Sarah Jacobsohn: The 2018 Ultimate Junior Female Athlete of the Year Photo by Nkolakovic and Jon Hayduk Photography.

By BERNIE BELLAN
Eighteen-year-old Sarah Jacobsohn was recently announced as the Ultimate Canada Junior Athlete of the Year. Her ascent to the top of what has become a hugely popular sport - not only in Canada, but many other countries around the world as well, has occurred in a relatively short period of time.

 

 

The daughter of Dr. Eric and Daniela Jacobsohn and a Grade 12 student at Gray Academy, Sarah says that growing up she was a devoted soccer player, but when her sister’s boyfriend introduced her to Ultimate when she was 12 - only six years ago, she was hooked.

A few years ago I wrote about the success that two other Gray Academy grads have had playing Ultimate: brothers Gil and Oren Binnun. In 2014 I wrote about Gil having been on the Canadian national Ultimate under-18 team which, at the time, had just won the gold medal in the world championships played that summer in  Italy. Gil’s younger brother Oren had himself been a member of Israel’s Ultimate team, which finished 8th in the same tournament that year - the highest it had ever placed to that point.

In a 2012 article written by Gil Binnun himself for our paper - at a time when he had just been playing Ultimate for only one year, but wanted to introduce our readers to the sport, he elaborated on the rules of the game, writing: “The game is played with seven players on either side. The sport has no referees and plays and points are based on all around spirit and good sportsmanship.
“The goal of the game is to pass the disc up the field in order to score a point in the end zone. (The thrower is only allowed ten seconds before having to unleash a frisbee throw. The eventual goal is to find a recipient of your pass in the other team’s end zone.) The game ends when one team has scored 15 points or the 1.5 hour time limit has expired.
“There are two positions in Ultimate Frisbee: the handlers and the cutters.” (When I spoke with Sarah herself she explained that the “handlers” play mainly in the backfield, trying to pass the frisbee up the field to the cutters, who do the scoring. If you want to watch a sample of Ultimate at its highest level, we still have a video on our website taken from Canada’s gold medal-winning game in 2014. Just go to our website and enter the words “ultimate frisbee” under “search archives”.)

So, it turns out that Sarah Jacobsohn is continuing in a tradition first set by two older Gray Academy students who also began playing the sport when they attended Gray Academy. As a matter of fact, Sarah says that she plays in a recreational league indoors with both Oren and Gil during the winter.
Having started playing Ultimate when she was in Grade 6 at Gray Academy, it wasn’t long before Sarah was accepted on to the provincial under -18 Ultimate team - when she was only 14. Now about to graduate from Gray Academy, Sarah says she is one of only six girls in her class (out of 27 students altogether) - and the only one interested in sports.
The evening that I spoke to her - and, believe me, trying to arrange a time when we could talk wasn’t easy - Sarah is constantly on the go - she was returning home from a basketball practice with her Gray Academy team and spoke while she was being driven home. Since she mentioned she was playing basketball I asked her whether she’s particularly tall. She said she was 5’ 9” which, I suppose, is above average - and quite a bit taller than the average female Gray Academy high school student. Yet, when I asked Sarah whether she’s serious about basketball as well, she laughed, saying she plays only for fun.

I asked her how much training is required at the level of Ultimate at which she is playing? Sarah answered, “There’s a lot of conditioning required - a lot of running, a lot of sprinting, a lot of change of pace. You’re on the field for a long time. You’re constantly sweating.”

When Sarah was only 15 she was accepted on to the national under-18 team. That same year the team won gold in the world championships, which were held in Poland. This past summer though, even though the world championships were held right here in Canada (in Waterloo), Sarah admits her “team got bombed…we lost in the semis to Columbia.”

Two years ago, when Sarah was only 16, she played for the under-20 national Ultimate team for the first time. Sarah was the youngest person ever named to the national under-20 team. Last year, as a matter of fact, Sarah was a finalist for Jewish Athlete of the Year. I asked her whether she would mind my nominating her again this year and she said she didn’t mind at all.
Although Ultimate may not be as well known as other traditional sports, such as basketball, soccer, volleyball, or hockey, its popularity has skyrocketed in recent years as part of an entirely new generation of young athletes has gravitated to non-traditional sports. Ultimate Canada estimates that close to 100,000 people play across the country. Sarah’s focus currently is on making the under-24 national team, she noted.

I asked Sarah what her future plans might hold. She said that she’s considering going to the University of Toronto, but she’s not sure yet. Her goal eventually is to study medicine, she said. Wherever she goes though, Sarah plans on continuing to play Ultimate.

I mentioned to her that Oren Binnun had played for Israel in the world championships in 2014 and I wondered whether Sarah would ever contemplate following in his footsteps. “They don’t have a women’s team yet,” she answered. “A couple of years ago they were trying to start one and they asked me whether I would play with them. I really wanted to but it didn’t end up working out. Hopefully within the next year they’ll have a female team - which would be really cool.”

Isn’t it interesting that Gray Academy has produced world-class athletes in a sport that is becoming hugely popular with so many under-30-year olds, yet receives almost no recognition in mainstream media? I wonder whether the success of first the Binnun brothers and now Sarah Jacobsohn will inspire other students from that school also to excel in a sport that could prove more rewarding than anyone might have dreamed just a few years ago. And no, I won’t end this with a pun on “ultimate” - that would be too easy.