Benicia High School is awash with student clubs this year. Some allow students to bond over shared interests. Others allow them to create art or music. Others allow them to raise awareness and create dialogue over social issues.
Then there are others, like the Ultimate Frisbee Club, which allow students to go outside, get exercise and have fun— all while throwing a flying disc around.
The Ultimate Frisbee Club meets every Wednesday after school in the junior varsity softball field. As of now, the students are just playing for fun but are hoping to have a full-on league organized by spring where they can compete against other schools.
Ultimate Frisbee is a continually growing sport— it was even considered by the International Olympic Committee for future summer games— so its arrival at Benicia High was inevitable. Luckily, students have an adviser— history teacher Edward Coyne—who is very well-versed in the sport.
Coyne first learned about the sport when he was attending Christian Brothers High School in St. Louis in the early ‘80s.
“A lot of my friends played it, but I wasn’t very good at it,” he said. “I played mostly soccer and watched other teams play locally in St. Louis.”
As a youth, Coyne said he ran into troubles with drugs and alcohol, and ultimate Frisbee was his way of coping after becoming sober. His Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor, a member of the defending national champion team the St. Louis Tunas, suggested he practice.
“What he told me was ‘As part of your recovery, you need to come out to my practices so I can keep an eye on you four days a week, and you’ll be cannon fodder and we’ll go to meetings after that,’” Coyne said.
He eventually got to play for the Tunas from 1985 to 1988, eventually becoming team captain by his final year when they made the national championships. The Tunas did not win but consistently placed in the top five, making them one of the best ultimate Frisbee teams in the country.
While enrolled in the graduate program at DePaul University in Chicago, he played with the local ultimate Frisbee team Windy City, where he served as team captain from 1991 to 1993 and was named one of the top 10 players in the U.S. in 1992. He even got to play against Japan amongst other top U.S. players that summer.
Having gotten to know some of the Japanese players, they were able to persuade Coyne to move to San Francisco where he played for a team called Double Happiness from 1994 to 1997, where they won the world championships in England in 1995.
Coyne was recently interviewed for “Flatball,” a documentary on the history of the sport but was not featured in the final cut. He continued to play in Bay Area ultimate Frisbee teams until 2000 when he began teaching at Benicia Middle School. There, he introduced the sport to the physical education department where it remains a part of the curriculum. Upon being transferred to Benicia High in 2004, he attempted to introduce the sport there but not enough students enrolled for it to be successful. Instead, he mostly focused on coaching boys’ junior varsity basketball and girls’ varsity basketball.
However, that changed when Coyne’s son Aidan, a freshman, and Tim Hoyle, a junior, had approached him about coaching an ultimate Frisbee team if they could get enough players.
“I said, ‘Sure, I’ll coach you guys if you can get the people out,’” Coyne said.
The result was a success. Now every Wednesday, a healthy mix of students from all grades, come out to the softball fields after school to play ultimate Frisbee scrimmage matches. Coyne has said that other teachers have joined in on the action, and he himself got to play for the first time in years.
One of the appealing aspects, Coyne said, is how anybody can play regardless of athletic expertise or ability.
“Anybody that may not meet the physical requirements of playing basketball can use their speed and intelligence to master the game,” he said, “as well as somebody who’s 6-foot-6 can come out here and use their athletic ability to dominate the game as well.”
“Depending on your abilities, you can find a place to be successful and happy,” he added.
The student players agree. Club president Hoyle likes the fact that students can be physically active without feeling the pressure of competing.
“A lot of sports are kind of competitive, but it can get in the way of good sportsmanship,” he said. “Ultimate is a sport where it’s really stressed that you’re supposed to be a good person and nice to your opponents and congratulate them after the game. It’s good exercise too. It tires you out.”
Aidan, who has been playing the sport with his father for years, enjoys the fact that it is more relaxed regarding rules.
“I like that it’s a lot different from other sports but also the same in a lot of ways too,” he said. “It gives you a unique experience. It relies a lot on yourself too because there’s no referees or anything like that. It’s all judged by the player. I think it’s really cool how it relies on you and your teammates.”
In addition to outdoor play, the club meets in Coyne’s room on the third Wednesday of each month to discuss how to recruit more teammates for a spring league, where they hope to compete against teams in Marin and other counties in tournaments.
Coyne is proud of how the sport has brought in a variety of students to try something new and create camaraderie. he also admires that it has given students a unique way to get exercise.
“They’re not on their electronic products,” he said. “They’re volunteering to come out and play a sport and be outside as opposed to sitting in front of a screen and being entertained. They’re creating their own entertainment, which unfortunately in our society is almost lost.”