Meet your teacher: Physics teacher plays in tight-knit Ultimate Frisbee community


Helen Yang

Allersma demonstrates her frisbee skills. Allersma has played both competitively and recreationally.

by Helen Yang, STEM Editor

Aside from being a full-time mom and physics teacher, Dr. Miriam Allersma is also an ultimate frisbee lover. Having participated in the sport for over fifteen years, she has had many exciting experiences as player, team captain and coach.

She first encountered ultimate frisbee in her senior year of college when the swimming season ended. She began searching for a new sport to participate in the spring, and after trying many different sports from lacrosse to rugby, she eventually found a new passion in ultimate frisbee.

“When you play, you are in charge. When I started, it was very much run by the players for the players,” Dr. Allersma said. “You make your own calls and decide what’s right and wrong, and you don’t have to appeal to some higher authority because you’re kind of in charge. I think that’s sort of a better way to deal with things than saying, ‘Oh, the [referees] suck!’”

Provided by Miriam Allersma
Physics teacher Miriam Allersma poses for a picture after participating in the 2003 Ultimate Players Association Championships with the Ann Arbor club team. Allersma played frisbee for 15 years.

Unlike most other organized sports, ultimate frisbee allows players much more autonomy. While the game has changed over the years, it originally included no referees, and instead, players abided by an honor code called the “spirit of the game.” Another aspect of the ultimate frisbee that drew her in involved not just the game itself, but also the community of fellow frisbee players.

“The people that are attracted to the game are generally super nerdy, people like me, who’re also super funny. It’s awesome,” she said.

Before I was a coach, I was a captain for a long time, so not a big difference. But when you’re just the coach, you don’t think about yourself. When your team does well, you feel excited for the players, like ‘I knew they could do it, I’m so proud of them.’ All you’re thinking about is your team–how is the team working together, what do we need to change? It’s a different exhaustion– you’re mentally tired as opposed to physically tired. But there’s also a different satisfaction.

— Dr. Miriam Allersma, physics teacher and frisbee Aficionado

Dr. Allersma played with many different teams both competitively and recreationally. At one point, she played as the only female member on the University of Michigan team, which consistently ranked as one of the top teams in the Midwest region. She later joined Clutch, a women’s team in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she played for ten years.

In 2000, she transferred her experience as a player and team captain to coaching, and formally became the coach for the Michigan Flywheels. Although she had played ultimate for many years prior, coaching presented a new, fresh perspective to the game.

“When you’re a coach, you really don’t think about yourself. All you’re thinking about is your team. How is the team working together?” Dr. Allersma said. “It’s a different kind of exhaustion where you’re mentally tired as opposed to physically tired, but there’s also a different kind of satisfaction. When your team does well, you feel excited for the players, like ‘I knew they could do it, and I’m so proud of them.’”

After moving to California, she played for a few years with a co-ed team in local league before fully concentrating on becoming a teacher, although for several years Allersma and physics teacher Chris Spenner acted as advisors for a non-competitive informal frisbee club at Harker.

“I learned a lot [playing] with Dr. Allersma, actually. I learned things that I was doing wrong, like my throwing technique,” Spenner said. “And it was fun, because we started teaching at Harker the same year, so we were already kind of part of the same cohort and were friends. It was fun to co-host a club with her.”

Although she no longer actively plays, ultimate frisbee has left a lasting impact on her life. To this day, she still keeps in touch with many of her former teammates in Clutch.

“The support of that team was awesome, and I wouldn’t have made it through grad school without them,” Dr. Allersma said. “The core of the group stayed together for maybe ten years, and fifteen years later, I still have my WhatsApp chat and it’s all the same women. We’re totally in each others’ lives.”

This piece was originally published in the pages of The Winged Post on March 6, 2018.