What makes Flywheel, one of 30 club sports at Michigan, different? 

On the surface, this team of women and nonbinary students playing ultimate Frisbee — a sport that has been gaining popularity in recent years — doesn’t seem any different than the other club teams. 

LSA freshman Winnie Zeng, center, high fives Engineering senior Lauren Moore, left, while Engineering senior and team captain Charlie Andreasen, right, laughs. Sydney Hastings-Wilkins/Daily. Buy this photo.

Right: Charlie Andreasen, Engineering senior and team captain, explains a drill to potential members during an open practice. Left: LSA senior Jade Turner reaches out for a disk during open practices. Sydney Hastings-Wilkins/Daily. Buy this photo.

Ultimate Frisbee combines elements of football, soccer and basketball into one sport. Points are scored in end zones, players cannot run with the disk and the majority of contact involves players and the ground. Teams of seven face off until one reaches the game total, which is usually 15 points. Players are also expected to self-referee, resolving disputes together between teams. 

Flywheel was founded in 1989 on Michigan’s campus, after a men’s ultimate team was already established. It was initially created under the name Wanda’s Binge. Frisbee teams are known for having ridiculous names, and the explanation for this one was simply because the team loved eating on the sidelines after games. The name was eventually changed to Flywheel in 1998.

Michigan students line up to do warm-ups together during open practices. Sydney Hastings-Wilkins/Daily. Buy this photo.
Engineering senior Abby Guimond waits in line to particpate in a drill during open practice. Sydney Hastings-Wilkins/Daily. Buy this photo.

When you take a closer look at the team, what you find is a tight-knit group of athletes dedicated to uplifting each other and competing at a high level all while learning the ropes of a sport that most have never played before in their lives. 

Eighty percent of those who join Flywheel — the more competitive team — or BFly — the less competitive team — have never played ultimate competitively before stepping foot onto Elbel Field for an open practice. Despite this, Flywheel is extremely successful; it is the best collegiate club ultimate team in Michigan and sits toward the top of the Eastern Great Lakes region’s rankings. 

Left: LSA senior Jade Turner, right, explains a method of throwing the disk to LSA freshman Erica Clarke, left, during open practice. Right: LSA senior and team captain Katrina McGuire explains a new drill to potential members during an open practice. Sydney Hastings-Wilkins/Daily. Buy this photo.

Providing the opportunity for young women and gender nonconforming people to join a team sport without the pressure of intense tryouts or years of experience makes Flywheel and BFly more accessible to all. 

“We do a lot of focus on building community as the basis of building our sport,” LSA senior and team captain Katrina McGuire said. “We want people to show up because they want to be here and then we grow as a team because of that. A lot of what we do is based on building community and creating shared goals to drive us throughout the year.”

Even for the seasoned ultimate players, this team provides a new experience. High school ultimate teams are frequently co-ed, where young women are few and far between. Non-co-ed teams like Flywheel remove the idea that women are present as a requirement, but instead see them as an asset to the team. All women and nonbinary teams create new dynamics, remove gendered power structures and allow the players to compete without judgment.  

“You get a lot of shared joy for the exposure to sports in an environment that isn’t engineered for who people have historically been seen as athletes,” McGuire said. “There’s a lot of interest and effort put into caring about who people are as individuals and what that makes them as a player out on the field, and that isn’t just how athletic someone is, how tall, how fast, how strong someone is. It’s what they can contribute to the community as an individual.” 

LSA junior Anna Ceballos, left, high-fives teammate LSA junior CJ Flory. Sydney Hastings-Wilkins/Daily. Buy this photo.

Above all, the community this team creates, built from individuals who bring a variety of experience, is what sets it apart. No matter the reason someone joins — whether they want to continue a high school hobby, are dragged along by a friend, or show up after years of pressure from an urging partner — the community is why people stay. 

“My girlfriend plays ultimate and she’s been trying to get me to start playing ultimate for two years,” LSA junior Isabel Peress said. 

“I knew by my senior year of high school that I wanted to play in college, because it’s a wonderful sport and community. Coming here, when I came to the open practices and tryouts, I knew I wanted to join 100% – the people are amazing,” said LSA freshman Erica Clarke. 

