CUMBERLAND — Nick Plummer caught the flying disc, came to an abrupt halt and surveyed his options. He pivoted left, then right, switching his grip on the disc from closed to open wrist.
When a teammate sprang into the clear, Plummer flicked the disc and sent it floating over the clover-infused grassy infield of the Cumberland Fairgrounds racetrack.
“It’s a really fun sport,” Plummer said of ultimate frisbee, often shortened to ultimate because frisbee is a Wham-O trademark. “It can be as mellow as you want or as serious as you want.”
Plummer, a recent graduate of Greely High who will enroll at Syracuse University in the fall, had plenty of company. His game was one of the eight taking place inside the horse-racing track under threatening skies Tuesday night. On the same night, 12 more teams from the Portland Ultimate summer league were playing at South Portland’s Wainwright fields and four were under way at Falmouth’s Community Park.
When Plummer, as a freshman, flung his first competitive disc there were fewer than 10 high school teams. That number grew to 28 this spring, representing more than 450 boys and girls.
From that group, nearly 60 tried out for 31 spots on Rising Tide, the cream of the young crop, which will be whittled further to 14 boys and 12 girls. They will compete for the second year in a row at the Youth Club Championships in August in Blaine, Minn.
In Maine’s first appearance at the national tournament last summer, Rising Tide placed third in the U-19 co-ed category and three players from that team earned All-Freshman honors in college: Sarah Hemphill at Middlebury, Noah Backer at Michigan and Chloe Rowse at Colorado College.
Hemphill and Rowse are from Falmouth, Backer from Cape Elizabeth.
The growth in Maine of ultimate, both in popularity and in skill, caught the attention of the national governing body, USA Ultimate, which sent a representative to Portland earlier this month to check out the feasibility of Maine Ultimate — a nonprofit put together this winter — hosting the Northeastern high school championships next May. Regional tournaments are also held in the South, West and Central zones.
Kerry Hoey, executive director of the Maine Sports Commission, said the visit was promising. It included a duck boat tour, talks with potential hotels, a sampling of Greater Portland’s restaurant scene and a full Thursday night of ultimate at Wainwright that included some rain.
“That actually turned out to be good,” Hoey said, noting the ability of the fields to hold up well. “He could see that the facility and the venue are going to work out perfectly.”
Since expanding from two regional tournaments to four in 2011, USA Ultimate has held the Northeast Regional in Devens, Mass.
Andy Lee, director of marketing and communications for the Boulder, Colo.-based organization, said the winning bid is likely to be announced in late summer or early fall.
“I’ve never been to Northeasterns but I’ve heard they’re big,” Plummer said. “I hope we could host it.”
Last month Maine sent Fryeburg Academy — the 2012 state champion — and an all-star girls’ team to Devens for the high school regional tournament, where they competed against teams from Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. New Hampshire and Rhode Island have some active teams but do not yet hold a high school state championship. Massachusetts and New Jersey hold multiple divisions of their boys’ state tournaments.
“It was really interesting,” said Katrina Meserve, a rising senior at Falmouth High who took up the sport only this spring. “I just fell in love with (ultimate). It’s competitive but it’s also super chill when you want it to be. It’s not a super stressful sport.”
Meserve is a year-round volleyball player whose father used to play in the Portland Ultimate summer league, now into its third decade of existence.
Members of Rising Tide practice Sunday mornings, work on strength and flexibility at the Maine Academy of Gymnastics on Monday nights, play in the adult summer leagues on Tuesday and Thursday nights (following a one-hour team practice both nights) and play in the nascent youth league on Wednesday nights.
The team is randomly split each week to form two teams that play Tuesdays and Thursdays in the adult summer league.
“They’re great,” said Gretchen McCloy, whose New Gloucester Village Store team led 7-6 over a Rising Tide squad Tuesday night when lightning forced a premature end to a game normally played to 15. “And they’re so athletic. One of the guys on our team said, ‘I played in high school and I never learned how to throw a forehand or what the force was.’ These guys are so much more advanced, even at the high school level.”
The force is a defensive strategy in the seven-on-seven contest similar to overplaying one hand of a basketball dribbler, only the entire defensive team is in on the ploy. Players call their own fouls, so sportsmanship and respect are paramount.
McCloy brought her baby, Forrest, and husband, Sean McCloy, to the fairgrounds Tuesday night.
“I’ve been playing since before college,” said Sean McCloy, who has found pickup games around the globe. “It’s an instant community of friends who are like-minded people. I’ve found apartments through it. I’ve found part-time jobs through it. I’ve found people to date through ultimate.”
The members of Rising Tide hail from 12 high schools. A middle school league also sprung up this spring, and Maine Ultimate formed another development squad, Neap Tide, to compete in the U-16 age group in Minnesota this summer.
Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: