A sport that he began playing in Grade 9 at AN Myer Secondary School is taking Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Ben Simmonds to the UK to represent his country.
Simmonds, who is teaching physical education at a small private school in Ottawa and hoping to attend teacher’s college in the future, has earned a spot as a defender on Canada’s Under-24 (U24) Ultimate Frisbee mixed team. He will be competing with that squad in July at the World Flying Disc Federation championships in Nottingham.
“I saw a poster and talked to the coach (English teacher John Kent) about it,” the 22-year-old Parliament Oak graduate remembers about his start in the sport. “Learning to play was a lot of fun, but when I moved to Carleton (University), I realized I had a lot to learn.”
As a first-year student in media production and design, with a minor in film studies, Simmonds had brought a disc to campus and was spotted tossing it to a friend by members of the Ravens women’s team. They gave the young men a flyer for a clinic they were hosting later that week.
Simmonds attended the clinic, connected with the captains of the school’s men’s team, and made the university’s B squad, “as the worst player,” he says. “I was just there to run and be fast and try to play defence, because coming from Niagara, I only kind of knew just enough about throwing to get by.”
For the uninitiated, ultimate frisbee, or simply ultimate, as most of its purveyors call it, can be compared to a mixture of basketball and football. It involves seven players on each team competing on a 100-yard field.
The team starting on defence will toss the disc to their opponents, whose objective is to work the disc down the field by throwing it. Unlike football, though, once the disc is caught, the player cannot run with it. The other six players on the team do run, though, in an attempt to get open to catch the disc when it is thrown.
A point is scored when the disc is caught in the opposing team’s end zone.
Simmonds played on Carelton’s men’s team, but the U24 national team is mixed, combining men and women on the field at the same time.
The former offensively-minded hockey and soccer player relishes his role on defence, and it’s taken him through inter-university play while at Carleton and into the club and professional ultimate circuits. Last summer, Simmonds played with the Ottawa Outlaws of the American Ultimate Disc League. He also has played with club teams in both Hamilton and Ottawa, the latter with his younger brother, Nick, who also took up the sport at Myer.
“When you’re playing defence in ultimate,” he explains, “you can score on defence. To score on defence, it’s called a break. You’re not going to get a block every time, but you’re constantly fighting to make sure that if your guy is getting thrown to you can get a block, an attempt at a point. For me, it’s far more exciting playing defence.”
Simmonds says each team consists of three types of players: cutters, who play downfield and make smaller throws, handlers who make the bigger throws, and hybrids, who do both.
“I’m a defensive cutter,” he says. “I go onto the defensive line to mark (guard) their cutters who are downfield. And when the disc turns over, I’m a cutter on the defensive line while we play offense.”
At Carleton, Simmonds played both indoor and outdoor ultimate, captaining the Ravens men’s team outdoor team in his third year there. His last two years on the Ravens, they beat Western University and the University of Toronto Blues to capture back-to-back division 2 provincial championships.
The oldest son of Toby and the late Keith Simmonds says his confidence level really picked up last summer after playing against the best in the sport with the Outlaws, enough so that he felt ready to attempt to make the national team.
“I applied and got accepted,” he says of the tryouts in Burnaby, British Columbia. “I just put it all out there. I had been focusing on it for months, dealing with injuries and training, making sure my body was prepared. It was two days, an amazing experience playing ultimate there in November, with beautiful weather and the mountains in the background.”
He was overwhelmed when he found out he made the cut, even while feeling that he had done all he could to deserve a spot on the team.
“The week before (the Ottawa Outlaws) announced that they were folding,” remembers Simmonds. “So I was pretty bummed out that I would have to try out for another team. It was sad and stressful. When one of the coaches called to say I was chosen, it was overwhelming and exciting.”
After earning his spot with the national team, Simmonds decided to cancel a planned trip to Montreal this weekend, forgo pursuing another professional opportunity, and instead concentrate on getting ready for the world championships.
He recently attended the first team training camp and participated in some organized scrimmages in Orlando, Florida. It was his first time together with the rest of the roster, including one of his Outlaws teammates who also made the team and a few players he played club with. One of the national team’s coaches is also a former teammate.
“We’re also going to an American mixed tournament in Boston in a couple of months,” he adds, “as well as an exhibition tournament in Toronto before we go to England in July. There’s lots of travel.”
To cover the costs of food, travel and uniforms, the team is holding a fundraiser. They are designing warm-up jerseys that will be worn by the team on their trip to the UK that will include the names of up to 350 family members, friends and supporters who donate $25 or more to their quest for the world title. To contribute to the cause, visit tinyurl.com/2hr9zc28.
“They’re trying to make this experience more accessible for everyone on the team,” Simmonds says of the fundraiser. “It’s a fun way to have your name and to take part with us in this in some way.”