Jimmy Mickle is a bio-tech lab assistant, a CU-Boulder graduate who studied chemical and biological engineering, and the winner of this year’s Callahan Award – the equivalent of the Heisman Trophy in USA Ultimate terms.
The annual Callahan Award is given to one player in the nation in both the men’s and women’s league at the college club ultimate Frisbee level. Callahan winners are first nominated by their teammates, then chosen by the Skyd Award Committee. The award recognizes sportsmanship, physical talent and leadership. Mickle, who is from Golden, started playing ultimate while attending Lakewood High School. He joined soccer teammates who played ultimate during their off-season, and when he became more interested in Frisbee than soccer, he stuck with it. This year, the CU men’s club MamaBird ultimate team also won the national championship.
“I’ve always wanted to win, basically, for the program and get the national title,” said Mickle. He attributes his main source of motivation as “being competitive and being around other competitive guys.” When he got to CU his freshman year, joining MamaBird gave Mickle a sense of community, which he appreciated as a break from class and working at the Engineering Center later on. Ultimate, he said, provided him with a sense of balance.
“You make time for things that matter,” said Mickle, noting that school and Frisbee were “kind of the two things.” Mickle was the captain of the MamaBird team his junior and senior years, which presented challenges of its own like arranging travel and being held more accountable as a leader. Especially in this role, he said, there were ups and downs between winning and losing, which made “ending on an up really awesome.”
Mickle also played for the U.S. National team, the Under 23 team and, currently, he plays for the Colorado club team Johnny Bravo. He plays both positions as handler, someone who does more of the throwing, and receiver. When he started ultimate in 9th grade, Mickle was about 5-foot-2, a hundred pounds and mainly played as a handler.
“As I grew and got bigger and faster and stronger, I started to become more of a receiver,” explained Mickle, who’s now 6-foot-4. Having the advantage of his past, Mickle is strong in both positions.
Mickle isn’t the only “ultimate star” in his family. His twin sister, Christina, is another top CU-Boulder player who played on the CU women’s club ultimate team, Kali. She was also a captain and nominated by her teammates for the women’s Callahan Award this year. Keeping competition high with her brother, she finished in the top 10.
When it comes to winning the Callahan Award, Mickle said he’s most proud of being recognized by his team.
“It’s cool to be voted by all your peers as the best player,” Mickle said, also mentioning how “it’s nice to look back at all the really good players who won the award and be in good company.”
In addition to leadership and physical talent, the Callahan Award recognizes players who practice fair sportsmanship – an attribute that’s largely at the core of ultimate. Since its beginnings in the late 1960s, pioneers of the sport rejected traditional rule enforcement through assigned officials like a referee. They instead put faith in sportsmanship, allowing the players themselves to call things like a foul play. As Mickle explained, this philosophy is known as the “Spirit of the Game,” and when there was disagreement in the past, the play would just have to be re-done. Today, games are accompanied with “observers,” or individuals who only make calls when there’s disagreement, as well as track time between plays and call “in” versus “out.”
“It’s a cool part of the sport, and I think it’s a good way to try to get younger kids playing,” said Mickle. “You can tell parents, ‘yeah, part of this sport is that we try to teach sportsmanship and how to be a good opponent.’”
In addition to playing ultimate beyond his time at CU, Mickle sees himself coaching, emphasizing the role of give-and-take in the ultimate community. He taught a number of clinics across the U.S. already, having spent the last two summers on the road with 14 other college all-stars and teaching kids about ultimate. His future in ultimate, though, will be a hobby more than a career.
“I see myself continuing to play,” said Mickle. “I don’t think it’s too sustainable or anything, but I definitely see it being a big part of my life."
The next step for Mickle is gearing up for the World Ultimate Club Championships in Lecco, Italy, this August. He’ll be playing for the Colorado team Johnny Bravo, and fans can follow his journey using the Twitter hashtag #MickleMania.
The CU-Boulder Collegiate Sports Club Program includes 31 club sports.