Left: Nursing senior Juliet Faris laughs alongside teammates during open practice. Right: Engineering junior Emma Remien, center, stretches to warm up alongside potential future teammates at open practice. Sydney Hastings-Wilkins/Daily. Buy this photo.

Other club teams tend to be more competitive and selective. It can be especially hard to feel a sense of belonging on campus as a former student-athlete due to the competitive nature of club sports at the University. LSA junior Isabel Peress tried out for club soccer before joining Flywheel. 

“There were like 60 people trying out for four spots,” Peress said. “(At Flywheel) it’s very inclusive and nobody gets cut, everyone is on the team, everyone has a spot. It’s a very cohesive unit.”

While Peress had never played on a competitive ultimate team before, she made the A team, where, with the help of captains, teammates and coaches, she learned the sport. Skill can be learned and Flywheel’s community fosters that growth. 

“A really special thing about frisbee and Flywheel is that so few people start playing before they come, so it really is that level of ‘No one has any idea what they’re doing.’ We all get to figure it out together,” nursing senior Juliet Faris said.

Left: Engineering Ph.D. candidate and team captain Charlie Andreasen explains a play in between scrimmages during Wolverine Warmup. Right: Disks are left around the grass while players warm up during open practices. Sydney Hastings-Wilkins/Daily. Buy this photo.

Flywheel creates a space where everyone, no matter their skill level, is accepted. This is rare for a club sport team at a competitive school. 

“It just comes back down to the people. Frisbee is a sport where the sideline presence is just as important, if not more important, than actually playing on the field,” said Kinesiology sophomore Rebecca Zhang. “Every time you do something cool, your teammates are cheering for you. Every time you make a small mistake your teammates are lifting you up. It’s really just a massive community right here.”

Left: Teammates have fun on the sidelines, pretending to be airplanes as a celebration during Wolverine Warmup. Right: Nursing senior Juliet Faris throws a disk while playing in Flywheel’s first tournament of the Fall season, Wolverine Warmup. Sydney Hastings-Wilkins/Daily. Buy this photo.

On Flywheel, young women and nonbinary people become a part of something that lifts them up and teaches them lessons for life. Together they create a fascinating culture, where competition and winning is important, but where silliness and fun hats are encouraged.  

“Ultimate is unique in that it is an opportunity to be competitive and see what the best version of yourself you can produce is, but a lot of that comes from how you work as a team,” McGuire said. “You only get so far on your own, (so) you have to get somewhere with people. I think a lot of learning how to work as a group and with other people is very vital to the sport, and then very transferable to life.”

“The buy-in is really big. People care a lot and really want to get better,” Engineering Ph.D. candidate and team captain Charlie Andreasen said. “We just had this throwing challenge, and everyone was out there throwing all the time. We’re sending out optional lifting workouts and everyone’s doing that stuff. Everybody is just working really hard to get better, and I think part of that is having the sense of community — we’re all doing it for each other.”

Engineering Ph.D. candidate and team captain Charlie Andreasen speaks to potential members during an open practice. Sydney Hastings-Wilkins/Daily. Buy this photo.

They even welcomed me — a stranger who wanted to photograph them — with open arms. We connected, despite me only being present for a fraction of their season. Watching them interact as a team during practices and games made me smile — their strong bonds clearly showing through every joke and drill. My experience is simply an example of what it’s like to not only join a team, but become part of a family. 

“[Flywheel has] taught me how to be a better teammate, and more importantly, a better friend,” Zhang said. “I have people who reach out to me all the time. Even if I don’t respond, they’ll double text me, triple text me with no shame. I know if I ever need anything, I have people to turn to, and that’s something I’ve picked up too while being here.”

Engineering Ph.D. candidate and team captain Charlie Andreasen high fives teammates at Flywheel’s first tournament, Wolverine Warmup. Sydney Hastings-Wilkins/Daily. Buy this photo.

Assistant Photo Editor Sydney Hastings-Wilkins can be reached at sydneyhw@umich.edu.

Senior Multimedia Editor Emma Mati can be reached at emati@umich.edu.