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Center Grove Ultimate Club Is One of the Best in the Country

Writer / Jon Shoulders

Photography Provided by Center Grove Ultimate Club

After six straight years as state champs, it’s a bit hard to believe that Center Grove High School’s (CGHS) ultimate frisbee team had a bit of a slow start back in 2007 when it first got off the ground as an officially sanctioned high school program.

Originally founded informally back in 2003 by a small group of student frisbee fanatics who christened their club “Holy Mackerel”, CGHS began seeing growing interest in the sport over the next four years and became a nationally registered ultimate frisbee team by 2007. The school now has A and B boys teams as well as a single girls team, and boys head coach Jake Phillips says he’s working to generate enough interest at the school to build out a second girls team.

“We really didn’t get competitive until about 2011, and since then we’ve really turned things around,” Phillips says.

That’s probably an understatement – in addition to its sixth straight state championship, the boys team placed fifth at the high school national championships last season after being ranked first in the country for much of the year. The girls squad finished third at the Ohio state championship, which was the closest state tournament the team could compete in.

Phillips, a 2012 CGHS grad who took over head coaching duties after Eric Howe, a government and history teacher at the school, stepped down six years ago, says his 2017 season was the most successful yet of his tenure as boys coach.

“We’ve had a lot of close calls but we’ve held on to the state championship for a while,” he says. “Carmel and Fishers have challenged us in the past, and this year Brebeuf is great.”

Alex Henderson, a senior and co-captain of the boys A team, says his team’s hard work off the field has led to its consistent successes in recent years.

“Coach has always been telling us that the fight to win starts way before the game actually happens,” says Henderson, who began playing ultimate during the summer before his freshman year. “It’s about how well you’re prepared. You can only learn so much on the field but the rest of it is on you, and how hard you’re willing to work outside of practice to succeed.”

The CGHS ultimate squad trains nearly year-round and the competitive season typically runs from March through May, consisting of weekend-long tournaments around the state and Midwest followed by the state, regional and national championships. The 2018 season will take the team to Ohio, Georgia and Illinois in addition to local tournaments.

“We’ve gotten the opportunity to travel all around the country and meet people from Seattle, California, Minnesota and Florida, and the community is very tight to where everybody knows everybody,” says Henderson, who plays as a handler for the team – a position similar to a football quarterback.

The team stays plenty busy in the off-season as well with weightlifting, practices three days per week in the fall, and winter participation in an interscholastic indoor league held at The Gathering Place in Greenwood. Players who wish to continue honing their skills through the summer months can participate in an optional summer league organized by the Indiana Ultimate Foundation.

“We encourage everybody who is interested to come try out regardless of how much they know about the rules, or what experience they have,” Phillips says. “We’re all here to have fun.”

There are currently 12 registered high school ultimate frisbee teams in Indiana, and Phillips is hopeful that number will increase in coming years.

“The Midwest is kind of a little brother right now with trying to catch up with the coasts and grow the sport here, and we’re working really hard to do that,” Phillips says. “A lot of people don’t understand that it is a serious sport for those who want it to be. A lot of our kids play other varsity sports, and there are parallels in ultimate with soccer, basketball and football.”

All U.S. ultimate frisbee teams must be registered and approved for competition by USA Ultimate, founded in 1979 as the national governing body for American high school, college, beach and club teams. Upon approval, teams are free to choose which regular-season tournaments they wish to compete in, prior to the post-season state, regional and national championships.

Phillips is proud of his six-year tenure and plans to continue motivating his players to retain their status as one of the premier programs in the state and country.

“We have a supportive school administration which is really helpful,” he says. “As a fringe sport, to get to use the weight rooms and have a field to practice is great. (CGHS strength and conditioning coach) Marty Mills is a really good motivator. We also have a history of alumni giving back and continuing to be a good influence on the kids, so they are surrounded by good players, which is great.”

For additional information on Center Grove Ultimate Club including a season schedule, visit centergroveultimateclub.org. Visit indianaultimatefoundation.com for details on Indiana adult leagues and an event calendar. For more info on team formation and registry with USA Ultimate, visit usaultimate.org.

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