Today the Toronto Ultimate Club is one of the largest Ultimate clubs in the world, with thousands of players and hundreds of teams participating every season and on most days of the week, on various fields (indoor and outdoor) throughout the year. We are a not-for-profit organization that was officially incorporated in 1995. The Club is comprised of 2 full time managers, a strong Board of Directors who represent the membership, and over 100 volunteers who make the TUC successful.
It wasn't that long ago that this professionally-run organization was nothing more than a couple of guys throwing the disc around at Kew Beach in south east Toronto. So how the heck did we get here?!? Below is a brief history of our Club and the major milestones in it's evolution. In 2010, we celebrated our 30th Anniversary and unveiled the documentary film, 30 Years in 30 Minutes, which traces our history.
Not far removed from the invention of the game in the late 1960's, several Americans came to Toronto in the early 1970's and began introducing disc sports to Torontonians. Ken Westerfield and his friend Jim Kenner (the founder of Discraft) ran the Canadian Frisbee Championships (GUTS, Distance) in the early 70's at the CNE and then later on Toronto Island. From these championships and the presence of its professional frisbee players (Ken, Jim, and Bob Blakely of Irwin Toy) Toronto became the hub of frisbee activity in Canada. But it was not until the late 1970's that Ken discovered 'Utimate' specifically and introduced it north of the 49th parellel. Up until then, people played all types of frisbee sports including disc golf, freestyle, GUTS, double disc court, maximum time aloft, and others. Ultimate was originally just one option out of many and no more important than any other.
As Ken Westerfield lived in the Beaches in south east Toronto, this is where he would set up shop, taking his frisbees down to the beach and playing with whomever wanted to join him. Four of the original Utimate players, Ken, Jim Lim, Stuart Godfrey, and Patrick Chartrand, tried playing a 2-on-2 game of Ultimate frisbee one afternoon with Ken outlining the rules. For this group it became a regular thing and the group began to grow.
Christopher Lowcock, introduced to disc sports by his brother Les, became part of this group that would play a pickup game at Kew Beach every Wednesday evening in the summer time. Chris, Ken and the others would recruit more people as they passed by along the boardwalk, and the original 2-on-2 would evolve into 2 full teams. These were the very first Utimate Frisbee games in the city of Toronto and the beginnings of the Toronto Ultimate League (Club).
Ken and Chris officially started the Toronto Ultimate league shortly thereafter and began to schedule a few fixed games with the original 4 teams: The Beaches team, a team from the west end, a north Toronto team, and the Island Worms from Toronto Island. From these groups came original team names such as No No's, Cunning Runts, Dante's Inferno, Beaver Country, Big Dogs, and of course Beaches. After attending the 1984 World Ultimate Championships in Lauzerne, Switzerland with Alex Hughes and seeing fields filled with thousands of Ultimate players, Chris was convinced that they could create the same atmosphere in Toronto.
In the mid 1980's Chris acquired a permit for Rosehill Reservoir near Yonge & St. Clair and this became a central meeting place on Wednesday nights and the home of the Toronto Ultimate League. Four teams morphed into 6 teams, then 8, then 10. The game of Ultimate was catching on in the city.
The Changing of the Guard
From 1990 to 1991 the league jumped from 12 to 20 teams, a significant jump. The TUC Finals at Rosehill were featured on Rogers TV in 1990 and at this time with far fewer channels to watch, received a lot of attention. Also at the same time Mike Solway and Geoff Taber dragged a bunch of their football friends over to this new sport of Ultimate and formed the infamous team 'Wild Thing'. Wild Thing took the league by storm and morphed into various other teams like Synergy and Ultimate High. The league became bigger and more competitive over night.
At the same time, Chris Lowcock stepped down in his role as leader of the TUL and focused his efforts on organizing the 1991 World Ultimate Championships that he had brought to Toronto. Mike and Geoff assumed leadership of the league and made several key changes. They created a weekend 'playoffs' for summer league that culminated in September and they divided the league into 'A' and 'B' divisions (the league would subsequently add a 'C' division on particular weeknights as it continued to grow). Both the volume and calibre of play increased as teams began forming out of nowhere. The premiere issue of the 'Pie Plate' magazine was issued in the spring of 1992.
