Valerio Iani started playing ultimate on a rainy night sometime in the mid 90s. He spent his first university practice getting his street clothes as muddy as possible. While layouts in the mud might have drawn him into the sport, he credits the less tangible for remaining with the sport. “I also loved the team sport dynamics, the crazy tournaments, and the unconventional community.”
After university and by then fully infected with the ultimate bug, Iani moved to Spain where he began combining his passion for the sport with education. He cut his teeth on public and institutional outreach for ultimate before returning to Italy where he developed a two year ultimate program for twelve schools. Eventually he became Youth Outreach Coordinator for the Italian Federation.
During his time with Italian Federation, an idea to introduce Ultimate to PE teachers began percolating, and when he moved to the United States, with the assistance of the coaches of Westfield and Columbia High Schools, he began to develop a strategy in earnest. In 2010, with the help of a USAU grant, Iani created Gym Class Ultimate Frisbee (GCUF), an instructional website for PE teachers, and the Lot Ultimate Academy, an outreach program for the Tri-State area, providing expert advice on Ultimate for schools, camps, and clubs.
GCUF is designed to help PE instructors introduce ultimate to their classes. “I think teachers are very busy with their daily responsibilities and curriculum. There is also a lack of specific resources for them, which is what our site is attempting to address,” says Iani. The website provides teachers with a five lesson overview of ultimate which is “not only an introduction to the sport but also a complete curriculum for scholastic use.” There are videos, detailed explanations of nuances in the game, and special emphasis on self-officiating and spirit.
It is the last part that Iani feels makes ultimate especially suited for school curriculum. “Ultimate brings sportsmanship to another level where we work against self-interest and seek to do the right thing instead of taking advantage of the situation.” While he acknowledges self-officiating is not something many kids are used to, the lessons kids walk away with have a lasting impact beyond the ultimate field.
Although Iani has left the Tri-States for San Francisco, he remains an active contributor to youth ultimate, juggling the responsibilities of Youth Outreach director for the Bay Area Disc Association, executive director of the Lot Academy, and GCUF project director. It’s an uphill battle to get PE teachers to think beyond the traditional sports, but with ultimate’s minimal equipment requirements and the upside of getting kids to learn teamwork, inclusiveness, and integrity while exercising, it has great potential.
Iani jokes that his program “sounds like it was designed by stuffy pedagogues as a strictly theoretical exercise, but in reality it works and is a lot of fun!”