Ultimate Frisbee: The Most Laid Back Serious Sport

BLUD player John Nicol (from Charlotte) makes a clean catch, surrounded by VT defenders.

by Cheryl Hodges

Of the 55 sports represented in this year’s Coventry Commonwealth Games, there is only one that is self-governed by the aptly named “Spirit of the Game”—a trademark moniker that is nearly synonymous with “Ultimate Frisbee.” For many, “Ultimate” and the ever-present “Spirit” encompass a sport, an atmosphere and a mindset that is truly unique.

The Spirit of the Game is referred to in both boisterous and whispered tones, appropriately representative of the pride its adherents have, as well as a touch of reverence for the respect players have for the game’s “Spirit” or foundation … which is “a tradition of sportsmanship that places the responsibility for fair play on the players rather than referees,” according to UPA (Ultimate Players Association).

What this means is that there ARE no referees, which is a paradigm shift in the mindset we are all used to in team sports, and the players seem to love every minute of it.

This was the second year that Ultimate Frisbee was included in the Commonwealth Games, and according to 2011 Commonwealth Games Tournament Director Oscar Aldana, “the sport was well represented and [they] are happy with the turnout.”  Teams played a round robin last Saturday, where “every team plays each other once,” concluding with the semis and finals held on Sunday.

The group is grateful that the Roanoke City Parks and Rec department provides playing fields for the Games as well as pick-up twice a week. The Commonwealth Games sent support in the form of tents, water and more, which was much appreciated.

Glancing over the roster, it is apparent Ultimate team names tend to be at the very least memorable. Roanoke’s team has it all—identification and a fearsome moniker—“Big Lick Ultimate Disc,” or “BLUD” as it is emblazoned on their shirts; the constant shouts of “Go Red; go BLUD” are more amusing in light of what it stands for.

“Doc” Johnson (right front) joins fellow Ultimate players as they take a much needed break from the hot sun.

Aldana gives an insider’s take:  “many teams come up with creative names based on people, events, and witty puns.  For example, the team from Virginia Tech call themselves ‘Colbyashi and the Hot Dogs’ as a tribute to one of their leaders, Ryan Colby (who is graduating after this Fall’s Semester) and admiration for Takeru Kobayshi, the famous hot dog eater.”

Seven teams, which included 100 players, came from Roanoke and surrounding cities to participate. According to Aldana, “The Games served as a reunion for some teams.  ‘Wimpy Slackers’ of Radford University had alumni from Michigan come back to reunite with friends.  Team ‘BLUD’ had a visiting friend from Mexico participate. We even had a team make the drive from Fredericksburg.”

Ultimate is open to players of all ages, both men and women, and according to Mike “Smiley” Glowczynski, President of Roanoke Ultimate, it is “one of the top three fastest growing sports in America.”  Shane Sawyer (VP Roanoke Ultimate) adds, “You don’t need much equipment” which makes it easy for pick-up games which are held Wednesdays and Sundays from spring through fall. Anyone is welcome, “just no gray shirt,” says Sawyer laughing; “we play light vs. dark.”

The game is fast moving; the momentum shifts in the blink of an eye, or rather the pivot of a player and a toss of the disc.  Every dropped pass results in the opposing team gaining possession, causing a flurry of motion as players switch from offense to defense mode and vice versa. Even in the extreme heat last weekend, there was rarely a dull moment on the field.

David Johnson, a professor of chemistry and environmental science at Ferrum College, had finished his game and watched the BLUD team from under a tent on the sidelines. At age 63, he has played “since ’79, when it started, and [was] among the original group in Roanoke that started in ’92 or ’93.” He said, “I am a little bit alternative myself,” and the fact that Ultimate “didn’t have umpires or refs” was appealing. He also loves the “Spirit of the Game” which he concisely rephrased: “players pledge to play fair, hard, and friendly.”

A natural ambassador for the sport, Aldana said he hopes the tournament and resulting exposure will introduce folks to the game and “move new people to enjoy the great outdoors in the Roanoke area” via Frisbee.

Tossing around a lot of banter with fellow players, Sawyer summed it up, saying “Ultimate is a sport that has a really laid back culture.” That may be so, but for a bunch of laid back Frisbee players, they sure are intense about their love of the game.

Coventry Commonwealth Games Winners:

Gold – “Colbyashi and the Hot Dogs” (VT alumni and students)

Silver – “Wimpy Slackers” (Radford alumni, students and friends)

Bronze – “BLUD” (Roanoke Ultimate)

4th Place – “Huckstables” (Lynchburg Ultimate)

For more information on Ultimate Frisbee and the pickup schedule, visit roanokeultimate.com