Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city

Ultimate citizens

Seattle’s Hazel Wolf K-8 School counselor and Ultimate Frisbee coach Jamshid Khajavi.

Ultimate Citizens: a team, a counselor, a movie

New film tells the story of Hazel Wolf's remarkable Ultimate Frisbee team and coach

They are refugees from war. They are homeless. Their parents work multiple jobs and still can’t keep up with bills.

They are champions.

Ultimate Citizens, the new documentary from local, award-winning filmmaker Francine Strickwerda, captures the improbable young Ultimate Frisbee stars of Seattle’s Hazel Wolf K-8 School and their remarkable counselor, Jamshid Khajavi.

A ray of light

Strickwerda says she began working on the project after learning about the Hazel Wolf teams and Khajavi because the story felt like a ray of light.

“At a time when many people in Seattle and across the country are feeling left out,” she says, “this is an ‘everyone story’ of belonging and acceptance that we can all relate to.”

The film tracks Khajavi and the Ultimate Frisbee (generally referred to as just Ultimate) team from Hazel Wolf over the course of a school year. It reveals their struggles, growth and triumphs on and off the field.

Helping kids deal with life issues

As Khajavi puts it: “Sport not only brings out the best in us, it also exposes issues we often have trouble dealing with.”

Which is why he is the first to clarify that he is a counselor, not a coach. His mission has been to use the game as a means to connect with at-risk students and help them develop important life skills. His mix of empathy, curiosity and humor has allowed him to get to know and understand where his students and their families are coming from. Through competition they learn resilience, self-awareness and emotional intelligence.

That competition is often against the most established and well-funded Ultimate programs in the country. Spring Reign, the annual tournament in Burlington, WA, is the world’s largest youth Ultimate event, and the team from Hazel Wolf is its most improbable success story.

An immigrant’s story

Like many of his players, Khajavi’s story is an immigrant’s story. Originally from Iran, he began his work as a counselor in the Seattle Public Schools in 1994. It was in 1996 that he began using Ultimate – or flat ball as he often refers to the disc – as part of his “adventure counseling” approach of reaching kids through play rather than “talking at” them.

The nature of Ultimate (non-contact and often played between co-ed teams) intrigued him. But it was the “Spirit of the Game” (the organizing principle at the center of the sport) that fit so well with how he tries to help his students learn.

Spirit of the Game

Ultimate matches are played without referees, so it is this organizing principle through which opposing teams settle rule disputes. Players must gain the skills to resolve disagreements and manage emotions in the heat of the competition in order for games to continue. Khajavi discovered that players who began the season combative and argumentative – even with teammates – adopted a more positive attitude as they became more confident in resolving disputes. The season becomes as much about healing as it is winning, and the Hazel Wolf stars do plenty of each.

To help them get there, Khajavi taps into a deep well of empathy and curiosity to learn about the lives and diverse cultural backgrounds of his students. He makes everyone feel that they belong, that they have value on the team, in their classes and in their communities.

Endurance teaches endurance

But Khajavi is not to be mistaken merely as a “high-fives and participation trophies” cheerleader on the sidelines. He is also an ultra-endurance athlete who has completed multiple 100-mile runs and long-distance bike rides. He swam the English Channel and set a record as the fastest American to swim the Strait of Gibraltar. He is competitive and he wants to see the Hazel Wolf players be successful in their tournaments.

And yet, for all his individual and coaching accomplishments, he will most certainly be best remembered for all the students and families whose lives he has touched.

“The whole world is a cornucopia of beauty,” he explained recently, while recovering from a serious crash he suffered on a training ride in San Diego. “The diversity makes our world so much more beautiful. Coming together to work together is possible and powerful. That is what I would like audiences to take away from this film.”

More information about Ultimate Citizens can be found at ultimatecitizens.com.

Read more on Seattle’s Child:

“Your guide to kids’ Ultimate Frisbee in Seattle”

About the Author

Nils Dahlgren

Nils Dahlgren is a freelance writer and father of three based in Seattle. He also blogs at awesomesolodad.com