How To Start A High School Ultimate Program: A Checklist

Starting a high school program can be complicated...but it's worth it. Here's a formula for starting your own.

Trophies at the 2014 Southern Regional High School Championships.
Photo by Terry Nelson — UltiPhotos.com

I honestly believe that the future of ultimate is not in the Olympics, not in the professional or club scene, not in college ultimate, but in youth programs. Having a solid youth system throughout the country will lead to success at the other levels. If you are looking to jump on the youth bandwagon, or know someone who is interested, I want to commend you for your decision. You have found the right place to get started. The going isn’t easy, but it is tremendously rewarding.

Student Interest, Field Space, Approval

Before developing an intricate plan of how you’re going to make a regional powerhouse, it’s best to make sure you have the student interest in the first place. Students had been routinely popping into my classroom asking about forming a team because word had spread about me playing for Central Florida during their national runner-up performance in 2013. However, it wasn’t until my second year of teaching that one particular student showed true dedication and commitment, and his eagerness to form a team encouraged me to seek administrative approval for a club.

When running an ultimate program through a school, administrative approval is the best route to take. Not only does it help in covering yourself, but also they are the first means of generating formal recognition of ultimate as a sport. Furthermore, they open paths to securing field space, establishing a club bank account, and generating student interest in more ways than simply by word-of-mouth. Not only that, through the administrators’ guidance, our athletics department helps me run the team exactly like a varsity sport (physicals, GPA checks, waivers, travel requests, and proof of insurance).

Getting field space can be a significant issue, so focus on securing it as soon as possible after getting approval for a team. Counting boys’ and girls’ teams separately, we have 34 teams competing in varsity athletics throughout the year. Those numbers don’t include ROTC competition teams, community usage, or any other extracurricular programs. Consequently, field space is scarce. We ended up scheduling practice twice a week on the only available field space: an hour and a half during ROTC drill practice (we split the field) and before JV lacrosse practice.

While working behind the scenes with administration, have your future players generate interest. The student who originally approached me spread news first by word-of-mouth then through a school TV announcement. He also created a club Twitter and Remind account to further spread the word, and our first meeting was standing-room only with nearly 60 sign-ups. After that day, our school welcomed its newest sports team, the Oviedo Roar.

Recommendations

  • Teachers are isolated, while students can spread the word through the whole school.
  • Use a variety of communication modes — especially Twitter, Remind, and school announcements — to get the word out to the greatest number of students.
  • Create a comprehensive plan regarding schedules, community service, and student involvement to pitch to administration.
  • Work with other student organizations and sports to peacefully find field space on campus.

Finances

Generating the interest is the easy part. The fun really begins when dealing with club finances, especially when going through the school. Despite the low barrier of entry needed to play ultimate, competing against other schools entails travel costs, tournament fees, and costs of uniforms. All of those obstacles are to be expected if you’ve ever had experience in competitive ultimate, but doing these through a government-run public school system really complicates matters.

Before fundraising or making purchases, you need to have an account to draw from and deposit into. My school has a school-wide bank account that is partitioned according to various needs, including club accounts. Be sure to meet with your bookkeeper in order to create an account, and ask her about all the rules and procedures regarding financial transactions.

Honestly, try to be your bookkeeper’s best friend. My advice is solid for two reasons: first, there are so many rules to follow that you’ll need help to do things the right way; and secondly, when you do something wrong (which you certainly will), she won’t be as hard on you as she could be. From an uninformed perspective, it may seem like the finances aren’t really that big of a deal, especially if you come from a college club background. I had thought it was going to be simple, but boy did I learn. I learned that monies collected had to match deposit dates, deposit purpose, organization names, check numbers, and receipts. When they didn’t, I was “politely” instructed that they all needed to match for auditing purposes.

When I finally wanted to use the money I fundraised, I learned that I needed to request a W-9 from each prospective “vendor” before I could even thinking processing payment. Realize that means having to request a W-9 from every tournament director, uniform designer, and sporting goods supplier that I ever hoped to deal with. Not only that, I needed invoices and purchase orders for each request, which then had to be approved by our principal.

The paperwork, forms, dues collection (which is difficult enough as it is), and other financial hurdles added weeks of unforeseen processing and information gathering that I hope I have now made abundantly clear to all prospective coaches. In retrospect, all of the procedures make complete sense in terms of financial policy, legal transparency, and auditing purposes, but I certainly didn’t realize how complicated it could actually be.

Recommendations

  • Work with the school’s bookkeeper and ask for all financial policies regarding money collection, purchasing, and record keeping. I promise that even if you think you know it all, there will still be an unforeseen obstacle that will delay you.
  • Create a projected budget for tournaments (anywhere from $150 to $400 a tournament), jerseys ($30 minimum for a jersey and shorts per player), and relevant equipment (such as cones and discs).
  • Look to USA Ultimate for a New Start Grant for discs, cones, and training materials. Applications are reviewed quarterly, so aim to have your submissions in by March, June, September, or December.
  • Use the projected budget to establish player dues and to determine the amount of funds needing to be raised. The lower the dues, the lower the barrier of entry, but having dues too low will lead to players having inconsistent commitment.

