One of the fastest-growing sports in the United States in the last couple of decades has a local footprint and a program that is run exclusively by Montclair High School students.
The Montclair Geese have been flying those disks as part of ultimate Frisbee for almost a decade at Edgemont Park and competing with some of the best in New Jersey during that time.
The game features two teams of seven competing to throw a Frisbee into their opponents’ end zone. The end zones are separated by a 64-meter-long field. Matches last for 90 minutes unless one team scores 13 goals before the 90-minute timer runs out.
The Montclair Geese have three senior captains, Elliot Albright, Dylan Pearson and Griffin van Rhyn.
Pearson’s father, Steve, described the sport of ultimate Frisbee concisely.
“It’s sort of like soccer with Frisbee,” he said. “Instead of a goal, you have an end zone, and you cannot run with the disc, so you always have to pass.”
Ultimate Frisbee is a uniquely collaborative sport. Sportsmanship and personal responsibility are deeply embedded within the sport’s rules.
The players are also their own coaches. Albright talked about why the team elected not to have an adult presence at its practices.
“Last year, we talked openly about having an adult presence at our practice,” he said. “Most people were opposed to it. We don’t want an adult running our practices. That’s what makes ultimate Frisbee different. We have a unique culture of being student-run. You can’t find that anywhere else at the high school.”
Karen Rutberg, mother of sophomore Sam McCrory, believes the cooperative nature of ultimate Frisbee makes it notably different from other competitive team sports.
“Every player cares for every other player,” Rutberg said. “It does not matter what team they are on. Of course, they will root
for their own team, but after every point they will congratulate each other.”
Ultimate Frisbee’s alternative approach to team sports has quickly exploded in popularity.
In 2014, a group of Montclair high school students started Montclair’s ultimate Frisbee team. It began as a small group of friends casually playing around after school. It took years before they decided to play in tournaments.
Now, the Geese are taken seriously within Montclair High School. The captains organize four practices at Edgemont Park per week.
“We have 19 players on our varsity roster,” Dylan Pearson said. “When you add our junior varsity team, it gets up to about 35 players at any given practice.”
The captains believe that their presence at the high school is well known. Ten freshmen joined the Geese this year.
“We went to the school’s pep rally recently for the first time,” Albright said. “We were in front of the whole school.”
Despite the team’s growing notoriety, the Geese are not officially sanctioned by the high school. They do not get transportation or financial resources from the school. The Geese use Edgemont Park for their practices because they are not allowed to use school fields.
Michael-John van Rhyn, father of Griffin van Rhyn, is proud of the independence of the Geese.
“Montclair’s varsity ultimate team is unique compared to all the other competing teams,” van Rhyn said. “We are the only team that is completely player-run. The captains do everything for this team. They’re always on these phone calls with all these coaches. They are the only kids on the call. Winning as a player-run team would make winning the state championships even sweeter.”
In addition to not having adult coaches, Albright said that ultimate Frisbee is officiated by the players themselves, rather than a third party. Even at the highest levels of play, there are no referees in ultimate Frisbee.
“There are no referees on the field,” he said. “If something against the rules happens, up to the players to handle the conflict resolution.”
The past and present members of the Geese recall how the team has grown over the decade.
Manuel Divino III, class of 2018, remembers Montclair going to its first-ever Frisbee tournament in 2017.
“We were terrified at our first tournament,” Divino recalled. “We only had nine players and we barely knew any strategy, but we pulled ourselves together and managed to beat the hosting team. From there, it grew and became more official.”
Every year, the team’s membership and intensity has grown.
Griffin van Rhyn recounted how the team has shifted over his time in high school.
“There was a little team when we joined” in 2019, he said. “There might have been nine or 10 players, total. Sometimes we didn’t have enough people to play.”
But what was once a fledgling program now has state championship aspirations.
“We have a super-strong roster this year,” Pearson said. “My expectation for this season is to go far in every tournament.”
So far this spring, Montclair has had its best-ever start to a season. The Geese were 9-0 as of last week in tournament competitions. They won the Spring Warm-Up tournament in Jackson on April 16. Then, the Geese won the Spring Fling tournament in Freehold on April 22 and 23.
“We never advanced beyond the quarterfinal stage in Spring Fling before,” Pearson said. “Now, we’ve won it. Columbia [Maplewood] and Westfield have won 24 of the last 25 New Jersey State Championships. We want to win our first.”
Montclair has already beaten reigning champions Westfield three times this year. The state championships will be held Memorial Day weekend, May 27 and 28, at Westfield.
“Westfield is definitely afraid of us,” Pearson said. “The last few times we’ve played them is that we’ve beaten them by a considerable margin.”
For Griffin van Rhyn the Geese are starting to spread their wings against the titans in the state.
“It feels amazing,” van Rhyn said. “We are one of the newest teams in New Jersey, and we are already beating some of the best teams in the state. What makes this special is we really built our way up. Especially for the seniors, we’ve come a long way from our freshmen year. It is super-fun.”