The term “ultimate” has been Madison Avenue-washed and shrunk down to size over the decades to mean, in most quarters, far less than the blissful definition of extreme wonderfulness that it implies. (After all, if you can buy “ultimate” milkshakes or mattresses, it’s definitely gone ’round the bend.)
And the once-magic word surely can’t be used to label a bunch of about 100 … post-school athletes, their friends and family, who were gathered at Big Sky Park east of Bend Sunday for a sunny day of sweat, cheers (and don’t tell anyone, but a few beers), now, can it?
Of course it can, when you attach another somewhat-forbidden word – frisbee (some spell-checkers insist on capitalizing it, but the Wham-O toy didn’t like its trademark thrown about by the creators of this unique sport, so the round plastic discs used to play aren’t even from the firm – whose co-founder, Arthur “Spud” Mellin, died last Friday at age 77, by the way.)
As the AP reported it, building inspector Fred Morrison sold Wham-O the flying disc he’d developed after watching Yale University students toss pie tins. The disc first was sold as the Pluto Platter, then renamed the Frisbee.
“We didn’t want it used as a toy – we wanted it to be a sport,” Melin said, years later.
You got it, Spud. And, considering the type of competition, camaraderie and all-around good vibes this sport engenders, perhaps the “ultimate” moniker isn’t all that far off.
Ultimate’s rules fairly simple, but have their unique twists
A growing legion of thousands of folks around the world play Ultimate Frisbee (keep that second word to yourself), described at http://www.whatisultimate.com (one of a plentitude of Web sites about the sport) as “an exciting, non-contact team sport (that) mixes the best features of sports such as soccer, basketball, American football and Netball (huh?) into an elegantly simple, yet fascinating and demanding game.”
On Sunday, six co-ed teams of 10 to 12 members, each fielding four men and three women on the field at a time, squared off to decide who would capture the trophy to close out the Bend Ultimate Competitive League’s 2-month summer season. And in the end, the “Tucker 3″ team, sponsored by the Source, defeated “Fowl Disposition” 11-4 to capture the title, in the first such tourney held in three years.
The rules of ultimate are fairly simple, with twists all their own. Like football, there are end zones at the end of a field, called the pitch, which under regulation play is 70 yards long and 40 yards wide. Each point (games usually go to 13, but fewer or more if the organizers wish) begins with one team “pulling” to the other (similar to a kickoff). An incomplete pass is a turnover, whether its dropped, thrown out of bounds, or the other team intercepts or knocks down the disc.
A goal is scored when a team completes a pass to a player in the end zone. But players can’t run with the disc – instead, they must stop when they get it and throw it to another player, working their way up the pitch.
The person with the disc has 10 seconds to throw it, with the defender guarding him or her – the market – counting out what’s called the “stall count.” If a pass isn’t completed, for whatever reason – it goes out of bounds, is dropped, intercepted – there’s a turnover, and the two teams immediately reverse roles, offense becoming defense and vice versa.
But while it’s a non-contact sport – no picks or screens allowed, like basketball – there are no referees, other than the players themselves, who are responsible for their own foul and line calls and to resolve their own disputes.
’Spirit of the game’ is hallmark of Ultimate competition – but injuries do happen
That points to the rule that stands above all: The “spirit of the game,” which stresses sportsmanship and fair play. “Competitive play is encouraged, but never at the expense of respect between players, adherence to the rules and the basic joy of play,” states one summary of the basic rules, which notes that there are no real penalties.
That code of ethics speaks to team unity, and friendship between opposing teams. As Renee Davidson put it: “Bad calls often result in bad karma for that team.” (Shades of the `60s!)
You get a sense of the sense of the humor involved in the fans of the game from the introduction to “the basics of Ultimate” at http://www.ultimatehandbook.com: “Who catches a disc better than anyone? Dogs. And they don’t even have thumbs. It goes to show, a long history of taking part in team sports and being a jock isn’t necessary to be an Ultimate player.”
“It’s not a contact sport,” said attorney Steve Herron, a member of the team “Shaken Not Stirred,” who showed true sportsmanship when he didn’t have the best of days Sunday – he fell badly on one leap for the disc and suffered a broken collarbone. After a quick trip to the nearby St. Charles ER, he returned to the park, medicated and holding ice on his injury, back to cheer on his teammates, who captured third place despite his absence.
As he headed home with his father at the wheel, Herron asked that his self-inflicted injury not be stressed in the story: “This is a great sport. It needs all the attention it can get.”
Ryan Singleton said the social aspect of the sport is what attracts him, “for fun, for fitness … it’s a good atmosphere.”
Players put `a lot of energy, heart’ into the game – but remain friends
Rod Ketner, director of this year’s tournament, said he’s heard that the sport dates back 20 years or so.
“People put a lot of energy, a lot of heart” into the game, he said. “We’ve got 100 people out here today, and I’d speculate that at the end of the day, we’re all friends.”
The team T-shirts don’t have the team names, which also included “Kelp,” “Hazzard” (named due to the yellow T-shirts they were given, said Davidson) and “Aqua Velva.”
Bend Distillery and the Bend Brewing Co. are among other sponsors, along with about.com, Cup of Magic and the Source, but while there’s definitely libations in the Ultimate formula, there’s far more of a family party atmosphere, with lots of sideline cheers – not a rowdy boozefest, by any means.
“I love it!” said Tabitha Sturm, whose team (Kelp) “took fifth place” (out of six teams, and yet, she was grinning widely.)
“I’m 30, and it’s probably the best going sport to meet neat people,” Sturm said, a comment echoed by another participant who said he moved to Bend less than a month ago.
Sure, beer is part of the atmosphere – but camaraderie is key
At day’s end, things get a bit … looser, as the chants turn from backing your teammates to playing until the beer’s gone. There’s even a day’s end drinking-game version, called “Walking Beer Ultimate” (you can’t run at all, and every time you drop the disc you take a drink, etc.) But as the play ended and conversation lingered, there was no sign anyone had had too much – and Davidson said, “I’m sure they all have a designated driver.”
Dave Caplan, who has lead the league for the past season, is “retiring to Palm Springs,” Ketner said at the close of competition as he presented a going-away gift: a lighter labeled “Punk Rock.”
“Bend Ultimate rocks – keep it rockin!” Caplan urged the crowd.
Switzer said the paper’s team, then called Pucker, won the last city tournament, held in Bend three years ago. (Now it’s named for a team member named Tucker.) A core group of Ultimate players from Bend will hit a tournament circuit later in the summer, as other participants take part in pickup games to hone their skills and bring along new players.
Switzer, who used to play in an Atlanta city league, said he was paid to go to Japan to teach Ultimate. But the newspaper editor said it’s the local leagues that are the essence of the sport.
“This is where Ultimate is at its best – people are easy on the rules, it’s a lot more fun,” Switzer said. And the sport “has never broken through to the big time – but it’s right there. They are trying to make it an Olympic sport.”
How do you do that, when the official rules have no referees and players calling their own fouls? Ah there’s the rub.
The “spirit of the sport” at the heart of Ultimate is what “holds it back,” Switzer said. “People pay thousands of dollars” to fly to far-off places and compete, only to make their own line calls: “’I think it was in!’ `Well I think it was out!’”
But whether or not Ultimate makes it to the world’s ultimate sporting venue, a whole lot of folks in Bend and around the world consider it a great (if not the ultimate) way to stay in shape, keep on competing and show the best side of athletics – not for money or ego, but the love of the game.