Jewish overnight camp is not the place you’re likely to find a pro athlete. This is not necessarily a ground-breaking statement. However, what it may become, is the place to find the next generation of Olympic athletes.
When the World Flying Disc Federation – the governing body of Ultimate Frisbee – received recognition from the International Olympic Committee, it meant this popular camp activity became something that could lead to bigger opportunities.
Herzl Camp, where the Ultimate fascination has been embedded in the camp’s DNA, is starting a first-of-its-kind camp this summer. The Herzl Ultimate Clinic is a one-week intensive clinic from July 10-16 that drills 5th-8th graders on the game. The clinic, which is accredited by USA Ultimate, is designed to teach both kids who have never touched a disc and those that want to secure the team captain role early on in their high school career. USA Ultimate will help generate a curriculum for the clinic program, which will have coaches who have a wealth of professional and collegiate playing experience.
“The sport is fun to play and easy pick-up,” said Tom Manewitz, former Herzl staff member and now the manager of college competition and athlete programs for USA Ultimate. “The other thing that fits with the values of camp is that it’s self-officiated. Everyone who plays is playing within the rules and respect the opponents and who you’re playing with. It dovetails nicely with Herzl Camp’s ethics.”
Manewitz said much of Herzl’s love for Ultimate came from Hopkins High School, where many campers attend. Hopkins’s Ultimate team became one of the best in the country, which led to many of the staff and campers who were Hopkins alumni bringing the game to camp.
“It really was an ‘Ah-Ha!’ moment for us,” said Camp Director Drea Lear. “We’ve been following our alumni through their victories in Ultimate for years and watching sports camps with professional coaches crop up across the country. The light bulb went on over our heads – and the Herzl Ultimate Clinic was born.”
One of those alumni is Shira Klane, a Herzl camper from Taste of Herzl to being an Ozo in 2005, and then on staff from 2005-10. Klane played the last two years for Brute Squad in Boston, the 2016 Ultimate National Champions.
“It has been cool to watch it grow from my time as a camper to when I was Kadimah program director,” Klane said. She mentioned that the experienced Ultimate players in Kadimah – 9th graders – brought their cleats and organized getting jerseys made for the annual camp Ultimate game against the B’yachad (10 grade) campers. “It wasn’t a casual game. It was official.”
Another unique part of the sport is that it the absolute highest levels of the game is a mixed-gender sport. If/when it becomes an Olympic sport (2024 is the earliest that could happen), then it would be a team featuring both men and women.
Ultimate combines the constant movement of soccer and the aerial passing of football. Ultimate is played between two teams of seven, on a rectangular field 120 yards long by 44 yards wide, including two end zones. The goal is to score points by catching a pass in the opponent’s end zone. Running with the disc is not allowed. Nor is intentional contact. Unique among sports, it’s self-refereed, which requires a steadfast embrace of sportsmanlike conduct, known as “spirit of the game.”
“Spirit of the Game is the old-school concept that games can be played without adult supervision,” said Lear. “Players call their own fouls and determine their own progress and goals. This requires personal integrity as well as strong communication skills. The Spirit of the Game syncs perfectly with Jewish teachings and our long-standing tradition of dialogue and discussion as a means to understanding.”
Klane said the principals she’s learned in Ultimate can easily carry through to other areas – and ties very well into one of Herzl Camp’s core values, which is to: Provide tools, training and the opportunity to lead.
“Spirit of the Game is highly prioritized at the most competitive levels,” she said. “Teaching accountability in the context of the sport better enables kids to be accountable for their actions in all endeavors of life. Whether it’s talking another team or being in a political discussion, I feel I’m a more compassionate person in all facets because of what ultimate taught me and continues to reinforce.”