Fast Flingers: At MPC, Ultimate Frisbee is high-speed fun.
Thursday, May 6, 2004
Over the last few years, I have heard a lot about the Wednesday night games of Ultimate Frisbee at Monterey Peninsula College. I have heard things like, “Wow, those guys sure are fast,” and “Damn, those people can really play.” It was enough to make me postpone my debut into the Monterey Ultimate scene indefinitely.
Last Wednesday, I discovered that I really had nothing to worry about. First, with up to 13 people on the sideline at a time, I discovered that I would be able to choose my degree of workout.
For those of you who have never seen the game—let alone played it—this is a big deal. Because Ultimate can be a workout.
Like football, Ultimate Frisbee is a fast-paced game between two teams trying to pass a group of defenders to reach an endzone. Unlike football, the players are in almost constant motion.
The only person standing still on the field is the one holding the disc. Once a player catches the disc, they must stand in the same place and wait for their teammates to get open. If the Frisbee touches the ground on an incomplete pass, it turns over to the opposing team. Basically, what this means is that players will end up doing a lot of running.
I arrived at Monterey Peninsula College’s football field a few minutes late last Wednesday and noticed that there was only one other Frisbee player on the field. Since it was both of our first times playing with the group, we both wondered aloud if we were in the right place. Later, I learned from other players that Ultimate enthusiasts make appointments according to “Ultimate time,” a measure of time about a half hour later than Pacific Standard Time.
About 15 minutes later, while a half dozen folks were warming up by throwing Frisbees, Chris Hansen showed me the three best ways to chuck a disc. Unfortunately, every time I attempted a forehand throw, the disc would float around unpredictably like a butterfly in a windstorm.
After a warm-up game of “goaltimate,” a game where two teams of four try to throw the disc through an 11-foot high arc made from plastic pipes, the crowd of about 25 people split into two teams of seven and a rotating stable of sideliners. While watching the action from the sidelines for the first few minutes, I talked to Andrew Kaminski, an emergency room doctor at Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital who has been playing with the group for 10 years.
From Kaminski, I learned why some people play every week, even in the dark, rainy winter months. “It’s forced exercise and in the wintertime, the lights are on and that extends the days,” he said.
After watching La Ron Johnson make an impressive catch, I decided to strike up a conversation with Daniel Warren to delay my first foray onto the playing field. Nervously eying the action a few feet away, I listened to Warren—who said he has played Ultimate in Monterey for 17 years—tell me about the early days of the weekly Ultimate games. Apparently, in the early days, the Ultimate players had some problems finding a place to play every week. According to Warren, even MPC was a little less than enthusiastic to host the weekly competitions. “They used to not like us playing here,” he said. “They used to turn the sprinklers on.”
About five years ago, the club became a legitimate organization with ties to the school through a faculty advisor. Johnson, an MPC counselor and former basketball player, is the current advisor.
Another of the group’s organizers is “Jocko,” an Ultimate enthusiast who helped out by putting together an e-mail list of players and posting information about the weekly games on www.upa.org, the Ultimate Player’s Association Web site with links to nationwide pickup games.
Before Jocko and I ran out on the field, he told me the reason he started playing Ultimate locally in 1991. He said he was at a local bar with a sleep-inducing group of acquaintances when he noticed a group of people at the other side of the room having the time of their lives. He approached the table, hung out with the group and was invited to play Ultimate with his new friends. “This has been my community ever since then,” he said.
After the white-shirted team scored a point, Jocko and I ran out on the field. At first, I was disoriented because my teammates kept shouting Frisbee jargon that I didn’t understand. Luckily, Jocko talked me through the tough times, and a few minutes later, I had caught my first pass.
Eventually, I realized that though the group is competitive, it is also very supportive. As the sun set and the stars started to come out, someone passed the Frisbee to me while I was standing in the endzone. Unfortunately, I tensed up and threw the disc away even though I had just scored. It was a bad maneuver that would usually result in our team forfeiting the point. Thankfully, my new friends decided to let it slide.
People interested in playing ultimate Frisbee should meet at Monterey Peninsula College’s football field, 980 Fremont St. in Monterey, Wednesday night at 6:30pm (or so!).