Once again, a local woman has made her mark in the sports world, with our own Mary Burke of McKinleyville recently being inducted into the Ultimate Hall of Fame.

Burke at the 2008 Regionals in Eugene Oregon | Photos submitted by Burke

“There is just an amazing [Ultimate] community,” Burke told the Outpost in a recent phone interview about the recognition. “So you know, I’m super humbled.” 

To be clear, Ultimate is what many people might refer to as “Ultimate Frisbee” – the no-contact sport that involves two teams throwing a disc to their teammates, in the attempt to reach the end zone and score a goal. But, as it turns out, it is now officially called “Ultimate,” since Frisbee is trademarked by the toy company Wham-O. This is also why it is now called “Disc golf,” rather than “Frisbee Golf.” (Apparently, “Ultimate Disc” was not a popular option.)

Burke, 50, was first introduced to Ultimate in high school, and started playing at UC Santa Barbara in 1991 for the women’s team, the Burning Skirts. After college, Burke moved to Lake Tahoe, where she played for a mixed team called the Donner Party, and eventually moved to McKinleyville in 2005, where she worked as both an assistant coach and coach for the Humboldt women’s Ultimate team, the Humboldt Hags. She also traveled to play for Montana-based team the Mental Toss Flycoons (a reference to the Frank Zappa song “Montana.”) 

In case it isn’t obvious, silly team names are common in the Ultimate community and it’s a sport that really celebrates and encourages having fun. In addition to the athleticism and skills required to play the game, the self-governing and the fun-loving attitude is a big part of what fed Burke’s love for Ultimate, she said. 

“This is an incredibly creative community,” Burke said. “Just in the naming of the teams, you get a sense of the good humor…And one of the key things to the passion that people who play Ultimate feel is our connection to what’s called the ‘Spirit of the Game.’”

The Spirit of the Game, which is written into the official rules of Ultimate, is a unique aspect of the sport that places the responsibility of fair play solely on the players themselves, requiring them to thoroughly know the rules and make their own calls without the help of a neutral official. The USA Ultimate website says that these rules “reinforce mutual respect and trust between opponents; communication and conflict resolution skills; and self confidence – both on and off the field of play.” 

The Mental Toss Flycoons as National Champions in 2008 in Sarasota, Fla.

Ultimate was started in 1968 in New Jersey and the official name and rules were established in 1970. Within a few years, the sport had grown in popularity and teams began popping up around the country, including on the West Coast. The Ultimate Hall of Fame was established by the Ultimate Players Association (UPA) in 2004, and has since inducted more than 100 players who have made significant contributions to the sport. 

Burke was inducted on Aug. 28, along with 12 other players who were active in the sport between 2004 and 2012. Each year the Vetting Committee of the Ultimate Hall of Fame focuses on a different time period when selecting the inductees. According to the Ultimate Hall of Fame’s website, Burke was recognized for her contributions as a “game-breaking handler and fantastic leader,” among other things. 

Generally playing as a “handler,” a position that requires a lot of throwing and is reserved for people with very good disc skill, Burke was known for her impressive throwing abilities, using skilled maneuverings to throw around defenders . 

Burke throws around a competitors hand at the 2003 Mixed National Championships in Sarasota, Fla. 

During her time playing with the Donner Party, her team brought home two National Championships and two World Championships, and she also helped the Mental Toss Flycoons secure a Club gold in 2008 and a World Ultimate Club Championship (WUCC) bronze in 2010. 

Since attending the world championships in 2010, Burke has essentially retired from the sport, which she said did eventually start to take a toll on her body. Burke, her husband and their 11-year-old son still live in McKinleyville, where Burke serves on a subcommittee of the McKinleyville Municipal Advisory Committee (McK MAC) that focuses on “incorporation exploration.” She also serves on another subcommittee dedicated to exploring multimodal transportation for the community. 

Burke has always held a great love for McKinleyville, where she spent a lot of time throughout her life visiting her aunt who moved to the area in the late 1960s. Burke said that when she planned to come to Cal Poly Humboldt (then HSU) to complete her masters in 2005, she knew that she wanted to live in the same part of McKinleyville where her aunt lived. 

“I love my community, and I’ve been of service in a variety of fashions, all the way up to being a director for the Community Services District for a spell, to continuing ongoing participation in community efforts,” Burke said. 

Though she no longer plays, Burke is still actively in touch with her Ultimate community, many of whom are also local champions. Maya Conrad, who serves on the subcommittees with Burke and is also on the McK MAC, is an Ultimate national and world champion; and Carrie “Burl” Berlogar, another friend and former teammate of Burke’s, is a multiple national and world titled disc golfer. Burke also wanted to give a shout out to friend and fellow hall-of-famer Mike O’Dowd of Arcata, who was inducted to the Ultimate Hall of Fame in 2011

Burke will be traveling to San Diego in October for the induction ceremony, which is happening at the same time as the next Ultimate national championship, and wanted to say how thankful she is for all of the friends, memories and skills she acquired from the sport. The next big goal for the local ultimate community, Burke said, is to work with other organizations to launch some ultimate and disc-golf programs for local youth. 

“Both disc golf and ultimate have great spirit or ethic training, and athleticism that are great for working with kids,” she said.

Donner Party as World Champions 2003 in Turku, Finland