The BHS Ultimate Frisbee team playing at the USA Ultimate Western HS Championships on June 5, 2016. Photo: John King/

By Geoff Holton with Finn Collom and Elizabeth Wells

On the weekend of June 4th and 5th, Berkeley High School’s club Ultimate Frisbee team, the Berkeley High Coup, piled into vans and traveled to the USA Ultimate Western Regional Championships in Corvallis, Oregon. Conditions there were grueling — temperatures hovered near 100 degrees both afternoons – and tournament directors moved final matches on Saturday into the early evening in an unsuccessful attempt to beat the heat.

Led by a close-knit group of 14 seniors, and standout performances across the board, the Coup persevered, and went 4-2 on the weekend, making the finals against the defending champions, Roosevelt High School of Seattle. As they have all year, the Coup played with skill, spirit and speed in the final. They brought a deep roster, a balanced attack, great coaching and a positive, pumped-up sideline presence, but eventually fell to Roosevelt 13-10 in a physical, emotional match.

While it wasn’t the result the Coup were hoping for, their third finals appearance in four years cemented their place as one of the elite high school Ultimate Frisbee programs in the western US. Ultimate is a highly competitive sport that blends the athleticism and fast pace of basketball, the scale and endurance of soccer, and Spirit of the Game; a unique, self-officiated ethos that places the responsibility of sportsmanship squarely on the shoulders of players, not officials.

Jeremy Dolezal-Ng (Berkeley #9) in the Finals of Bracket Play at the USA Ultimate Western HS Championships. Sunday, June 5, 2016. Photo: John King/
The Ultimate Frisbee Team. Photo by Donald Wells
Roosevelt HS comes down with the disc amidst Berkeley HS defenders. Boys Championship game at the USA Ultimate Western HS Championships. Photo: John King/

Like the sport of Ultimate, the Coup is co-ed. Started by a small group of Berkeley High School students in 2007, the Coup has grown to include varsity (Red) and JV (Yellow) teams, as well as a freshman boys’ squad (the self-titled Lo Coup) in the 2015-2016 season. A volunteer staff that includes Jake Hartman-Kenzler and Kyle McBard, both BHS alums and players on the 2007 Coup team, coach the team. Along the way many volunteer coaches have guided the team, with founding coach Jordan Rose warranting a special tip of the hat.

With 90 student athletes now participating, the Coup has contributed to other successful youth teams. California Roll, a Bay Area girls team, was founded in 2014 by captains Chloe Carothers-Liske and Hannah Wells, both seniors this year, and four-year members of the Coup. California Roll entered this year’s Western’s women’s division as the eighth seed and finished the first day of competition by giving the #1 seed Nathan Hale High School a battle, taking an early lead before losing 7-5.

The Coup Red team regularly attends collegiate tournaments (they went 4-2 at this year’s UC Davis Ultimate Invitational, defeating among others UC Santa Cruz and Las Positas College), and several Coup alumni now anchor successful college clubs. The Coup have also won the USAU California State championships in three of the past four years (2013, 2014 and 2016). In 2014 and 2016 they took home the coveted first place cow skull at Spaghetti Westerns, a tournament that draws high school teams from throughout the west.

This past year, the Coup were led to a 38-6 record by those fourteen seniors. Three of them, Jeremy Dolezal-Ng (Cal Poly SLO), Colby Chuck (Oregon), and Chloe-Carothers-Liske (Whitman College), have been selected to represent the United States on U19 squads at the World Junior Ultimate Championships in Poland this summer.

It all adds up to an impressive record of success, but the Berkeley High Coup hasn’t always been so near the top of the heap. That 2007 group didn’t have much of a clue of what competitive Ultimate was about. At first, the team was just “a chance to throw and run with my best friends,” recalls Hartman-Kenzler. For him and his teammates, the Berkeley High Coup “seemed like an apt name for a rag-tag team coming out of Berkeley as a complete dark horse.”

A clenched fist graced that first team’s jerseys, and in the grand Berkeley tradition, the name evoked a grassroots act of political upheaval. But as the team began to find its identity, their name soon became a homonym for the Japanese word “haiku”.

Nowadays, in the immediate aftermath of each game the Coup compose a haiku poem for their opponents. Still breathing hard, the team mills about, brainstorming. Phrases fly and fingers count out the syllables, 5-7-5. When the right balance of admiration, camaraderie, and good-natured insight has been concocted the teams regroup and a captain recites the poem, hat over heart. It’s a playful and spontaneous expression of friendship and respect, and it draws the athletes into a remarkable place of gratitude just as the endorphins are kicking in.

Nowadays the Coup also win a lot. But they can’t win ‘em all. Whether delivered in victory or in defeat, the Berkeley High Coup’s haiku embodies perfectly the Spirit of the Game that fuels this unique sport, and the spirit of this team that represents our high school and our city so well.

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