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What to Play if You're Looking for the Ultimate in Games

November 16, 1998|TRACY JOHNSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When a ball dreams, it dreams it's a Frisbee.

--Posting on a Web site

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A stroll through many of the parks and greenbelts sprawling across the Los Angeles Basin on weekends or weeknights is proof enough that a 30-year-old sport that grew out of tossing a Frisbee has simply become the ultimate.

What probably looks to passersby like a massive game of keep-away is the sport of "ultimate," an incarnation of Frisbee that combines elements of different sports using a flying disk. And the people who play this fast-paced game of catch for points are part of teams with such names as Sugar and Hyperion. There are also semi-organized pickup games.

Ultimate--often called Ultimate Frisbee, although the disks used in the game are not Frisbee brand and are slightly heavier--was invented when some New Jersey high schoolers adapted the rules of Frisbee Football to create a new disk-tossing game, one they called the "ultimate sports experience." But what started with a Frisbee in 1968 has grown into a game combining the endurance of soccer and the sprinting and pivoting turns of basketball on nearly a football-size field.

And you thought Frisbee was just for the beach.

"Ultimate isn't about throwing something as hard or as straight as you can," says Bob Byrne, executive director of the Ultimate Players Assn., the sport's national governing body. "The way we cut [for running patterns], throw and catch, all revolves around the way a disk moves and the things we can do with it."

A popular sport on the East Coast and in San Francisco and Seattle, ultimate is not as well-known in Southern California. Still, there are a handful of men's and women's teams in Los Angeles that practice about three times a week and compete in regional and national tournaments as well as daily coed pickup games in which anyone can play.

An ultimate team consists of seven people who all play offense and defense, depending on which team has the disk. The offensive team tries to advance the flat, circular saucer up the 70-yard field by throwing it from player to player until someone has a shot at one of the 25-yard end zones for a score while the defensive team tries to stop them by intercepting the disk.

Much like basketball, there is no heavy contact, but lots of blocking. Players in this self-officiated sport cannot run with the disk and have only a 10 count in which to throw it. A 13-0 point spread ends the game, but a match can go up to 21 points.

"Anyone can throw a Frisbee," said Brooke Ricketts, 29, who began playing ultimate in college and continues with Sugar, an L.A. women's team. "But ultimate is a matter of getting it to go where you want."

Ultimate is mostly a game of running because players alternate between jogging up field and sprinting to catch the disk.

As a result, those who play this aerobic sport tend to be in great shape. They have strong quadriceps and hamstrings, and muscular calves from the running..

"There's room for everyone in this sport," says Richard Hart, 28, a Hyperion team member and president of Los Angeles Organization of Ultimate Teams, the umbrella group for L.A. Clubs, which organizes the Los Angeles teams and posts pickup games on its Web site at http://www.laout.org. "Some people run better, some people throw better, but everyone's skills can be used."

Ultimate is also an affordable sport. All that's required besides a playing field is a disk, eight cones to mark the two end zones and a good pair of cleats.

An estimated 100,000 people play ultimate--about half in the United States--and the numbers continue to grow, according to the Ultimate Players Assn. As a result of the sport's recent acceptance into the World Games in Japan in 2001, high schoolers are taking it up and more people will likely go out for any one of the 200 college teams across the nation.

The bulk of players on Sugar and Hyperion, which both hold tryouts, began playing ultimate in college. But there are plenty of others who didn't pick up the sport until they stumbled across a game of Frisbee at the park.

"The sport is very appealing because it combines athleticism, grace and precision," says Nicole Peill, who started playing during her senior year at Caltech. "You're constantly moving and constantly having to think . . . there's also a great sense of camaraderie."

Byrne believes that ultimate is, indeed, the ultimate because of its low profile. The only way you find out about it is through the people who love it, he says.

"It's a word-of-mouth sport that you don't see on television and there's no prize money involved," he says. "It makes ultimate players a really dedicated bunch because it's their time and money. The only immediate paybacks are the joy you get from the sport and the friendships you get out of it."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Experience the Ultimate

For more information on ultimate, contact:

Los Angeles Organization of Ultimate Teams

(310) 712-DISK; http://www.laout.org.

Web site includes a listing of daily pickup games and club contacts.

Ultimate Players Assn.

(800) UPA-GETH; http://www.upa.org.

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Los Angeles Clubs

Women's

Sugar

Nicole Belle Isle, (310) 450-0207.

TFKAB

(The Team Formerly Known as B)

Steph Hart, e-mail at thearts@ucla.edu.

Men's

Hyperion

Rich Hart, (213) 658-6936.

Ragnarok

Ben Potash, e-mail at potash@oxy.edu.

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