The league had spread to a second weeknight (Mondays) and games were now being played on other field locations such as Riverdale and Sir Winston Churchill Park. A new crop of volunteer came to the fore, with Mark LeBlanc serving as President and leaders like Harry Burkman, John Harris, Carolyn Meacher and Robin Coster working frantically to keep pace with the exponential growth. Team sizes were almost doubling every year over a span of 3 to 4 years. With this continued growth came the need for structure and accountability. In 1995 Robin and Harry flexed their legal muscle and officially incorporated the Toronto Ultimate Club. The organization was legitimized as a not-for-profit entity, with audited financial statements and a functioning Executive and Board of Directors. This was a major stepping stone in making the Club professional and organized. At the same time Mark and Phil Sewell created a new logo for the Club which was proudly displayed on discs and TUC communications.
The late 1990's - The Gender Debate
In 1996 & 1997 new leaders Dan Berman and Derek Sigurdson took the reigns. Instantly the debate of the 4:3 gender ratio became THE hot topic amongst the membership. A growing faction of TUC members were pushing for a 4:3 male:female ratio on the field of play, versus the existing 5:2 ratio that existed in league. Successful ventures in tournaments and a few other leagues had awakened players to the concept of 4:3 and it's opportunity to prevent a more level playing field for female players. Dan and Mark Evans created the Gender Blender Tournament with a 4:3 ratio in mind and this tournament became extremely popular. Joanne Gallagher and Caroyln Grovers had formed a petition to advocate the 4:3 ratio in league play. It all culminated at a membership meeting at the Morrissey Pub in 1996. Half of the room wanted the ratio to remain 5:2 and half wanted 4:3. Those arguing against the change were concerned that their men would lose playing time, and furthermore there did not appear to be enough women available to make it viable. Those in favour wanted a game that was more impactful for women and were convinced that they could recruit more women. Monica Kerr-Coster led a group of volunteers who recruited women throughout the city and held a clinic for 93 women, many of them competely new to Ultimate. The end result was an agreement to switch TUC leagues to a 4:3 ratio, with the caveat that captains could elect to play 5:2. This was a major milestone for TUC and other leagues nation wide.
Over the last few years of the 1990's Derek and Dan continued to juggle club duties while John Harris scoured the city for available greenspace. The Club had jumped from 73 summer teams in 1997 to 122 teams in 1999. The demand for more Utimate was insatiable. And so in 1997 the first TUC Indoor Ultimate Leagues were introduced at the Coffee Time Centre in Vaughan. Visit our History of Indoor page for more details on TUC Indoor Ultimate.
The beginning of the new millennium signaled further change for the Club. With Tony Broderick and then Leigh Kivenko serving as TUC President, the Toronto Ultimate Club officially went virtual. Brian Parkinson created the website, www.tuc.org and it was an instant success. John 'Wheels' Hurlbut took the reins from Brian and worked further on the site, implementing an online registration service for the membership. With the website in motion and the Club now boasting over 2000 members, it became clear that hired help was needed to aid the volunteers who were struggling to stay afloat. Initially a post-grad named Jan Oliver was hired to take the reins, but Jan decided to move onwards and longtime volunteer John Harris stepped into the role of TUC General Manager. John was TUC GM for two years and he continued to advocate increased ultimate participation while at the same time cleaning up the books and finding more fields. Also, John was part of the leadership group that implemented the TUC Fields Fund.
By the end of 2003 John decided to step down and the Club had over 200 teams playing on 4 nights in the summer. Chris Lowcock rejoined the Club as the new General Manager and brought his marketing savvy with him. TUC members were outfitted with branded game shirts, some sponsors joined the fray, and indoor leagues continued to grow. The Club reached 3000 members in 2004. With help from Thomas Meyer, Chris launched the Toronto Juniors Utimate League. In 2005 another paid manager was added to the team as both Chris and his volunteers could not achieve all of their goals. Lindsay Bolton was named the Club's first Membership Service Coordinator and was succeeded soon thereafter by Ian Brooks. Ian would hold the position throughout the remainder of the decade and remain a fixture (and legendary player) of TUC leagues.
2006 - 2009
At the end of 2005 Chris decided to step down as TUC GM and pursue his goals of Ultimate representation at the provincial level. Jason Robinson was selected to take on the role and continue to advance the Club. The TUC would evolve considerably over the next few years, establishing a Strategic Plan, dissolving its Executive Committee (which had essentially been replaced by the GM and MSC), adding policies, and expanding its volunteer base. Presidents Derek Baxter and Andrew Hunter pushed the charge. Club membership did dip slightly from 2005-2006 (in part to an aging population), but in 2007 some new membership offerings and initiatives helped boost those numbers back up. In 2008 the Club membership catapulted to over 3300 members. Through the late 2000's TUC continued to increase its communications, largely through it's website. Super volunteer Greg Schmidt joined the team as Webmaster and over the next years would devote hundreds of hours into the development and advancement of the TUC website. In 2007 the Club also began hiring a summer student to coordinate its tournaments.
