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Have Frisbee, Will Travel

Have Frisbee, Will TravelMembers of the men and women's Ultimate Frisbee teams discuss the increased popularity of this modern sport.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [09.08.08] From college fields to town greens, wherever there is open space, you can find them. With a familiar plastic disc in hand, they make up a fast growing community that is taking the college sports world by storm.

They are, of course, the men and women of Ultimate Frisbee, often referred to as simply "Ultimate," a sport which has grown in leaps and bounds since first coming on the scene in the late 1960s. And the Tufts campus is no exception.

Played on a football-sized field, Ultimate is a non-contact sport in which the objective is to pass the Frisbee down the field, scoring points for each time a team gets the Frisbee into their respective end zone.

American studies major Maria Funkhouser Alexander (A'09), co-captain of the Tufts women's team, says Tufts currently fields two full women's teams and three full men's teams.

"For a small school, there is definitely a lot of participation," Funkhouser Alexander says. "The men's team began back in the 1970s, with some women playing, until an official women's team was created in the early '80s."

"The Ultimate Frisbee team is one of the largest and most active club sports teams at Tufts," says Tyler Bugden (A'09), co-captain of the men's team along with Andrew Hollingworth (A'10). "Upon arriving to school, freshmen usually see Frisbees flying either on Fletcher Field or the Residential Quad.Tufts takes Ultimate Frisbee very seriously."

For the women, there are two teams of approximately 30 to 40 girls total, while the men's club hosts three teams, ranging from anywhere between 70 to 100 players per year. Both teams play under the Ultimate Players Association (UPA), an umbrella organization of high school, college and club teams from around the country.

For both teams, the fall semester serves more as an extended tryout period, and those who continue on into the spring semester are separated into teams.

"One of the interesting things about Frisbee is that there are no referees-it is all self-officiated-so you are calling your own fouls," Funkhouser Alexander says. "A lot of people who come in that have played other sports before feel the urge to constantly contest a call, but it's really all about the spirit of the game and being honest, and once you get used to it, you see that it makes the game go a lot faster."

Tufts Men's Ultimate Frisbee team

Under the UPA, colleges are split up into different regions and sections, placing Tufts in the metro-Boston section of the Northeast region, playing against a wide range of teams from MIT, Northeastern, Boston University, Dartmouth and Harvard.

"Last year we came in second in our section and fifth in our region," women's co-captain Kate McCaffrey (E'09) says. "The two years before that, however, we went to nationals, coming in second in our region each year, and tied for 11th at nationals both times."

"Tufts has one of the most competitive Frisbee teams in New England," Bugden says. "Since the first college nationals took place at Tufts in 1973, the men's team has proven itself to be a national competitor, year after year. Last year, the Tufts A-team ranked 22nd in the nation."

So what is it about this game that pulls people in?

"It's just so portable, you can do it anywhere, you just need a Frisbee and no other equipment," McCaffrey says."At Tufts, I think it has taken off because a lot of well-rounded athletes are coming in who are used to playing team sports all through out high school and they are looking for something new to try. They try this and they just get absorbed by the culture behind it-you really come into a community not just a team."

Bugden adds, "There is a place for every body type-tall bodies always have an advantage, but small and agile players can juke a tall player into oblivion. So, Frisbee really attracts those kids who played varsity sports in high school, but just don't have the edge to make their college team."

With the growing popularity, players feel that the sport is finally gaining the respect it deserves.

"Ultimate is often thought of as this hippie, run-around-barefoot kind of sport, but I think anyone who watches or plays competitive Frisbee sees the athleticism and sees it as a serious sport that requires a lot in terms of running, coordination and strategy." Funkhouser Alexander says. "It can be very simple, but at our level it can be very complicated."

"Ultimate is not a sport people start playing when they are really young-you don't play Ultimate like you would tee ball-so no one intuitively knows the rules when they get here," McCaffrey says. "But I think now that is changing. A lot of the girls this year have said they played it in gym class, so it's cool that a lot of high schools are embracing it and I think it is getting a lot more respect than it used to."

Profile by Kaitlin Melanson, Web Communications.

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