After a 10-year absence, Prince George is back in the ultimate national mix.
John Bowes played for the local team Clearcut in 2008, the one (and only) time Prince George Ultimate sent a team to the Canadian championships and they finished 15th out of 16 in the mixed open tournament.
This year, as part of the Swamp Donkey team entered in the Canadian mixed masters championship in Surrey, Aug. 25-26, the 39-year-old Bowes is feeling a lot more confident his team will come out of it with more wins than losses.
"We came in second-last in 2008 and at that time it was kind of out of reach," said Bowes. "We didn't have that drive to go to nationals after that. Often we could get a team of 14 together but you need 21. It's a higher level of play and people get tired and we just couldn't get that number of players out.
"But we started to age and all of a sudden we were in the masters pool and this year we saw the potential to form a team out of Prince George. Seventeen of the 21 players are from here and we have a pretty solid group. We've just played so much together that we're strong and we're winning, at times, so we're hopeful this year."
To qualify for the masters category, males have to be older than 33 and females have to be over 30. The youngest player on Swamp Donkey is 30 and the oldest is 41. Two members of the team - Suzy Stever and Sean Bernard - are playing this week in the world masters ultimate club championships in Winnipeg.
The other local members of the team are Breanne Reinheimer, Nathan Reinheimer, Mica Jorgenson, Mike Connor, Josh Van Der Meer, Lindsay Van Der Meer, Alex Chan, Arkell Wiley, Kirsten Benett, Matt Deschamps, Maizie Bernard, Nick Chng and Sarah Hollett.
Players from Kelowna, Kamloops, Vancouver, Calgary and Duncan round out the roster.
Tournament results this year have been encouraging, with first-place finishes in Kamloops in April and Kelowna (Sunflicker) in May and a fifth-place men's team finish at the Flowerbowl in Vancouver in June. At the B.C. (regional) championship in Burnaby in early July the mixed masters team finished third out of six teams to qualify for nationals.
Eight teams are entered in the mixed masters event - four from B.C., two from Alberta and one each from Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
A core of the Swamp Donkey players have played for other teams at national championships. Connor was part of Clearcut in 2008 and also played with two masters men's teams. He likes the fact he's well-familiar with most of his teammates.
"These are all Prince George people and we have a different style of game - we like to focus more on fun than competitiveness and winning," said the 39-year-old Connor. "Everybody here likes to play competitively but have fun. If it wasn't fun I think a lot of us wouldn't play.
"We've played a lot together, many years, and a lot of teams don't have that. They're thrown together and try to gel and we definitely have that edge over many teams."
Nine of the 21 Swamp Donkey players are women.
Lindsay Van der Meer, 35, played soccer growing up in Cranbrook and started playing ultimate after she moved to Prince George in 2006. She also was part of Clearcut at the 2008 nationals in Calgary.
"We were all 10 years younger and arguably maybe a bit stronger" said Van der Meer. "But we're all experienced players now, which makes you stronger. I think our team has really diverse skills and deep skills. There's a lot of people with a lot of experience and we all bring different strengths to the game.
"Some people are better with throwing the disc and some people are better at running long and catching it. We work really well together, we're all friends and it helps."
PG Ultimate formed as a club in 2004 and plays its league games in the spring and fall, then goes indoors for games at the Northern Sport Centre during the cold-weather months. A junior league made up of students in Grades 5-9 drew 30 players. The club has about 50 players.
What is ultimate?
Pass, run and catch.
Originally known as frisbee football, ultimate combines the elements of rugby, touch football, lacrosse, soccer and team handball in a seven-a-side game in which the team that possesses the disc tries to advance by passing it into the other team's end zone.
After each catch, players are allowed only the minimum number of steps it takes to stop their forward momentum, then they have to throw the disc. Players are allowed to pivot in any direction before the throw but must have one leg planted on the ground at all times and they have 10 seconds to release the disc after the catch is made. Defenders are not allowed to contact the disc until it has left the thrower's hand. Any throw that is dropped, tipped away by a defender or lands out of bounds results in a change of possession.
Each end-zone catch is worth one point and the game is over when one team reaches 15 points. Player substitutions are allowed, but only in the transition after a point is scored. Each game has a time limit of either 80 or 100 minutes.
Blocking and body contact are forbidden on the 120-yard long by 40-yard wide field. Because there are no referees, even at the international level, players are responsible for making their own calls on fouls. Players are encouraged to maintain the spirit of the game by avoiding aggressive play and win-at-all-costs behaviour.
To promote gender equity, Canadian Ultimate is adopting a new rule which requires teams to switch the gender ratio from four men and three women on the field to four women and three men. At the start of the game, the winner of a disc flip gets to choose the initial gender ratio. Then, after the first point is scored, the ratio switches for the next two points. That switch continues every two points throughout the game.