Henry Babcock remembers his first game of Ultimate, a fast-paced, non-contact team sport played with a flying plastic disc. Six years ago, as a rangy sophomore at Cape Elizabeth High School, he discovered that he was “probably the worst player on the field.”

Oddly, he was having a blast.

“It was really the first time I had so much fun, without being a good player,” he said. “I had no clue what I was doing.”

Babcock has caught on. On Sunday, he led the University of Richmond to a national championship in Lexington, Kentucky.

The Spidermonkeys, as the college’s team is known, beat Davidson, 15-12, with Babcock scoring twice, assisting on six goals and notching three blocks. Afterward, he was named male winner of the inaugural Donovan Award as the Division III player who best combines skill, leadership and Spirit of the Game (the guiding principle of sportsmanship in the self-officiated sport), as voted on by fellow players.

“He’s very humble and dedicated,” Richmond coach Matt Graves said. “One of the biggest assets beyond his on-the-field play was him working with the team and establishing a culture of hard work and dedication.”

Babcock, 21, received his bachelor’s degree in physics with a concentration in computer science this month. He’s interviewing for software engineering and development jobs in either Portland or Boston, but he isn’t ready to relinquish his grip on the flying disc. Babcock is one of 90 men and 90 women invited to try out for the under-24 national team next month. If selected for either the men’s or mixed team, he will represent the United States at the U-24 World Championships in Australia.

Ultimate combines elements of football, basketball and soccer with seven players aside and near-continuous motion. The field of play is 110 yards long, including two 20-yard end zones. The object is to catch the disc in the opposing end zone.

As with hockey or basketball, any turnover – usually an intercepted or dropped disc, but also a pass out of bounds or a player holding the disc for more than 10 seconds – results in an immediate change of possession and transition from offense to defense.

Babcock led the national Division III tournament with 25 assists. He has the ability to hurl a disc 70 yards, from goal line to goal line.

“As a freshman, he was ready to start and play a lot of minutes from Day 1,” Graves said. “He’s a very, very good thrower. He’s like a quarterback, or point guard, of the offense.”

According to USA Ultimate, the sport’s governing body, more than 14,000 student-athletes play Ultimate on more than 700 teams. For a variety of reasons, the NCAA does not sanction Ultimate, which grew out of the counterculture 1960s, prides itself not having referees and exists on most campuses as a club sport. The first collegiate national championships were held in 1984. In 2010, because of growing popularity and disparity of resources, colleges split into Division I and Division III at the dividing line of 7,500 undergraduate enrollment.

Locally, the sport has grown considerably since Babcock began playing in 2011. Cape Elizabeth, with a roster of 14, was one of 12 teams from 10 high schools all playing in one Open division. His coach, Tom Stoughton, estimated Maine had 150 kids involved.

This year, Cape Elizabeth has 77 kids playing in high school and another 127 in middle school. Statewide, 52 teams from 21 schools compete in four divisions (Boys A, Boys B, Girls and Mixed) for a total of roughly 650 players.

In 2016, Maine boasted the seventh-largest youth player membership in the country, according to Stoughton, ahead of states such as New Jersey (the sport’s birthplace) and California.

“In Maine, the youth scene has really exploded,” said Babcock, who has assisted Stoughton at Cape Elizabeth and with Maine teams competing in the Youth Club Championships in Minnesota each summer. “It’s really easy to draw a wide range of kids because the culture can be more laid back.”

In Ultimate, players make their own calls and resolve disputes, although at the collegiate tournament level four so-called observers can help with resolution and actively make calls on out-of-bounds plays or whether the disc touched the ground before being caught.

Richmond had never advanced to the national tournament until Babcock arrived on campus, but qualified every year except his sophomore season.

“I came into a situation where the two captains my freshman year were making a push to legitimize the program,” Babcock said.

Babcock was the Atlantic Coast Division III Player of the Year in 2016, a member of the All-Region team in 2015 and named to the All-Freshman team in 2014. The 2017 awards have yet to be announced. He was a two-year captain.

Richmond went 25-10 this spring, including the postseason tournament, and ranked third heading into nationals. The Spidermonkeys rallied to a 14-10 semifinal victory over Bryant before facing familiar foe Davidson.

“This was the third major tournament we’ve played them in the finals,” Babcock said. “It was a pretty wild game.”

Richmond led 8-6 at halftime. Davidson, which had won one of the previous two tournament finals, jumped ahead 10-9. The Spidermonkeys scored three straight to go ahead 12-10 and held on to win.

Graves attributed a portion of the success to a strategic change that moved the 6-foot-2 Babcock around on the field instead of primarily as handler, “because he is such a mismatch. He is very athletic and long.”

Professional Ultimate exists in the form of the five-year-old American Ultimate Disc League. Twenty-four franchises in major cities compete in four regions across the United States and Canada. The closest teams to New England are the Montreal Royal and New York Empire.

Babcock said he may give the pro game a fling, but for now he’s concentrating on the national team tryouts and playing this summer for an amateur club out of Boston. From having no clue to having multiple options, his future clearly remains up in the air.

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or

[email protected]

Twitter: GlennJordanPPH

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