From 2007-2009 several new facilities were sprouting up around the city and the TUC was active in obtaining space on many of these fields. Fall (both indoor and outdoor) and Winter Leagues doubled over the span of a few years. Spring League evolved from a relatively informal session to formal weeknight offerings. TUC considerably increased its inventory of quality playing fields with central Toronto, and the Club had now truly become a year-round organization. Core programs like clinics, juniors, and touring were all on the rise alongside league participation as the Club continued to grow and gain public consciousness.
2010 - 2014
In 2010 the TUC celebrated its 30th Anniversary. The celebration culminated with an outdoor event featuring 'Founders' versus 'Future Stars' and an indoor gala event that was absolutely epic. For more details visit our 30 years page. The Club released a documentary video, 30 Years in 30 Minutes, produced by another amazing volunteer Otto Chung. We also hosted our inaugural Hall of Fame ceremony where 10 amazing individuals were inducted into the TUC Hall of Fame. 2010 was all about celebrating our success and the history of Ultimate in Toronto, and the Club continued to flourish with record team numbers and Junior participants. The TUC management structure was changed and two new positions materialized: Membership Communications & Development Manager, and Administration & Events Coordinator.
Our new organizational structure resulted in overall improvements across the board. Leagues and events were running as smoothly as ever, complemented by continued advancements on our league management system (which shifted from Leaguerunner to Zuluru). We entered the social media world on Facebook and Twitter which provided a new level of communication with our members and the general public. Initiated in 2010, we were back on Rogers TV and featuring our Wednesday Competitive Finals and All-Star Challenge Finals. In 2012 we celebrated our second Hall of Fame induction class. Juniors leagues were expanded regionally and grew to over 200 participants in 2012 (and more than 300 in 2013). And the addition of new turf fields continued over the next few years. In particular, TUC achieved arguably its greatest success by striking a field partnership which utilized the Field Fund and would reshape the future of TUC leagues. On July 24, 2012 and after two years of relationship-building and negotiations, the Club announced its partnership with Razor Management Inc. (RMI) on the Monarch Park Stadium project. The project was a $4 million venture that converted the decrepit sports field at Monarch Park CI into a premier sport facility with turf, track, lighting and dome. TUC provided a capital investment of $700,000 via the Field Fund that would be repaid over 6 years, with a strong interest rate attached. In November of 2012 the new facility was unveiled and TUC members have been reaping the rewards since. A clubhouse facility next to the stadium was added next (TUC loaned a further $190,000 to be repaid by July 2016) and this included a new office for the TUC! The office move was completed in December 2013. Needless to say, the accessibility to members and the view from the office windows improved!
TUC also completed its second Strategic Plan at the end of 2011 after extensive review of the previous 5-year plan and several consultations with the TUC membership. While the focus in the past was on rebuilding our participation numbers, the philosophy for this Plan changed: it was all about the membership experience and outlining the steps TUC could take to improve its Club membership. The addition of new leagues like the TUC Parity League (starting in 2013) and initiatives like 'Pick It Up!' were shining examples of the Plan's impact. Our membership surpassed 3400 members for the first time. We partnered with the new professional Ultimate team the Toronto Rush. Oh, and then we also hosted this little event in July 2013...
In the Fall of 2011 the TUC bid to host the 2013 World Under-23 Ultimate Championships and the bid was formally accepted in the Winter of 2012. Over the next 18 months a great deal of preparation and communications took place which culminated in 38 teams, representing 17 nations, converging at York University in Toronto. The Championships were a monumental success and have served as a measuring stick for all world events since, not to mention establishing a huge legacy for the Club.
In 2013 the TUC also changed its logo, which as mentioned above was originally created in the mid-1990's. The new logo was part of a revised branding for the Club, which included a new website design in 2014. This definitely improved the membership experience! Moving into 2014 the Club underwent another organizational shift, with the GM position changing to the Executive Director and the MDCM position changing to the Manager Member Services. A part-time bookkeeper was also hired. Longtime staff member Ian Brooks stepped down after 10+ years of service to the Club. Jason Robinson remained as Executive Director and was joined by Chris Loat. Moving forward they would continue to shape the TUC.
As we continue to make history, we will update this page. Stay tuned.