Chris O’Cleary, a 49-year-old Oak Grove Elementary School Fine Arts Academy P.E. teacher, was inducted Oct. 2 into the Ultimate Hall of Fame in Boulder, Colo., along with three others, for her contributions to the sport of Ultimate, a flying disc sport.
She is the only player from the Southeast region to ever be inducted into the Ultimate Hall of Fame, and is this year’s sole woman to be given the honor, recognizing her as one of the best players of her time, she said.
“Ultimate is a pretty new sport; it’s actually turning 50 years old (soon), like I am this year,” O’Cleary said Wednesday. “I feel like the impact continues to grow within me; at first it was hard to believe (that I was selected for the Hall of Fame), but as it’s sinking in, it means even more. Because I know the magnitude of what it means to be selected for the Hall of Fame, that’s something that will last forever. … It’s had a profound impact on me; I feel like it’s one of my greatest accomplishments in disc sports.”
O’Cleary is in her 25th year teaching at Oak Grove Elementary, and said she has seen some of her students go on to play the sport as adults.
“I love it here (at Oak Grove),” she said. “I’ve played Ultimate with my students… I actually have former students who have made it on the national level, so that’s pretty cool.”
Oak Grove Elementary Principal Les Conley said he’s proud to have O’Cleary at the school that she is the best P.E. teacher he’s ever seen.
“She is a legend and an inspiration here,” Conley said Wednesday. “(To most people) P.E. means ‘Go to the gym and throw the ball,’ but she truly is a physical education teacher.”
Conley said the O’Cleary is passionate about making sure the children are as healthy as they can be, and teaches the importance of being physically fit. Conley said she deserves this honor and he was proud of her.
“(She’s) the best P.E. teacher I’ve ever seen,” Conley said. “She’s just become eternal. … we could not be more proud of her.”
O’Cleary also plays disc golf and won the Professional Disk Golf World Championships twice. She set world records in both distance and accuracy.
“I’ve kind of done a lot in Frisbee,” O’Cleary said. “My distance record stood for well over a decade, so that was cool.”
O’Cleary said she is “kind of known as the Peyton Manning of women’s Ultimate,” because of her throwing ability, but said she “feels weird” to brag.
“(I have an) ability to throw really accurately at all distances — short, medium and long,” she added. “I was known as a position called a ‘handler,’ which means I received the disc a lot, I stayed close to it. And I’m known for my ability to throw it pretty much anywhere on the field, pretty accurately. I feel weird saying that, but I guess it’s true.”
Conley said O’Cleary being inducted into the Hall of Fame was “a great tribute to her, and to physical fitness.” He said O’Cleary works hard as a teacher.
She has played Ultimate consistently for more than 30 years, and said it’s a simple and inexpensive sport, “all you need is a field and a disc, and it’s a great cardiovascular workout.”
“It promotes what I would call ‘lifetime fitness,’” O’Cleary said. “It’s the reason I’ve stayed so fit.”
O’Cleary remembered when she first played the game, and when she got serious about it.
“My mother grew up in Sweden, and her best friend’s son actually played Ultimate in Sweden. When I was visiting Sweden in high school, that was actually the first time I was introduced to Ultimate, and that was in 1979,” O’Cleary recalled. “Then, when I went to West Georgia College in 1981, we started playing on campus. … and I guess when I officially started playing (regulated) Ultimate was in 1983, with the Atlanta Flying Disk Club, and I played in a co-ed summer league.”
O’Cleary founded the Atlanta-based Ozone team in 1984, and played for 17 years on that team, which is recognized as one of the world’s most competitive women’s teams. She also helped create and run a women’s league, to encourage more women to get involved in the sport, she said.
Now, she plays on the East Side team in the summer, along with a women’s league called Top Shelf, and has won multiple Spirit of the Game awards for sportsmanship.
“We were just at the Masters tournament in Denver this summer,” she said. “I actually just won the (Spirit of the Game) award in Denver this past summer.”
She helped found the Terminus tournament — now Atlanta’s most prestigious Ultimate tournament.
“Terminus was the original name for the city of Atlanta, because we were a big terminal for trains,” O’Cleary said. “I helped start a tournament called Terminus, which is still in existence today, it’s one of the most highly competitive and well-attended tournaments in the country.”
O’Cleary explained how Ultimate is a self-governing sport, and said players work together to come up with each call, discussing it with each other.
“We don’t have active referees. We play by a code that’s called the spirit of the game,” she said. “We play by a code of integrity and mutual respect, where we (the players) are responsible for making our own calls.”