Four years ago, Chicago put out their YCC team, a mixed team lead by the outstanding talents of Tim Fergus and a few other dedicated players who only had a few years of experience. The only division the team could compete in was the mixed division, and their ability was all over the board, with many girls never touching a disc before tryouts. Fast forward to today: Chicago has increased their high school programs from a few schools to the creation of 3 unique high school leagues in the spring and youth leagues throughout the seasons that allow kids to play year round. They produce one of the largest youth tournaments in the nation with the Chicago Invite and they boost a new thriving middle school program. Leading the pack in Chicago this season is Senior Tommy Gallagher from Algonquin, IL. Skyd met up with Tommy to learn more about him and his future goals as he sets sights on his last high school season and his future college ambitions.
Name: Thomas (Tommy) Gallagher
High School: Jacobs High School
Graduation Year: 2013
Preferred Position: D-Line Cutter
Years playing: 4
Tony Miocic: You started playing ultimate during your freshman year of High School, but you’re also a key player for your schools soccer team. How do you balance the two sports in your life?
Tommy Gallagher: Balancing the two sports was extremely difficult for me. I rarely allowed myself to skip any practices or games which meant many nights with back to back training sessions or weekends spent driving all over from one game to another. However, this balancing act turned out to be beneficial there is a lot of overlap in the skills required for either sport, so while I was conditioning for soccer, I was improving my fitness for my next ultimate tournament.
I understand you’ve captained many teams during your high school tenure. You’ve captained your freshman soccer team, JV soccer team, ultimate your junior and now senior year, and you just finished captaining the varsity soccer team this last fall. Leadership is a common thread here. How is captaining your soccer teams different than your ultimate teams?
To me, leadership is the ability to focus and motivate a group of people toward a common goal. When I first stepped into a leadership role with my high school’s ultimate team our primary focus was developing the team’s talent, especially players new to the game by drilling basic skills and teaching concepts. This meant much of my time was spent helping to explain and facilitate drills during our practices while being one of key players on the field. On the other hand, during my time captaining varsity soccer, much of the talent and know-how was already present. I was chosen because I was a respected member of the team, and while I may not always have performed like a star player I was able to help focus and motivate our team on the field and in training sessions. Overall, I would describe my role captaining my ultimate team as a “teacher” of sorts, helping players with their skills and knowledge of the game while in soccer I was more of a “motivator.”
You mentioned teaching concepts and skills to new players on your team but you’ve been a big factor in the development of middle school ultimate in Chicago, what types of things have you done with middle school programs? How has that impacted your own development?
Last year, my coach, co-captain and I were able to help jump-start a program at one of the middle schools that filters into Jacobs. We went over at several times during the winter and spring to run drills, help kids with their skills and teach them the game. I then had the pleasure of coaching them in the first tournament in program history where they won their division. Obviously, it was an absolute blast working with younger kids, especially when they believe you are a superstar athlete. Personally, teaching others important concepts of the game has also helped me in my own developmental because I am constantly contemplating the basics and how they can be applied to higher-level ultimate.
So you help new high school players, new middle school players, but you also had a chance to practice with Chicago Natives this summer playing against those at a higher level than you. What was that experience like?
It was an incredible experience and was easily the best training I could have asked for when I was preparing for last summer’s Youth Club Championship. Being exposed to the faster speed of play, emphasis and dominating physicality of club ultimate will certainly prove invaluable as I return to my High School team and eventually make the transition to college ultimate.
Looking forward to this season you mentioned avenging back-to-back losses in the state finals, how do you plan on achieving that goal?
Throughout my high school career I have fallen painfully short at the vital moment of tournaments. Finally this year I believe that we have the necessary components to not only make another finals run, but to also claim the title. We have a very strong core and some promising new additions in this year’s team and I will do everything in my power to lift that trophy come June.
You’re currently looking at Wisconsin-Madison, University of Illinois and University of Iowa as possible colleges, why these schools?
Going forward I hope to continue my ultimate career and all of these schools are established heavyweights in the College game. Ultimately, academics and finances will be the determining factors in my decision, but I would be honored to play at any one of these universities come College Nationals 2014.
Others on Tommy:
Luke Johnson, current USAU Centrals Youth Director and leader within Chicago Ultimate
Tony Miocic: You had a chance to mentor Dylan Freechild before coming out to Chicago, now that you’re here how has mentoring someone like Tommy been similar to Dylan?
Luke Johnson: First off, I miss coaching terribly. It was probably one of the top 3 most memorable and joyful periods in my life, when I was in Eugene and working with two middle school programs (Kennedy & Roosevelt) along with the two main high school teams (Churchill and South Eugene). Dylan is a great example of the talent that came through, but so much of the reason why was because of the great community of ultimate players that were there to help foster a culture of ‘good ultimate’. We were by no means perfect in our methodology or practical implementation, but there was a real sense of reinvestment and giving back that existed there in Eugene, that I see happening here now in Chicago. Where there once were just small pockets of players who played just because it made him or her feel good about him or herself, we now have players wanting others to experience and feel that. Tommy is a wonderful example of someone who has cared about his own game but never at the expense of someone else missing out. Like Dylan, Tommy has also pushed himself to play at the highest level he could, while still in HS. I remember the playing opportunities that Dylan took advantage of, before being at Oregon, with Rhino and even while still a high schooler learning from Mario O’Brien (now captain of Rhino but then just a player).
Eric Bultman, former teammate and current University of Illinois sophomore: Tommy is a very quick learner, he picked up the game in his first year and was a strong contributing member of the team by the end of it. Since then he had become one of the top players to come through the program and is a role model to the younger players. Playing with Tommy on the field I was always confident that he would make plays when he needed to and always play his best. There was always a sense of security looking down the line and seeing Tommy.
Former Chicago Machine Captain, Rhino and Madison Club Player and 2012 YCC Open Coach, Grant Zukowski:
Tommy’s development is coming along nicely, from his mental game, to this throws, to his defense he is showing consistency and focus. Tommy’s greatest strength is defending handlers and main cutters on the other team. He is an opportunistic defender that takes chances and lays out to D passes under and in the backfield. As a cutter, Tommy is tireless and moves laterally to get the disc on the break side. He is easy to coach and is competitive. Any program in the country would be lucky to get Tommy who will end up being a franchise player on whatever college team he chooses.
USAU Triple Crown, NexGen, MLU, or AUDL: USAU Triple Crown
Spike or No Spike: Spike
Favorite College Program: Hodags
Five, VC, Breakmark, Patagonia, other: Five
O line or D line: D line
Refs or Observers: Observers
Favorite Sideline Chant: Chi-Town, Shut Down
Classic Jersey or Sub Jersey: Classic
Best transition sport to ultimate: Soccer
Favorite College Player: Dylan Freechild
Favorite Club Player: Kurt Gibson
Favorite Pro Player: Jonathan “Goose” Helton
Feature photo by Alex Fraser – UltiPhotos.com