Ultimate isn’t just for hippies anymore
They’re an eclectic bunch, coming in all shapes and sizes, some sporting afros and mustaches and looking more the part of musician than athlete. Who knows? These guys may be a little of both.
Members of the men’s Ultimate team (or Ultimate Frisbee for the layperson) are sweating it out in the midday sun at their usual practice spot on Chico State’s rugby field, running and flipping discs while team captains take a look at the new crop of players—10 to be exact—who are looking to make a good impression.
The large turnout illustrates Ultimate’s increasing popularity in Chico, as well as other college campuses across the country. The game has leaped from the college circuit and there’s now tournaments all over the world.
Players are serious about the sport, which is best described as a combination of football and soccer using a disc instead of a ball. The game’s renegade style: casual attire (although there are uniforms in larger tournaments) and players doing their own officiating under “The Spirit of the Game” has spawned associations of Ultimate being a game for slackers and hippies.
“I’m not going to lie, we’re a little hippie,” said Collin Biondo, one of Chico State’s star players. “But we’re some pretty in-shape hippies.”
Biondo said a player will run the equivalent of seven miles if he or she plays a complete game in a running position, which is why the team performs light conditioning exercises once a week.
Chico’s team, which went by The Hops until the university decided that the beer reference wasn’t kosher, started in the late 1980s and has seen some success in recent years. The team is consistently ranked in the Top 50 in the country and last year dominated a tournament in Georgia going 14-2, while beating out some of the nation’s top teams.
“We’re the team that scares the shit out of people,” Biondo said.
Of course, it’s not all work. Come tournament time, teams like the Humboldt Buds and the Berkeley Ugly Monkeys march into Chico and make a weekend out of it. Biondo said after players put a few seasons under their belts that the faces become more recognizable and the tournaments more fun.
Biondo, who’s in his fourth season, and team captain Kyle Harper will graduate this year, meaning they will begin molding new players to pick up where they leave off.
“We’re going to pass it on to some trustworthy guys,” Biondo assures.
Ultimate continues to gain momentum around the world, especially here in the United States. But what many people may not know is that the sport has already been around for 40 years.
The game was invented by a group of teenagers in the parking lot of Columbia High School in New Jersey. The staff members of the school’s newspaper killed time at night by tossing a Frisbee while incorporating the rules of football. Led by Joel Silver, the rules were tweaked over years to make it less like football and more into its own sport.
There are still some similarities to football and soccer—the goal is to get the disc into the end-zone. But players must stop after they catch the disc and have 10 seconds to pass it on an open teammate.
And unlike other sports, Ultimate is refereed by the players themselves in what is referred to as “The Spirit of the Game.” The rules only take up three pages and have remained the same for years.
“I think it’s the most competitive game next to hockey,” said 21-year-old Brian Redmond, a member of the Las Positas College team in Livermore. “The Spirit of the Game is respect for each other.”
Redmond was in Chico last month for Discos Calientes, a weekend tournament that brought around 40 men’s, women’s and co-ed teams from all over the country.
And the scene seemed to capture that “spirit of the game”—part competitive sport and part backyard barbecue.
On the field, players were running, lurching and yelling. On the sideline, they were sitting on lawn chairs under canopies sipping beverages and clapping when a long reception was made.
Elise Westphal was also up for the weekend and had just finished playing for the day. The 16-year-old from Moraga has played for two years and said it’s essential to enjoy yourself, but to cheer your team on.
Westphal said Ultimate is as physical as anything she’s played and insists that most players are not slackers with nothing better to do with their time.
“You can be [like] a track runner. We get pretty intense,” she said “It’s not a hippie sport.”