MAPLEWOOD/SOUTH ORANGE, NJ - At Columbia High School, you can often find students tossing a Frisbee around on the field. But don’t mistake their game for child’s play. Columbia actually fields a highly competitive Ultimate Frisbee team. They travel all over the country, and bring prestige and passion to their sport.
In fact, the sport of Ultimate was invented by CHS students Joel Silver, Johnny Hines and Buzzy Hellring in the 1960s and there is an annual game between the current team and alumni, which is in its 45th year. Coach Ben Haim sat down with TAP to recap the season and provide a little background on the team.
Columbia has traditionally been a powerhouse in the sport and up until this year had won 13 state championships in a row stretching back to 2001. Coach Haim said that this year was something of a transition. The team had a roster of 17 players, with only six upperclassmen. But that didn’t mean the team was light on leadership.
Junior captains Zach Cincotta and Jesse Nelson were key performers on the field. Cincotta’s man to man pressure was a key component of the team’s defensive strategy, and Nelson was an important part of the squad’s offensive schemes.
Also of note was sophomore Russell Moy, who in his 3rd year playing competitively showed a great improvement. And even though he wasn’t a captain, Senior Tim McPhillips brought a lot to the locker room, contributing to the energy and voice in the team’s huddles. According to Coach Haim, Sophomore Gabe Fearon is “mature for his age, listens, is coachable and is extremely focused”. These are traits that the coach feels will make him a valuable leader in the years to come.
As a result of their high level of play, the team tends to travel a lot to find appropriate competition. In some of these tournaments, the team will wind up playing 5 to 7 games in a single weekend. Over the spring season, they played in tournaments held in Princeton, Chicago, and Amherst, Massachusetts, as well as competing in the High School State Championships.
At the Chicago Invitational in April, they were one of 56 teams, and matched up against the state champions of Illinois and Indiana. By the tournament’s end, Columbia finished tied for 7th out of 34 teams in the High School Boys division.
In May they made their unprecedented 18th appearance at the Amherst Invitational, and 15th straight appearance since 2000. Later that month at the High School Northeastern Regional Championships in Portland, Maine, they won a tough game against John Jay High School from New York, battling and beating not only their opponent, but Mother Nature, as the game was played in wind, rain and hail.
In the New Jersey High School State Championship tournament, Columbia won big against Manalapan, and then gave Westfield all they could handle. Even though the squad fell to the eventual state champion Blue Devils in the semifinals, they still had a fantastic run in this year’s tournament.
Coach Haim also stated that the courage the squad showed was quite impressive. It was extremely hard at times to stare down a 13 year championship streak and not become intimidated. But no player on the team gave up, and that’s all that he could have asked for as a coach.