Sky society

Band of buddies becomes a full-blown culture
By WHIT RICHARDSON  |  July 12, 2006

I’d been hearing severe thunderstorm warnings on the radio all afternoon. The moment those three annoying beeps interrupted NPR, I’d stiffen and wait for the mechanical voice to announce the affected areas. And every time I was left optimistic: The storm would pass over York and Oxford counties and just miss the greater Portland area. Game on.

I left work that Monday and headed out of town confident that my Ultimate Frisbee summer league game scheduled for that evening would not be cancelled. League games are usually played on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, but my team (Portland Lobster Co.) had a rescheduled match against Maine Root that night because the game had already been rained out twice before. The blue sky between the clouds gave me hope during my drive from Portland to Cumberland Fairgrounds, one of the main sets of fields where the Portland Summer Ultimate League plays its games. I pulled into the parking lot and put on the pair of pinkish-orange striped bell-bottoms I had acquired in France and tugged over my head an exquisitely patterned sleeveless purple shirt. It was not my normal Frisbee attire and I realize telling you about my outlandish outfit might risk propagating the stereotype that Frisbee players are nothing but barefoot, doped-up hippies. But that evening was different. The teams had agreed to play a costume game. I tied on my cleats — yes, we wear cleats — which poked out from beneath my bell-bottoms, and ran onto the field dressed as a hippie worthy of Halloween.

There was Peter Pan and Superman and a strange, fairy-like beauty queen. As we began to play the clouds to the northwest began to darken and grow menacing, but we didn’t stop. When the wind picked up and sent our Frisbees nose-diving into the ground, we played on. Not until lightning flashed on the horizon did our tenacity give way, sending us to our cars to wait out the storm over a couple beers. After 15 minutes of lightning, rain, and hail, the sky cleared and we walked back onto the fields to keep playing.

For those unfamiliar with the sport, the game’s only necessity is a Frisbee — often referred to as a “disc” by Ultimate players — which makes playing cheap. Two teams of seven play on a field with two end zones, much like a football field. To begin, one team “pulls” to the other, similar to a kick-off in football. Because players can’t run with the disc, the team on offense must move the disc up the field by passing to teammates. When the disc is caught in the end zone, it’s a point. Games go to 15.

One thing that sets Ultimate apart is its nonstop action: when the disc is dropped or knocked to the ground, it is an immediate turnover; defensive players shift to offense. The workout, the fluidity, and the lack of referees, whistles, and multiple downs attracts a certain type of person. But the real difference between it and Portland’s other club sports comes down to the people: surely, no other Portland league can come close to the Ultimate league’s size — 32 teams and an estimated 580 players by the end of this summer — or to the influence it has had on its participants.

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Related: Good times at the U, His name was Robert Paulson, Sports blotter: June 2, 2006, More more >
  Topics: Lifestyle Features , Media, National Public Radio Inc., Education,  More more >
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