Saturday, January 11, 2014
As founder of the Amherst Regional ultimate program, Tiina Booth has fostered the growth of the sport in the town as well as across the country.
She will continue to be involved in the sport, but after 24 years as boys varsity coach Booth has decided to step away from coaching the Hurricanes.
“It just felt like it was time to move on,” Booth said. “It’s not like anything crucial happened that demanded I had to give up coaching. I also have other opportunities within the sport, which is going through unprecedented growth.”
Booth notified Amherst athletic director Rich Ferro last fall after contemplating retirement the past couple years.
“She has such a love for the sport and a love of coaching that it was tough to walk away,” Ferro said. “But after she worked hard to fundraise for the program to put it in good shape, she decided it was time.”
The Hurricanes have won 19 state ultimate championships and three high school national titles — 1998, 2003 and 2004 — since the program started in 1990. Also on Booth’s resume are a number of titles at the Eastern Championships and the Amherst Invitational.
Under Booth’s watch, the program has expanded to include a varsity and two junior varsity squads for both boys and girls.
“I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, and now we have six teams at the high school,” she said. “The whole experience has been amazing and very rewarding.”
The crown jewel of Booth’s legacy is the Amherst Invitational, which every spring features teams from all over the country. The growth of the tournament has mirrored the growth of the sport and marked Amherst as perhaps the ultimate capital.
“When we started the Amherst Invitational, I was pretty much doing everything, including printing the T-shirts,” Booth said. “Now we have an entire network of volunteers that handles all the details of the event. We’re leaving my successor in good shape because of all the fundraising we’ve done the last few years.”
On a national level, Booth guided the U.S. Junior National team to a pair of gold medals (1998, 2004) and one bronze (2000). Playing the 2004 world junior tournament final in front of a full stadium in Finland was an indication of the heights the sport had reached.
“We pioneers of the sport always felt like we were pushing a boulder up a hill,” she said. “Now we’re over the crest and are working to stay ahead of the boulder as it goes down the hill. Early in the history of nationals, we’d walk through an airport and people could tell we were a team, but when they asked most weren’t aware of ultimate. Now most people have some familiarity of the sport.”
However, it wasn’t exactly an auspicious start to the program, as only four students showed up to Booth’s first practice in 1990.
“I told myself that I was crazy and it would never work,” she said. “I was pretty despondent after that first day. But I just tried to move things along little by little, and here we are now.”
Part of what helped that process were the skills Booth brought from the classroom, where she taught English at Amherst for 20 years.
“Tiina is a fantastic teacher,” Ferro said. “She’s great at holding kids to a high standard, while still connecting with them and having fun. She always brings enjoyment to the game and the classroom. She’s brought organization and skill to it, and now there’s a group of kids she coached bringing the sport around the country.”
When she informed her six returning varsity players of her decision to retire, Booth was asked if she’d come to the team’s games next season.
“Maybe in a year or two I’ll feel more comfortable stopping by from time to time, but next year I plan on keeping a low profile,” she said. “It’s also self-protection for me, because it will be difficult to see something I love so much and am no longer a part of.”
Her future plans include either franchising or expanding her National Ultimate Training Camp, which began in 2001 and is held at Amherst College. She runs coaching clinics and certifies new coaches as part of USA Ultimate, and founded the Ultimate Coaches and Players Conference.
The co-author of the 2006 book “Essential Ultimate” will also write a regular column for the website ultiworld.com.
Charged with hiring the second coach in program history, Ferro stated the obvious fact that replacing Booth will be impossible.
“I can’t even think about replacing Tiina,” Ferro said. “But I’d like to bring in somebody who embodies what she brought to the sport with some history in the game, while also matching what we want for coaches across the athletic program.”
Booth made it clear she’ll never coach a high school team again, but did not rule out a job at the collegiate or club level.
However, the connection she has to Amherst Regional will live on for as long as the program does.
“The relationships I’ve built with my players and their families are the best part about coaching,” she said. “The national championships and gold medals are tremendous achievements. But the friendships I’ve made from the sport sustain me and make my life richer.”
Michael Wilkinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.