Discs ‘R’ Us

Along with camaraderie and fun, a big draw for Ultimate players is the health benefit. Standing around is not part of the game.  (David Snyder)
Along with camaraderie and fun, a big draw for Ultimate players is the health benefit. Standing around is not part of the game.
(David Stuck)

Jon “Yaakov” Goldman may have just turned 50, but fortunately for him, when it comes to playing Ultimate Frisbee, his most highly coveted and personally gratifying skill doesn’t age along with him.

Goldman’s favorite element of Ultimate — an outdoor sport invented in 1967 that requires no more than an open field, a Frisbee and a handful of orange cones — is delivering the perfect pass. With a quick snap of his wrist, Goldman can hurl the Frisbee as far as 75 yards, and having learned spin nuances while playing the game in college, Goldman can manipulate the disc and make it go exactly where he wants it to.

“Imagine you’re a quarterback,” explained Goldman, “and you can send your receiver right into the very back corner of the end zone and you know how to throw [the disc] so it curves outside the field, whips in like a ‘C’ right in the corner and misses the defender by a foot. That’s really fun.”

Thanks to a weekly local pickup game, Goldman — and several other Ultimate enthusiasts from Jewish Baltimore — have the chance to experience that level of enjoyment every Sunday morning.

Since the spring of 2010, the game has taken place from around 9 to 10:45 a.m. on the fields at Wellwood International School. The game used to be held on Saturday nights but was moved to Sunday mornings so it could be even more open to the community. Usually around 10 to 12 people show up for a 5-on-5 or 6-on-6 game. From beginners to seasoned veterans, all skill levels and ages are welcome.

Nationwide, the sport is growing at an enormous pace. Almost five million people participate in Ultimate Frisbee in the U.S. alone, more than in lacrosse and hockey combined, according to a 2012 Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association report. Worldwide, there are more than seven million participants in more than 80 countries, according to the World Flying Disc Federation.

Part of the reason the pickup game is so open and fun is the essence of Ultimate itself. It’s a sport — even when played at the highest levels — that is centered on a positive attitude and good sportsmanship. Even the official Ultimate rulebook emphasizes upholding “Spirit of the Game” regulations, which prohibit taunting opposing players, dangerous aggression, belligerent intimidation or any “win-at-all-costs” behavior.

“Highly competitive play is encouraged, but never at the expense of mutual respect among competitors, adherence to the agreed upon rules or the basic joy of play,” reads Section 1, Item B, of the sport’s official rulebook.

For Goldman, the ability to compete among a bunch of mensches has always been a huge part of the draw.

“There’s no smack talk, you’re not rubbing anyone’s nose in it,” Goldman said. “It’s just really healthy energy, and that’s really important to me.”

The health factor also plays a role in Ultimate’s overall appeal.

The sport is similar to football in that it involves advancing the Frisbee down the field while the opponent attempts to intercept or knock passes down to gain possession. However, it also mirrors the endurance-factor of soccer in that the action is continuous. Players can only advance the disc by throwing it (one cannot run while holding the Frisbee), but when not with possession, players are almost always sprinting regardless if they are on offense or defense.

Playing on grass reduces stress on the legs and joints. And, particularly when it rains and the field becomes muddy and even softer, players relish the ability to lay out and dive for passes. The end result is a full body workout.

“With a hectic schedule of Jewish praying and learning, work, kids and grad school, I have a very limited time to exercise,” said pickup regular Brett Weil, 36. “Ultimate packs in lots of aerobic exercise in 90 minutes on a Sunday.”

Ultimate requires virtually no equipment. In addition to the necessary 175-gram (less than half-a-pound) disc, cones are set up to mark the boundaries of the field and the two end zones. The group recently invested $35 in colored scrimmage vests, which are worn to help differentiate between teams.

And, Goldman said, it truly is a sport for anyone. He likened Ultimate to golf, in that one doesn’t have to be muscular or supremely athletic to be a quality player. Experience and repetition are the keys to honing one’s game.

Weil added that those interested in trying out Ultimate shouldn’t be afraid to jump right in.

“The veteran players are happy to help, whether it’s the rules of the game, throwing/catching mechanics or Ultimate game strategies,” Weil said. “But most importantly, we are there to have fun.”

For more information about the pickup games, contact Yehuda Bennett at yehudabennett@gmail.com.

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