Travel

Ideally, when starting up a team, you’ll have some local clubs to compete against. Unfortunately, in my case, the nearest high school club team was nearly two hours driving distance away. Without competition, months of drills and intrasquad scrimmaging leaves the players itching to find someone to play and can really eat away at current and future interest in playing the sport.

Look to your local college program or league, if you have either, to drum up some competitive matches. Both colleges and leagues have a bigger network and draw than a school-based youth team, so they can really help find people to play. In our case, UCF has been hosting a youth tournament for the past two years and attracts teams from across the state. Later in the season, I reached out to the Orlando league community, and they were able to get a team together for a scrimmage. Without outside competition, you really limit your potential growth, and students will get bored of “talkin’ ‘bout practice” day in and day out.

Local competition, though, does not reveal the complexities of travel. In order to travel, you’ll likely need administrative approval. Local travel is essentially a no-brainer, but anything nearing the 1+ hour mark, especially overnight travel, requires a lot planning and coordination. Every school and district has its separate policies, so it’s something you should definitely look into. For my district, same-day in-state travel requires a written request 30 days in advance. Out-of-state or overnight travel requires approval of the school board.

In both cases, administration is focusing on the safety of the players, and it requires county-approved chaperones and drivers. I learned that I needed to first clear all parent drivers through the Florida Department of Transportation, which then had to clear the district’s screening process (which required a $10 processing fee per driver). I also learned that a chaperone is needed for every ten players, must be a registered volunteer with the district (which requires fingerprinting at a fee of $57.25), and that you must have a female chaperone if you have female players.

Of the four tournaments we tried to attend, two were denied because I failed to meet one of the above requirements. Consequently, be in constant communication with your athletic director or secretary. While you’re at it, for the same reasons I mentioned being best friends with the bookkeeper, you probably should do the same with the athletics office.

When it comes to tournament time, chance favors the prepared. Just like Tiina Booth said in her 4 Keys to Building a Mental Toughness Program, “be ready for anything.” Compile travel packets for your players and parents describing when and where the tournament is, weather, contact information, food considerations, and packing lists. As a coach, one of your responsibilities is managing all of the outside concerns so the players can play. Having travel packets helped to keep the players’ focus on the field rather than on outside distractions.

Recommendations

  • Establish an anticipated tournament schedule during the early stages of the offseason.
  • Get registered drivers early if your school or district requires them. Processing takes a minimum of thirty days and gathering the necessary information from interested parties is also time-consuming.
  • Create deadlines at least 45 days in advance of tournaments to ensure all travel paperwork is submitted and processed in a timely manner.
  • Contact your parent network weekly leading up to the tournament to coordinate rides, meeting locations, and packing lists.
  • Write itineraries to give to players and parents the week before the tournament to make sure everyone is on the same page come tournament time.

Recap

In all, starting an official club team at a high school can be complicated, time-consuming, and difficult, but it’s all worth it. Be aware that each school, district, and state has different policies, so these obstacles may not be present in your area. Despite the difficulties, I realize that I am a happier person now that I coach, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

The Checklist

Administrative Approval

  • Identify students to help start the program.
  • Prepare an outline detailing competition level (recreational or competitive), plan of practices and meetings, team schedule, club constitution, community outreach, and finances.
  • Identify the appropriate administrator or athletics and request approval.

Generating Interest

  • Put fliers up around school.
  • Find committed players and have them spread information.
  • Start a club Twitter account.
  • Create a Remind account.

Field Space

  • Determine other sport or club practice schedules in order to secure field space for practice.
  • Keep practices on campus rather than off to limit driving restrictions.

Finances

  • Become best friends with the school’s bookkeeper and ask for financial advice.
  • Educate yourself on the financial procedures of the school.
  • Create a club account through the school.
  • Create an Excel spreadsheet to track income and expenses.
  • Create a jersey template and receive a quote.
  • Using your team schedule and jersey quote, establish dues and estimated funds to be raised.
  • Request quotes and invoices a minimum of a month (preferably two to three months) in advance.

Travel

  • At the beginning of the season, collect parent driver information for your state’s department of transportation clearance (if necessary).
  • Collect enough driver information to double your team’s size to minimize scheduling conflicts.
  • File travel requests and identify chaperones a minimum of 45 days in advance of the tournament.
  • Create team itineraries and recommended packing lists to give to students and parents three days before travel.
  • Establish designated team meeting places and food plans for the day of the tournament.
  1. William Furiosi
    Avatar

    Will Furiosi is an AP Biology and Chemistry teacher at Oviedo High School and coach of their youth ultimate team (@ohs_ultimate). He has been playing competitive ultimate for six years, including four years at UCF. You can reach him by email (william_furiosi@scps.k12.fl.us) or on Twitter (@WillFuriosi).

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