Unlike traditional, globally recognized sports like soccer and tennis that have been around for over a century, Ultimate frisbee was behind on the timeline; the sport wasn’t proposed until the late ‘60s. The sport, for Paly alumni and Ultimate player Jasper Tom, is so much more than money, or even fame. After dabbling with the game on Palo Alto High School’s campus during his Tutorial periods with classmates in the fall of 2012, Tom, now attending Carnegie Mellon University, recently qualified to represent the United States in the U-24 Ultimate Frisbee World Championships.
When Tom started playing Ultimate frisbee, he said it was a recreational activity he enjoyed with friends and family. His love of the game soon escalated, though, when some of his friends formed a team, coached by history and psychology teacher Chris Farina.
“My brother coerced me into going to a Paly Ultimate frisbee practice my sophomore year. Then, my junior year, more of my friends outside of Ultimate started playing, and we would often play during Tutorial. Casual running around in circles evolved into a cobbled-together team.”
Jasper Tom, Paly Alumni
After graduating, Tom continued playing Ultimate frisbee at a national level, joining a semi-professional team in Pittsburg called Temper Frisbee. The club allows Tom to play Ultimate frisbee year round, and Tom said everyone on the national team plays on their respective college teams.
Although Ultimate is not considered a varsity sport for any college in the U.S. yet, Tom said many of his teammates put in the same amount of work as varsity players do. This includes working out to make them stronger and more conditioned athletes.
“I haven’t played a different sport in college, but my friends who have played varsity tennis or club baseball at CMU definitely put in training hours outside of practice in the gym,” Tom said. “To be frank, many people who play Ultimate frisbee are not massively built individuals. Conditioning is also important, with high intensity interval training (HIIT) being prioritized over pure cardio.”
According to Farina, having a student and former player succeed on a national level is exciting from a coach’s perspective. Since Tom only started playing in high school, Farina said he had the opportunity to introduce the game to Tom and then help him learn the basic skills.
“There are always a lot of players who have the potential to excel,” Farina said. “It’s a question of who has the interest in continuing to play throughout college and beyond, coupled with who has the motivation to continue to work to improve their game. Jasper has clearly done well on both counts.”
Tom’s unique skill set, combined with his strong work ethic, has allowed him to constantly improve according to Farina
“He has a remarkably balanced performance, quite rare for a college player,” Farina said. “In terms of talent, there were a lot of players on that team who had a lot of potential talent. Jasper, in particular, was very coachable, and over the time I coached him I watched him learn to see the field in a much more sophisticated manner.”
Tom’s skill set off the field, however, is how he successfully represents how a Ultimate player should act. His sportsmanship and his willingness to help others on and off the field are what really set him apart from others Farina said.
“Most importantly, however, is that he is a spirited player. He doesn’t take advantage of the rules. He doesn’t play unnecessarily physically. He doesn’t disrespect his opponents, and he is an inspiration to his teammates. This is especially important in Ultimate frisbee as it’s a self-officiated sport governed by what’s called the spirit of the game.”
Christopher Farina, Paly teacher
Farina recalls the Paly team like it was last year, especially everyone’s commitment to playing on weekends.
“The Ultimate frisbee team from when Jasper was playing was a small but very committed group,” Farina said. “We had multiple practices each week, and the team was committed to going to tournaments throughout the Bay all spring long, culminating in a third place finish at the California State Championships.”
Sid Grover was also on the 2013 team that Tom and Farina were part of. He said he enjoyed staying in shape while having a great time playing with other kids from school.
“It was a lot of fun,” Grover said. “I was friends with most of the people already, and it started off as just a way to hang out after school and play on the soccer field, but it gradually morphed into something more formal.”
But Grover did not continue on a collegiate level like Tom.
“I don’t think anyone did it for any reason other than to have fun (or stay in shape),” Tom said. “Many of the better players went on to play in college, but the more casual players like me didn’t.”
Although Tom’s high school team might not have won as often as some of the other teams he has played for, he said his love for Ultimate frisbee was founded on the Paly campus and that is something he will not forget.
“We weren’t the most winning team I’ve been a part of, but playing at Paly got me hooked on ultimate,” Tom said.
Farina said he admires not only Tom’s playing style, but also his professionalism in such a competitive environment.
“To be a great player and to do so while embodying the values we want to see in an athlete and in a role model is, without a doubt, the most exciting thing about Jasper,” Farina said. “It’ll be a lot of fun to watch him and the rest of Team USA compete in Germany, and a good reminder of what we want our sport to look like.”