Play the disc

Reno’s Ultimate Frisbee League heads into fall with a passion for this intense and amiable game

Matt Westfield began playing Ultimate Frisbee in 1975.<br>

Matt Westfield began playing Ultimate Frisbee in 1975.

Photo by David Robert

Take a trip in your mind. Find that image of the laidback guys in Southern California, idly tossing a Frisbee back and forth, acting as if every day is endless, and the only thing they really have to do is listen to the sound of the waves crashing against the beach. Now that you have that picture in mind, please release it because it simply does not apply. Not anymore. Not since the invention of Ultimate Frisbee. The game is intense, well-organized and downright competitive. But ultimately, it’s a sport that’s played for the spirit of the game.

Right now, the action can be found at Idlewild Park every Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. That’s where the Reno Ultimate Frisbee Summer League gets down with lots of running and jumping. A quick glance at the rosters will tell you that they know how to have a good time. Teams with such stellar names as Well Hung Flung, Debbie Does Disk and Pick, Flick & 2 Smokin’ Fingers grace the schedule.

The game is not as hard to grasp as a hard-flung Frisbee. Two teams of seven players— ideally four guys and three women—square off in a game that is non-stop action. The disc is advanced up the field by tossing it from one player to the next in the hope of ultimately completing a pass on the other side of the goal line, just like in football.

Of course, it comes with a challenge. Defenders stick to one another like glue and anytime the Frisbee is dropped, possession reverts to the other team. If players are really good, they make like Deion Sanders and leap into the air to intercept the disc. Then, it’s off to the races. When everything is clicking, a team glides up and down the field like a ballet troupe, leaping, spinning and turning. The first team to rack up 13 points wins. Then the next pair of fresh-legged teams takes the field and commences burning calories.

There’s another benefit to this high-wire act. There are no coaches stalking the sidelines like Bobby Knight, screaming at players and threatening to choke their mothers if they don’t do everything just right. And, there are no referees spoiling the air with their bad calls and their ear-piercing whistles. In Ultimate Frisbee, players note their own fouls and make their own substitutions.

“Ultimate provides a great sense of community, that’s why I play,” says Lilith Anderson, a labor and delivery nurse at Tahoe Forest Hospital. “My team, The Donner Party, just won a gold medal against a team from Germany in the World Disc Games in San Diego.”

The game of Ultimate Frisbee traces its roots back to Maplewood, N.J., in 1967. Some creative high school students at Columbia High School conspired to make the game of Frisbee something more than what it always had been—a game of leisure. They wanted a game that took their adrenaline up a notch or two, but without the blood and bad feelings of traditional sports like basketball or football. One of the main architects of this wild adventure was Joel Silver, the Hollywood producer of such mega-hits as the Lethal Weapon films and The Matrix trilogy, plus dozens of others.

By 1972, the first collegiate Ultimate Frisbee game was played between Rutgers and Princeton, and by 1983, the World Ultimate Championship was held in Gothenburg, Sweden, where a U.S. team won titles in open and women’s divisions. The next big leap took place in 2001 with Ultimate being showcased as a medal sport in the World Games in Aita, Japan. Ultimate is now played by an estimated 100,000 players in more than 30 countries, with talk of it one day being sanctioned as an Olympic sport.

The Reno Ultimate Frisbee League begins Aug. 26. Matt Westfield, 43, could end up on a team opposite yours, but he’s not going to let the metal in his joints slow him down.<br>

Photo by David Robert

How has a game that Joel and the boys started on a whim in Maplewood, N.J., spread to become one of the most favorite sports in the world? It’s all in the game’s character.

“For me, that’s what makes the game so great,” says Matt Westfield, one of the prime movers and shakers behind the Reno Ultimate Frisbee Summer League. “I first began playing in 1975 in Chatham, N.J., and it comes down to one thing, the spirit of the game.”

An admitted Frisbee fanatic, the 43-year-old Westfield pastes himself together before every game with an assortment of kneepads and back braces. Three operations have left his body infused with stainless steel in his shoulders and titanium in his knees, but once the game starts, no one would ever know it. He darts up and down the field like a speedster on skates. When he isn’t making a sharp cut to fake out his defender, he’s shouting encouragement to the other players.

“When it comes right down to it, you have to pat the younger guys on the back and congratulate the other team,” Westfield says.

It seems that the game’s spirit is something more than just a matter of on-the-field etiquette; it’s an aura that permeates the air and influences players the minute they step into the flow of the game.

“Ultimate players are a peaceful sort of people. We need this kind of outlet,” says Carlos Barrantes, a 27-year-old University of Nevada, Reno student from Costa Rica. “I grew up playing in my country, and when I came to Reno, I was here only about two weeks before I joined the league.”

The Internet has been a big plus in bringing Ultimate players together. They only need to plug into Ultimate Players Association ( to find a team nearly anywhere in the world.

“I played last month in the Philippines,” says Barry Smith, another avid player who plays several times a week. “You haven’t really lived until you’ve taken a cab all over Manila looking for the local Frisbee field.”

Friendships are the key to the success of Ultimate Frisbee.

“At least half my friends are fellow Frisbee players,” says Chris Stone, a grad student at UNR, who has been playing for 23 years. “We’ll be forming a league in the fall, then we’ll really get it going.”

The fall league takes flight beginning Aug. 26. People who are interested need to contact City of Reno Parks and Recreation if they want to experience Ultimate Frisbee at its finest. Because one thing is for certain, Frisbee players know how to get after it. They play hard, and they play to win, but they don’t go gaga over it. After all, they play for the spirit of the game.