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The Ultimate High

by vicky bushnell

Ultimate frisbee has returned to Park City. Ok, maybe it never really left, but this spring marks the revival of Park City’s traveling team, named after the Frank Zappa tune “Dinah-Moe-Humm.” DMH (remix) has played two tournaments so far this year and is in the throes of organizing a Park City tournament to be held August 4-5 out at Ecker Hill Middle School.

So by now you’re probably asking “what the #&@$* is ultimate frisbee?” No, it’s not the game where crazy people throw frisbees to impossibly energetic dogs while cool music plays in the background. (Though that is pretty fabulous… My dogs and I will never be disciplined enough to do anything even remotely that clever)

Ultimate frisbee is a cross between soccer, basketball, and football, played with a frisbee. The origins of the game are somewhat disputed (something about Frisbie pie tins being tossed through the halls of Yale in the 1920’s), but most scholars agree that formalized Ultimate began at a Maplewood, New Jersey, high school in 1968. Since then it has spread across the country and the world. Ultimate is currently played in 42 countries, with programs in Sweden, Norway, and Japan receiving government funding. It is estimated that at least 100,000 people play the sport worldwide, about half in the United States. Ultimate will be a medal sport in the 2001 World Games in Japan.

An ultimate game begins with fourteen players, seven from each team standing at each end of the field on the goal line. The field is 70 yards long, with a 25-yard end zone at each end, similar to a football field. Play begins when the frisbee is “pulled” or thrown by one team to the team standing at the other end of the field. From there, the receiving team either catches the disc or picks it up and begins working the disk up the field toward the endzone. The disc advances only by passes from one player to another, as in soccer. There is a “travel” rule and a “pivot” foot, similar to basketball. Teams score by catching the disc in the endzone, like a football touchdown.

One thing that makes ultimate unique is the spirit of the game. The games are self-officiated, meaning players call their own fouls, and there are no refs. In fact, if you foul another player, etiquette dictates that you call the foul, even if the other player doesn’t. In ultimate, a foul is virtually any contact between two players, with very few exceptions. If you are called for a foul, your only options are to say “contest” or “no contest.” It is considered very bad form to contest an obvious foul. Many people believe that “disc karma” will punish any player or team that abuses the spirit of the game. I’ve seen more than a few bad calls rewarded with a turnover as soon as play continues.

So why do people play this crazy game? Well, I can tell you why I play. Ultimate is by far the most physically and mentally challenging team sport I have ever played—but that’s not why I play. I play because the people who play are the kind of people I want to be around. People who understand things like sportsmanship, the joy of just playing the game, playing hard and being proud of a good effort, praising the other team for a game well played. I probably sound like someone out of Leave it to Beaver, but there’s not a lot of this kind of spirit to go around these days.

So if you want to come out and play ultimate, what can you expect? The best place to start is either a pickup game or a city league. In Park City, there’s a pickup game on most Sunday evenings at 6 p.m. at Ecker Hill. At pickup, more-experienced players will help less-experienced players learn the basic throws (forehand and backhand) and learn fundamentals of the game (stuff like where to stand on defense and what the *$#& is a stack?). City league offers a more organized experience, with newer players assigned to teams with players of all different abilities to compete against other teams on a weekly basis. Salt Lake County’s summer ultimate league will have twenty or more teams this year. City league culminates in a mini-tournament, with the winners receiving nifty new discs!

If you come out for ultimate, beware: You will become addicted. And then you’ll want to start traveling to tournaments. Then what are you in for? Well, as one ultimate friend of mine (who, by the way, was the impetus behind my skiing trip to Chile last fall, but that’s another story) put it: “Remember when Al Michaels described the night that Michael Jordan played 45 of 48 minutes as a herculean feat? Well, an ultimate player at an ultimate tournament plays 4-5 games on Saturday, each lasting 90 minutes with only three timeouts and one 5-minute halftime. Then, everyone goes to the Saturday-night party, stays up all night, and, if the team’s doing well, that same player will play as many as 5 more games on Sunday to win the tournament. THAT’s effort!”

Yeah, Marc, you’re soooooo right. Anyway, for those of you interested in Park City ultimate, come out to Ecker Hill on Sunday evenings at 6 p.m. Or you can call Domino Jim, our erstwhile organizer/captain at (435) 647-0791, or e-mail him at I, for one, definitely look forward to seeing you. Come experience the Ultimate High.