What I Did This Summer: Hartwick’s Dono Wins World Championship in Ultimate

July 19, 2022

Oneonta’s Jonathan (J) Dono, systems manager in Hartwick College’s Technology Services department, has a great answer when asked what he did this summer. Dono traveled to Limerick, Ireland and came home a world champion.

A top-flight ultimate player, Dono recently competed in the World Flying Disk Federation’s World Masters Ultimate Club Championships at the University of Limerick.

Also known as ultimate frisbee, the sport is similar to a non-contact style of American football, and combines agility, dexterity, speed, and an ability to anticipate teammates’ movements.

Competing for the Surly GM team out of Minnesota, Dono helped his team go 10-0 during the eight-day tournament and take the Grand Master Open division. A defensive specialist, he was one of 28 players on the winning squad.

A few days after returning to campus, he discussed his journey to the top of the ultimate world:

How long have you been playing ultimate?

“I played a few pickup games in high school but didn’t start officially playing ultimate until 1995 when I joined the Syracuse University club team. So…jeez…27 years!”

How did you reach the top level of the sport?

“In the late 1990s and early 2000s, I played in the Westchester Summer League. Because the ultimate community is quite small, a lot of the top club players from New York City also played there and were involved in building the league and the sport. In 1998, I happened to be on the same summer league team as the current captain of the New York City club team and he invited me to come to practices. It was kind of a Dread Pirate Roberts thing: ‘Hi J, good to see you, why don’t you come to practice just this once, we’ll most likely cut you in the morning.’ And it went on like that all summer until they invited me to participate in the Club Championship series which starts every fall with Sectionals, Regionals, and Nationals Championship tournaments.”

How long have you been playing with this squad?

“My team is from Twin Cities, MN and is sponsored by the Surly Brewing Co., whose founder is
a former ultimate player. I started competing with them in 2021 at the USA Ultimate Masters Club Championships, where we won silver and thus qualified to participate this year in Limerick. In the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, I competed against a lot of my current teammates in the Open Club circuit, and competed with a few of them at various non-sanctioned tournaments over the years. There are also a few of my former club teammates on Surly with whom I played on a NJ/Philadelphia club team named Pike for many years.

“To be honest, I was considering hanging up my cleats in 2021 but since my wife, Mary Ellen Hoffman, was playing at the Nationals Championships with a women’s team, I decided to reach out to a few select friends and see if they might be interested in playing together for old time’s sake. I had a team from the Boston area that had a spot for me so I thought if I could bring some friends on board with me, it would be worth the effort it takes to train and travel and all that. Otherwise, I’d decline and be done with it. Anyway, one of them, Trey Katzenbach, got back to me immediately and said, ‘Forget whatever you had in mind, you’re playing with Surly!’ And that was my in!”

What position do you play?

“I play predominantly on the defense. I made my name covering downfield offensive players sort of like a cornerback in football. On offense, for Surly at least, I am generally playing a Handler position, which means I’m responsible for getting the disc a lot, and making important throws to get us closer to the end zone. That’s honestly a bit of a change for me since most of my career I’ve been more of a downfield cutter catching discs in open space and scoring goals. Again, compared to football, this is more like a wide receiver role.”

Have you played in the World Championships before?

“Not since 2002 in Hawaii. My team has qualified several times in the past (1999, 2002, 2005, 2012), but for various reasons this is only the second World Championship I’ve been able to attend.”

What was the best part of the experience?

“The amazing part of this World Championship was that I was able to bring my whole family. My wife has seen me compete before and competed at the highest level herself, but my kids have only seen me play with them at local pickup games and the like. Surly is an amazing team, in terms of talent of course, but most importantly in terms of camaraderie and team spirit and it was amazing to be able to share with them what it’s like to be part of a high level team that plays with respect and love for the game, but also competes at the highest level. There’s a whole community around ultimate that is very warm and welcoming and I love that they got to experience that. I hope it will translate to their own relationships with sports and otherwise.”

How often do you play during the school year? Do you have much time with work responsibilities?

“That is definitely a challenge. I try to do at least a little something that will “make me better” each day, even if it’s just 15 minutes of stretching, but in general, I schedule 3 or 4 hard workouts a week. I spend a decent amount of time running at the track or on an empty field while my daughter is at soccer practice, or even running 30 minutes of sprints or hills during my lunch break.

“I also have to thank the folks at the Utica Frisbee Club and the Ilion Frisbee Club. They hold weekly pickup games which I attended a lot in the spring to ‘get my touches in.’ In addition to that, I played with Surly at a preparation tournament in Sarasota, FL, attended USA Ultimate Beach Nationals in Myrtle Beach, and flew to MN for two separate weekends in May for weekend-long team practices to prepare for Worlds.”

Do we have an ultimate club here at Hartwick?

“Not really, although [Assistant Professor of English] Tessa Yang and [Professor of Economics] Kristin Jones have arranged a few pickup games at our local parks. I’ve been to a few with my kids and they’re lots of fun!”

What’s next in your ultimate career?

“Next up, Surly is preparing for next year’s National Championship. There are actually two different World Championship tournaments which we refer to as ‘big worlds’ and ‘small worlds.’ This year’s was a ‘big worlds,’ in that each country’s governing body could submit multiple bids for teams to attend. In the case of the USA, there were four US teams. ‘Small Worlds’ will be held in 2024 and each country only gets to send one team. So, the goal is for Surly to win the 2023 National Championship and earn the right to represent the country as Team USA at Worlds in 2024.”