University of Colorado senior Jimmy Mickle plays ultimate frisbee as part of the NextGen Tour. Courtesy photo
University of Colorado senior Jimmy Mickle plays ultimate frisbee as part of the NextGen Tour. Courtesy photo

Instead of suiting up for an internship or full-time job last summer, University of Colorado senior Jimmy Mickle took a cross-country trip, living in a tricked-out school bus and playing ultimate Frisbee.

The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Mickle — who has bright blue eyes, shaggy light brown hair, a huge grin and is the captain of CU’s men’s ultimate team, “Mamabird” — spent the summer with 14 other accomplished college ultimate players from across the country. The NextGen Ultimate Tour, a college all-star team, was founded in 2011 to spread the word about ultimate and introduce young people to the sport.

Mickle, 21, even got to drive the bus, which had been converted into a makeshift home for the players.

“All of us drive the bus,” Mickle said, a smile breaking out across his face. He added that it took his mom a while to warm up to the idea of him traipsing around the country in a bus.

Last spring, Mickle led Mamabird to its eighth consecutive regional title and a ninth place finish at collegiate nationals before setting off on his month-long tour of the United States.

The tour made stops in 16 cities, including Chicago, Toronto, Austin and San Francisco, where the NextGen team held workshops for kids interested in ultimate and faced local club teams in exhibition games.

Mickle will graduate in May with a degree in chemical and biological engineering, and while he spent the first few weeks of summer working at a Thornton hospital to prepare for the real world, he ultimately decided the NextGen Tour was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.

The most fulfilling part of the tour, Mickle said, was seeing how many kids came out to the team’s ultimate clinics.

In Baton Rouge, where ultimate is still relatively unknown, Mickle said, the team taught 80 kids the basics of the game — a number that proved to everyone on the tour how fast the sport is growing.

Because both his high school and collegiate coaches were volunteers, Mickle said he felt it was important to carry forward the volunteering.

“You get this chance to give back to the ultimate community, and that’s a big theme for us,” Mickle said.

The team paid for expenses by charging a small admission fee to their exhibition games and selling subscriptions to matches streamed online. Members of the ultimate community cooked for and often hosted the group when they stopped for the night.

Kevin Minderhout, a University of Oregon grad, founded the NextGen Tour in 2011. Minderhout wanted to spread awareness about ultimate as a legitimate sport.

“When people say ‘I’ve never seen Frisbee played like that before,’ we’re changing (the perception) to show how athletic it is,” Minderhout said.

Mickle’s twin sister, Christina Mickle, is a captain for the CU women’s team, Kali. She spent the summer hearing from friends and teammates about her brother’s near-celebrity status in the ultimate world.

When 120 people showed up for Mamabird tryouts last week, many of them were freshmen in awe of her brother, Christina Mickle said. Most couldn’t believe how warm he was, she added.

“He has such a welcoming personality,” Christina Mickle said. “They expect someone who is cocky or not as nice. (One reason) why the team is able to stay so close is because of his personality.”

— Follow Sarah Kuta on Twitter: @SarahKuta