The Western Wayne Ultimate Frisbee Team recently won the Spirit Trophy at a tournament this past April called the Firebird Invite hosted by Holy Ghost Prep in Bensalem, PA.
One of the team’s coaches high school science teacher, Anthony Zoppi explained the significance of such an award for the sport.
“To be clear, this is not a first place trophy,” Zoppi said. “It is the spirit trophy which in our sport is regarded as the more coveted trophy. After each round the teams have to fill out an evaluation sheet about themselves and the other team. We were rated so high above the other teams that the tournament director said he didn’t even need the last round to know who won.”
Both Zoppi and co-coach Alex Marchena, Western Wayne Alumni 2015 and former Western Wayne Ultimate captain, discussed the great importance of sportsmanship in Ultimate.
“I think the level of sportsmanship really sets it apart from almost any other sport and it is also the reason I love the sport,” Marchena said. “Ultimate is almost entirely self-officiated. Even at the professional level, players still call their fouls, call whether they scored a point, and whether they remained in bounds on difficult catches. Referees are only there to ensure fair play and even though they have the ability to overrule a player’s call based on what they saw, players on the opposing team have the right to overrule calls made by the referee if they object to the call in favor of the opposing team.”
Along with being a sport unique in regards to sportsmanship it also is different from other more traditional sports in a variety of other ways.
“It stands out in multiple ways,” Zoppi explained. “It is co-ed. It’s self-officiated. And without the leagues like Philly has, it isn’t mainstream. In that area [Philly], Ultimate is regarded just as highly as soccer or football. Even more to a certain extent as several Radnor players have become pro. We just don’t have the same ultimate scene and probably won’t until other schools in the area get on board with it.”
Despite being one of the few Ultimate high school teams in the area, Western Wayne has been able to play at many tournaments since the team first began in 2006. The Western Wayne Ultimate Frisbee Team started out playing intramural from 2006-2008 at the request of Western Wayne students who got interest going in a team.
Once approved by the high school principal at the time the students sought out a faculty member with experience in the sport and discovered Zoppi’s background in Ultimate. Having first played Ultimate for East Stroudsburg University from 1994-1998 and having served as Vice President for the team in 1998, Zoppi seemed like the ideal candidate.
Zoppi explained he was enthusiastic to work with the students on the endeavor of starting the Ultimate team. He explained how he worked to get the students involved in scrimmages and other parts of the history of Western Wayne Ultimate.
“In the beginning of spring 2008, I asked ESU, who was my alma mater, if they would mind a scrimmage game. We played ESU and put up a fair amount of points. I don’t remember the score, but it was enough for ESU to invite us to their tournament later that spring. At that tournament, we met most of the college teams from the area and invites to other tournaments started coming in. Then Principal Diane Scarfalloto and Superintendent Andy Falonk approached me and asked if competing in these tournaments against other schools was going to be a regular thing. I asked our players at the time, and that’s what they wanted. At that point, the principal and superintendent felt it should become a school recognized sport and asked me if it was approved by the school board would I apply to be coach. In 2009, it was considered a sport under the coaching contract. I have been officially coach from 2008-2019,” Zoppi explained. “This year, I split coaching duties with former captain Alex Marchena. He was approved as a volunteer last year and this year got approved to split coaching with me. I am happy to know that as I stand down from coaching that he applied and got hired for next year. It’s great to see it live on past me, and even better to see it is living on with someone that came through the program himself.”
And the foundation for the legacy of Western Wayne Ultimate to live into the future is being created by Marchena and the current team. The group practices on Mondays and Wednesdays in both the fall and spring sports seasons.
“Kids train the same way all the other teams train, we work on conditioning, run through offensive and defensive plays, run drills, and have scrimmage games. Endurance is key,” Zoppi explained. “A tournament usually has 4-6 rounds over an hour long each round. A starting player usually runs four to five miles per game. It is conceivable for a starting player to put in 20 miles of running through the course of the day.”
All the members of the Western Wayne Ultimate Team are extremely dedicated to their training and teammates. Western Wayne Ultimate Captain Tyler Keill, senior, loves working to see his teammates develop into stronger players.
“I like watching my team grow,” Tyler who has played Ultimate for Western Wayne for four years explained, “It’s not about correcting them when they are wrong but working with them to help them grow.”
Tyler has nine years of experience with Ultimate in general having first become interested in the sports through Western Wayne alumni Mike Koch.
Through working with the Western Wayne team Tyler feels like he is a part of the strong legacy of Western Wayne Ultimate built by Zoppi, Marchena, and other past team members.
“Overall everyone is there to help each other and that’s what I like,” Tyler, who aspires to one day join the military, said.
Fellow Captain junior Matt Romanowski agrees with Tyler and feels excited to continue working with underclassmen in his senior year to ensure that the enthusiasm for the sport will continue long into the future.
Zoppi is grateful to work with students as dedicated as Tyler and Matt. He knows it is their efforts that will keep the program alive in years to come.
At the end of this season, Zoppi will turn the program over completely to Marchena after having coached for the past decade.
Zoppi has a multitude of favorite memories with the team including their recent Spirit trophy win and a variety of wins the Western Wayne team has had over the years where they came in as underdogs and came out on top at different events.
A special memory of Zoppi’s involves an experience he had with the team some years ago at a Wilkes University tournament held at a field in Kirby Park. He recalls it being half time when one of his players took action.
“One of my players notices a homeless woman sleeping on a park bench. Instead of talking strategy or trying to figure out what offense or defense we want to run in the second half of the game, my team decided to not only give the women our whole food bag [each team in the tournament was given one], but go to other teams and collect more,” Zoppi fondly remembers. “I don’t think I have ever been more proud of the team.”
Zoppi, also, in reflecting on his many years coaching, feels proud of all of the students he has seen go through the Western Wayne Ultimate Team including Marchena. He knows he is leaving the team in good hands and is glad to be ending his final coaching season this year on a high note.
Marchena, who went to Lackawanna College for culinary arts and works as a chef in Hawley, has been a volunteer coach with the team in the past and feels honored to now be the coach for next year’s season.
“I was both excited and honored to be asked [by Zoppi] to take over the coaching position,” Marchena explained. “I’m truly happy that the sport that Zoppi put so much time and energy into building at Western Wayne is going to live on even as he is done coaching, and I’m sure he would say the same thing.”