Aki Kurose’s story isn’t unheard of. A South Seattle middle school, in a “bad” neighborhood”, at 81%, it has the highest percentage of students eligible for free or reduced lunch in Seattle. It also boasts a multicultural student body of 4% white, 49% African-American, 32% Asian, 10% Hispanic, 1% American Indian, and 3% Pacific Islander. At times the community underestimates the students of Aki Kurose, but Coach and athletics teacher Mike Kaiser is working to change that perception. “For whatever reason Aki Kurose has a negative reputation,” said Kaiser. “People think our students are bad kids who have lazy families. They think our students just fight and steal and have no desire when it comes to higher education.”
For the players on the Ultimate team, some of this negativity has changed. “Taking our ultimate teams around the city has helped people realize that our kids are amazing,” says Kaiser. Playing at other schools, Mike has gotten numerous compliments from parents on how nice the Aki Kurose Ultimate players are. “They are always willing to help and if nothing else they always have a smile on their face,” said Kaiser. Many prominent ultimate players in Seattle think so as well. Some players from Sockeye and Riot have volunteered to help get the players cleats for the season and take them to games in the summer. Coaches from other schools such as Sam Terry and Shannon O’Malley now offer educational clinics for the students.
With the help of some amazing donors from the community the Aki Kurose team was able to participate in the tournament in Santa Monica, Leiout. As part of this experience, they traveled together via plane to California. While there they toured UCLA, went to Disneyland and were able to walk along Hermosa Beach. “It was an amazing experience and will create memories and experiences that will last a lifetime,” said Kaiser.
Many of us think of Ultimate as a physical endeavor, but for some of the students on Aki Kurose’s team, Ultimate has helped them academically. Two students who were struggling with attendance at the beginning of the year now have over 95% attendance rates thanks to Mike. “we put them on a contract. Basically [I said] if you want to play in the games you need to be at school,” said Kaiser.
Every ultimate player has felt the sense of family that one can get from being part of a team. For the students who play ultimate at Aki Kurose Mike fosters this sense of family on a daily basis. Mike is accomplishing this by creating one of the best ‘ultimate experiences’ around. “To me, ‘best’ means that we have a lot of kids turn out regardless of ability. I’m not so concerned about winning or losing as long as the kids have fun, treat each other with respect and build a family type atmosphere,” says Kaiser. The team is a great outlet for everyone. Some of the players are new to Aki Kurose and join to make friends. “There is a spot for everyone on our team,” said Kaiser, “Unless they can’t throw a forehand, then we prefer they go to Mercer,” he said jokingly.
As a family the Aki Kurose team does other things together besides playing ultimate. Last year the Aki Kurose team participated in Five Ultimate’s scavenger hunt. “The kids said to me, its okay that we probably aren’t going to win, because the experience was so fun,” said Kaiser. They won $2,000 worth of gear which got them all new uniforms.
“Some other fun activities we have done are a flash mob at a restaurant. Having our kids shadow boxing during a tournament to the Karate Kid song, playing Frisbee in the hallway and blaming others when we get in trouble, water fights and pranks. This is what makes our program by far the best thing going on at Aki Kurose,” said Kaiser.
It is blatantly obvious that Mike Kaiser spends a lot of his own time, money and effort to make an amazing experience and family for his students. However, he is not the only one that puts in effort. The students are also responsible for this experience.
The students play a tournament in the spring at Magnuson park. This tournament is between 4 or 5 teams. It takes the students two hours to get to the park. Starting at 9:30 am, the students must arrive at the school by 7:30am so that they can travel as a congregation to the event. “I’m always amazed how many kids will be at Aki at 7:30 with almost no help from their parents. I don’t think I could have done that when I was 12 or 14” says Mike. The Ultimate players at Aki Kurose, then, are a dedicated bunch of kids. They are kids who love the sport, but more importantly, love the family that has developed thanks to the sport that they love.
The Students of Aki Kurose are at times misunderstood, but Ultimate has given them a different medium to improve. It has helped some of them academically, it has given outsiders a new perspective of them, and has given them opportunities that they had not had before. As their Coach, Mike Kaiser has turned this team into a family. The players on Aki Kuroses’ ultimate team do more than play the sport, they play, learn and grow together as a family. While ultimate is their game, in reality, ultimate is just the activity that has brought them together.