Minnesota Ultimate, the long-time local host of YCCs, is now spearheading its own tournament.
February 3, 2023 by Charlie Eisenhood in News with 0 comments
The summer youth ultimate scene is getting a shakeup.
Earlier this week, a group of local disc organizations announced a new event, the North American Youth Ultimate Championships (NAYUC). It’s set to be held from August 11-13 in Blaine, Minnesota, the long-time site of the USA Ultimate Youth Club Championships (YCCs).
“We are a group of organizers looking to expand the opportunities for regional and national youth teams,” reads the NAYUC website. “This first year the tournament is running under the guidance of Minnesota Ultimate, DiscNW, [Madison Ultimate Frisbee Association], Pittsburgh Ultimate, [Boston Ultimate Disc Alliance], and others.”
The driving force behind the new event is Jake McKean, the executive director of Minnesota Ultimate. “For all intents and purposes, youth club programming is limited to one event,” he said. “With the YCC move to Aurora, there’s been a ton of discussion this summer about if that singular event is meeting everybody’s needs.”
Late last year, USAU announced that it would be moving YCCs to Colorado in 2023, ending its contract with Minnesota early. That decision came on the heels of Minnesota Ultimate dropping its USAU affiliate status after financial discussions broke down.
As youth ultimate has grown, USA Ultimate has begun to turn away some teams from YCCs. The organization has a flow chart to determine bid priority that incentivizes local communities to host become USAU affiliates, run USAU sanctioned youth leagues, and organize USAU high school state championships. In 2019, some DiscNW teams were not given bids after friction between the local org and USAU, sparking discussions about potential alternatives to YCCs that have continued to bubble.
The move to Aurora could exacerbate YCC capacity limitations, as the field complex is smaller than the National Sports Center in Minnesota.
The NAYUC is designed to offer more teams a chance to compete, whether that be for programs closer to Minnesota looking for a less expensive trip or second teams from a city looking to offer more youth players a big summer tournament to look forward to. The tournament is also instituting a Pay What You Can sliding scale pricing model. “We’re excited to see how lowering barriers to interstate competition is going to affect folks this summer,” said McKean.
MNU, DiscNW, MUFA, and BUDA have committed to sending teams to the NAYUC, and, given the timing of the event just one week after YCCs, aren’t likely to bid to send teams to USAU’s flagship youth event. NAYUC will offer the same five divisions as YCC — U20 Boys/Girls/Mixed, and U17 Boys/Girls — but attending programs will be expected to bring girls, non-binary, or other female-matching players along with a boys team. McKean says there will be “free agent” teams put together if needed.
“We want to make sure we’re building this equitably and intentionally,” he said. “Even though this is ultimately just another playing opportunity, it’s a playing opportunity with a purpose.”
Seven of last year’s YCC semifinalists came from Minnesota, Seattle, and Boston, along with both of the U17 champions; the organizations’ decision to run their own youth club tournament is likely to reduce the competitive quality of YCC. McKean stressed that the goal isn’t to cannibalize YCC but to offer an alternative option as YCC has become unable to provide access to everyone that wants to play.
“According to an email we received from the organizers, this event is designed to accommodate newer and/or smaller teams that don’t qualify for YCC for a variety of reasons,” said USAU Marketing Director Andy Lee. “This looks like a wonderful opportunity for more kids to play ultimate and looks to be more of a complement to YCC.”
“Very early on, the conversation changed from YCC to this event, and just looking forward,” said McKean. “I think the narrative about it being a replacement or an alternative to YCC — I think a lot of observers are going to jump to that. But for me and our team, we’re just committed to hosting a great event.”
The wider impact on the youth landscape is yet to be felt. Other strong youth organizations like Triangle Ultimate, a USAU affiliate, are still planning to attend YCC as usual. “Stability for our community is good, since I know I’ll get parents asking me what next year’s YCC dates are in August right after the tournament,” said Triangle Ultimate Executive Director Tristan Green. None of the disc organizations committed to NAYUC are USAU affiliates.
Pittsburgh Ultimate Executive Director Christie Lawry said that it’s uncertain what their youth teams will do this summer, even as she assists McKean in organizing NAYUC. They didn’t send teams to YCCs last year.
Lawry is one of the cofounders of another new project, the National Ultimate Alliance, an affiliation of local disc organizers working to help one another succeed. “Some organizations have such different resources than the next, and there are all these projects that we’re just missing a piece of, so if people are willing to share that piece, then the sky is the limit for what comes next,” she said.
The NUA can trace its roots back to 2014 when Green started an email listserv for ultimate organizers. The pandemic supercharged the growing connections between local disc orgs, leading to the formation of the NUA and, relatedly, the NAYUC. There have been ongoing conversations among organizers about a lack of vision for youth ultimate at the national level with YCC growing increasingly inflexible. One of the NUA’s initial projects is hosting a “national dialogue on youth competition and formats.”
McKean acknowledged his personal frustration with USAU around the affiliate model conversation and abrupt YCC exit from Minnesota but said that he believes a national governing body with strong ties to local organizations is clearly what everyone wants. “We think unified national structures for ultimate organization is the best thing,” he said. “We just have to talk with one another.”