SOUTH PORTLAND – The teenagers were faster. They were taller and more athletic, too.

And yet they couldn’t match the experience of the adults who opposed them on a recent weeknight at the sprawling Wainwright Fields Athletic Complex. The Rising Tide, as the kids are known, lost 15-12 in ultimate Frisbee to a team sponsored by Gritty McDuff’s.

“Three of those players had been to nationals,” said Henry Babcock, a rising senior at Cape Elizabeth High and one of the mainstays of his school’s basketball team. “They’re so knowledgeable about where and when to cut, it’s really valuable to watch.”

Babcock is one of two dozen teenagers who are either in high school or about to start college who play for the Rising Tide, the only youth team in the adult Portland Ultimate summer league.

An all-star team that includes boys and girls from seven high schools, the Rising Tide are training to compete in the national youth club championships Aug. 11-12 in Blaine, Minn. Never before has Maine sent a youth Frisbee team to a national event.

“It’s a lot different than other sports,” said Babcock, who gave up soccer and baseball after his freshman year in favor of ultimate. “The emphasis is more on spirit and fun. It balances competition and sportsmanship, and I enjoyed how it combined a lot of sports into one.”

SPIRIT OF SPORTSMANSHIP

Neither officials nor elaborate gear is needed for ultimate. Shorts, T-shirts and cleats are about it, along with a healthy set of lungs and a zest for running. Coordination is a plus, along with the ability to throw a Frisbee from either side of your body, unfurling a backhand or flicking a forehand.

“It’s very cool to be able to call your own fouls,” said Chloe Rowse, a recent Waynflete graduate who has played for Falmouth and Merriconeag. “You might knock someone over, but you can call the foul on yourself and help them up, which isn’t really something you have in other sports.”

In a spring high school league, Merriconeag won the “Spirit of the Game” award four years in a row. Fryeburg Academy is the state champion, defeating Cape Elizabeth in the final. Falmouth won the 2011 title.

“It’s considerably lower level competition but it’s still fun,” said Gabe Currier, a recent Freeport High graduate bound for Pomona College in California. “It’s the way people get into the sport.”

A FAST-GROWING SPORT

Richard Young, who coaches Merriconeag and the Rising Tide, said ultimate is the fastest-growing team sport in the country, according to a 2009 report by the Sporting Goods Manufacturer Association. This spring the Maine High School Ultimate League expanded to 21 teams, stretching from Islesboro to Scarborough on the coast and with Fryeburg Academy, to the western border.

The Rising Tide practices four hours each Sunday, works out at the Maine Academy of Gymnastics on Monday nights, and plays in the adult summer league on Tuesday and Thursday nights.

“And on Wednesday and Friday,” said Sarah Hemphill, a recent Falmouth High graduate headed for Middlebury College in the fall, “they want us to exercise on our own.”

Monday night workouts are designed to increase flexibility and strength, and teach the fundamentals of falling safely.

“You know how you watch outfielders laying out for the ball on ‘SportsCenter?’ ” said Young, referring to televised highlights of great catches. “That happens all the time here.”

RULES OF THE GAME

Ultimate is a seven-on-seven game played with a plastic disc on a field 40 yards wide and 120 yards long. The object is to catch the disc in the opposing end zone. As with hockey or basketball, any turnover — usually an intercepted or dropped disc, but also a pass out of bounds or a player holding the disc for more than 10 seconds — results in an immediate change of possession and transition from offense to defense.

Once a pass is complete, the receiver must stop

Against a Gritty’s zone defense, the Rising Tide used a disciplined offensive strategy, using short, quick passes to each sideline and back to the middle, reminiscent of a basketball team methodically attempting to break a full-court press without worrying about a clock. Occasionally the disc would go to one of the four cutters spread across the field racing back, and then away from the three handlers in the rear.

“The deep game is certainly a big part of ultimate,” Babcock said. “But in this, it’s a lot more reliable to focus on the short 5- to 10-foot throws. We value possession of the disc and avoiding turnovers.”

Rising Tide took a 3-6 summer league record into July. Because the team will compete in the coed division in Minnesota, the seven players on the field consist of four boys and three girls; the adult club teams occasionally use a lineup with two women and five men.

Fifteen members of the Rising Tide are graduating seniors and most, if not all, plan to continue playing in college.

“It has a really good atmosphere,” Currier said. “A lot of the people tend to be in it for the fun as much as for the competition. It’s a fairly tactical game, too. There’s a lot of decision-making that goes into success. It’s not just the most athletic who win.”

Experience counts. Come August, the Rising Tide hope to have a lot more of it when they face teams their own age.

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

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Twitter: GlennJordanPPH