight-nit community of fewer teams and people that rarely missed writing and presenting a song or cheer to the opposition after every game. The people, the exercise (I used to love to sprint!), the desire to gain new skills/improve, the ownership – of behaviour on the field – and the COMPETITIVE FUN that I experienced and observed in most players cemented my connection to Spirit of the Game/Ultimate, I would say. I don’t really want to start a list of names (and cannot, at the moment, think of ONE single person who helped cement my “connection to Spirit of the Game”, but I could certainly name MANY…)

NOW, it is every student who comes out to practices (or games) and puts forth a positive effort and energy who inspires and evokes and grows Spirit of the Game. I guess I try to carry the “Spirit of the Game” attitude/perspective/outlook in everything I do. Respect, fairness, and fun play a HUGE role in my career as a teacher and in my personal life. So, I certainly think that Ultimate, in general – has not only had an impact on my friendships, teammates, and travel, but on my life, in general.

When did you start being involved with School Ultimate and what teams and ages did you coach?

 I loved the game of Ultimate so much and – naturally - wanted to share it, of course. I first started teaching students to throw and catch when I was a student teacher (in elementary). I began assistant coaching/helping out my brother with teams from our former high school – Collège Jeanne-Sauvé (CJS). I began coaching, formally, when Mr. Dean Wright (an extremely influential coach, leader, and sharer of the game of Ultimate) asked me to help with coaching Senior School at St. John’s-Ravenscourt (SJR) in 2005, I believe. I coached Senior School Ultimate for three or four years and had great fun travelling to tournaments with the teams/students/players and watching many players develop into the competitive players they became – and some still are today.

How did the École Riverview School team begin?

 Well, once I moved back to teaching French Immersion (in public school), I began teaching throwing and catching, then Ultimate to my classroom students. Soon enough, I missed coaching and realized – “Hey! I think we could create a grade 5/6 team that could play at Hold Back the Snow…IF Dean allows us. We would be young and small, but we would embody Spirit of the Game, as well as the spirit of learning AND having fun!” Thankfully, Dean allowed our little Riverview team to enter the tournament. Hold Back the Snow 2012 was our first tournament, as a grade 5/6 team. I was SO GRATEFUL and excited when Julie Delorme – a kind beacon of positivity and an almost instant fan of the game – began coaching with me. With little knowledge of the game in the beginning – but a love for the Spirit of the Game aspect of it, in particular – Julie has been an enthusiastic, supportive, organized, and POSITIVE assistant coach since the start of our Riverview team. École Riverview School’s Raccoons/Ratons-laveurs Ultimate teams would not be the same without her.

The Riverview Raccoons are a unique team within the MODS Middle School League. As a team grade 5 & 6 students competing against grade 6 – 8 players. Learning the sport and having fun have been clear objectives for your team. How have you used Spirit of the Game to help deal with the challenges of playing against older teams?

 Indeed, the Riverview Raccoons/Ratons-laveurs ARE a unique team, many of whom started playing in grade 4! Coach Delorme and I begin grade 4 and 5 skills/development practices in June at the end of every (normal) school year, in preparation for the following year when we begin practices in September for the Hold Back the Snow international tournament in Winnipeg in October. The fun and enthusiasm (and acquisition of/improvement in skills) that the grade 4s show in just a couple weeks of practices in June are wonderful to observe! We emphasize, equally, skill development and Spirit of the Game. These are integral to the sport and to Coach Delorme and my philosophy in coaching youth Ultimate. We always do “high-elbows” and a team cheer at the end of every practice. We emphasize effort, fun, fair play, giving compliments, and keeping a positive outlook – along with running, throwing, and catching – at every practice and game. The students we have had an opportunity to coach have been examples of resilience and Spirit of the Game (particular when we essentially lose every game we play/have ever played). École Riverview School has played at Hold Back the Snow almost every year since 2012, as well as in the M.O.D.S. Middle School spring league for the past three or four years now.  Our players frequently note – openly and honestly and right off the bat – when a team is spirited and come to Coach Delorme or me with “What a nice team or player or…” compliment BEFORE they comment on player/team skills. Spirit of the Game/The sport of Ultimate teaches and develops life skills, I believe.

After each Hold Back the Snow tournament and after each Middle School League season is complete, I ask students to write an article for the school newsletter. Though we rarely win a game, players do not hang their heads. Instead, they see the positive and unique situation they are in, as (generally speaking) the smallest and youngest in the league! We are so proud of them. After our Middle School 2018 league season, two students quoted something I said in their newsletter article: “We may have lost every game, but we would’ve crushed any other grade 5/6 teams if there were any!”

 We play to our strengths – and often being smaller and younger than our opposition sometimes has its advantages. It keeps us ever hopeful.

Two other students (in their grade 6 final year at ÉRS) wrote this one year:

“We had lots of fun playing Ultimate Frisbee for the Riverview Raccoons/Ratons-laveurs. Throughout the season, we enjoyed practicing and playing with our spectacular coaches. Mme Parker and Mme Delorme were our coaches and over the years they taught us many tips and tricks, as well as the very important SPIRIT OF THE GAME.  The Riverview Raccoons practices on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Games were on Wednesdays. We gathered each week for 3.5 hours!  We are so glad that we were able to participate in this amazing team sport.”

What has coaching Ultimate to such young children taught you about SOTG?

These. Are. Life. Skills.

Again, I think Spirit of the Game/The sport of Ultimate teaches and develops life skills. Coaching has reinforced its importance. Our assistant coach, Julie, reinforces it in who she is and at every practice. It is not a difficult concept. It is, I think (hope) human nature – and spirited fun, moving, human interaction, pure joy, and play are typically natural in children. Learning to play fairly, take turns, practise patience, and TRY are innate parts of sport and life, in general, and most certainly CAN be part of competition. I will go teacher/nerd for a moment and – if anyone is actually reading this – clarify/refresh/remind that Spirit of the Game is at the core of Ultimate. It is considered “a defining characteristic of the sport”. Ultimate Canada states “Ultimate relies upon a spirit of sportspersonship* (personal edit; UC still has the word “sportsmanship” on their website) that places the responsibility for fair play on the player. Highly competitive play is encouraged, but never at the expense of mutual respect among competitors, adherence to the agreed upon rules, or the basic joy of play.”

Ahhhhhhhh…The basic joy of play…It’s why I/we coach…and for the love of the sport. 

Some quotes from past parents and students:

“As a father and an educator, I cannot thank you enough for your efforts and commitment to introducing my children to the game of Ultimate Frisbee and the true “spirit” of sport.”

“Ultimate helped me to be a better team player. – Chiara

“I remember our team’s only win against the older competition.” - Abbey

“Why reach for the moon when you can reach for a disc?” – Nicolas