Disc Masters: Ultimate is fun and keeps you fit
By Tim Sullivan
It’s a sunny and warm Saturday afternoon in April and I’m taking in some Ultimate at Walker Park in Edgewood. Team Plinko and Team Communist Bananafesto of the Atlanta Flying Disc Club league (afdc.com) are engaged in a competitive, but preternaturally friendly game. In lieu of referees, a metronomic mantra of “Play Hard, Respect Your Opponent” seems to ably govern the field of play.
I’m struck by the absence of confrontation – confrontation that is as common to adult recreational basketball, soccer and flag football leagues as pulled hamstrings. Even the player-officiated ALTA Tennis league is notorious for contentious calls, but the vibe here is clearly different.
“I play soccer, too, and on the soccer field I fight,” says Katherine Kearns of Communist Bananafesto. “I never fight in Ultimate.”
The Spring League serves as a refresher for the upcoming summer season. The co-ed teams are comprised primarily of lithe, 20-and 30-somethings although some more senior players are on hand as well. While the workout is clearly rigorous, the reserved nature of the competitors may be why some 800 Atlantans choose to get their exercise by chasing a flying disc.
Here’s how it works. Seven players on each side seek to successfully pass the disc the length of the field to score one point. Games are played to 13 with a halftime at 7 and there is a 90-minute limit to each game. Defense is somewhat similar to basketball in that it is usually man-to-man but many zone variations are employed as well, particularly when trying to defend highly skilled players. And from where I’m sitting, there is some serious talent and athleticism on the field.
The league offers clinics to newcomers to hone their disc skills as there are a few different techniques to send it down the field. Some instances call for the backhand toss we all learned as kids but, the favored method is the forehand or the flick. The more advanced players pull this off effortlessly, zipping the disc to an open area where their receiver is heading, usually in a sprint.
I witness a jaw-dropping hammer throw where one player throws the disc overhand from his shoulder, lofting it high in the air over the defenders and inverting it upside down to cut through the wind. The disc drops perfectly in his receiver’s hands for a point.
A rare instance of bravado occurs when scoring after a particularly long point, Benjamin Rainwater of Team Plinko spikes the disc in mock celebration. An audible hush comes over the sidelines. Did he just do that?
“Did you see me spike the disc?” asks Rainwater at halftime. “I shouldn’t have done that. That is frowned upon” he says with a chuckle.
Outside the lines of play the culture of Ultimate is on display as well. Relaxed spectators keep one eye on the action and another on small children, dogs or The New York Times. In addition to water bottles and orange slices, players sip on miniature Miller Genuine Draft beers. A growler of a mysterious beverage sits atop the cooler. Save for a short, albeit serious strategy meeting at halftime, the teams intermingle and share laughs. The party, it seems, will continue after the last point is scored.
“There is a great sense of community in the Ultimate world,” says Brian Lynch, Summer League commissioner, “and an Ultimate player visiting or moving to a new city can find the local scene and usually just jump right in.”
An invasion of inchworms descends upon the bleachers, taking up residence on shoulders and shins. Most players do not flick them away though, choosing to leave them be and count them as good luck. Some folks play in adult recreational leagues to work out stress and perhaps attempt to relive their glory days. Ultimate players play for the same reason they enjoyed team sports as a kid – it’s fun. What a grown-up concept.
The sign-up period for Summer League play is now open at afdc.com.