“People view it as a novelty often, but if you take away the Frisbee and replace it with a ball, it’s really difficult.” – Brandon Leshchinskiy.
The following articles cover the history of early Frisbee play and the first flying disc sports. Resourced from player pioneers, timelining the period and common events thread that led to the introduction of all the disc sports that began in the U.S. and Canada.
Home Page: The History of Frisbee and Disc Sports
History of Frisbee and Disc Sports in Canada
History of Ultimate Frisbee
Ultimate Frisbee History in Canada
Disc Golf History
Freestyle Frisbee History
Guts Frisbee History
The Counterculture and Early Frisbee Pioneers.
“When a ball dreams, it dreams it’s a Frisbee”– Stancil Johnson.
There is a uniquely different experience when playing with a flying disc, then when playing with the earthbound characteristics of a ball. The flying disc captures our imagination and fascination with flight. People frequently dream that they are flying, no one ever dreams of rolling around like a ball. This flying disc sensation is what created the Frisbee fad of the 1950s-60s and continues to be the primary motivation for disc sports athletes today.
In the 1960s, as numbers of young people became alienated from social norms, they resisted and looked for alternatives. They formed what became known as the counterculture. The forms of escape and resistance manifest in many ways including social activism, alternative lifestyles, experimental living through foods, dress, music and alternative recreational activities, including that of throwing a Frisbee.
The perceptions of the Frisbee being popular within the countercultural community probably came from seeing long-haired young people, shoeless and wearing tie-dye, throwing Frisbees in the parks, on campus and at music festivals in the 1960s. Also in the 1960s and 1970s, when new Frisbee sports and events were being played and introduced at the first tournaments, it could be perceived that these new sports were being invented as an alternative to traditional ball sports. All of these early perceptions would turn out to be true. The idea that these were non-athletic ‘hippie types’ that couldn’t play traditional ball sports is just plain false, most of these early disc athletes were former ball athletes with a 60s style, which included long hair and alternative attitudes. Some of the greatest Frisbee players of all time were the overall competitors that competed in all of the disc sports and individual events in the 1970s. The difference with athletes, then and now, that play disc sports and the athletes that play traditional ball sports is not their athleticism or cultural attitudes, but disc athlete’s philosophy and attitude towards sportsmanship and play. With yesterday and today’s disc athletes, the play of the game is as important as winning. Although you aspirationally hear that for all sports, appreciation for athletism in traditional sports is mostly measured by the end score of the competition. Ultimate actually have player and team awards for game sportsmanship called Spirit of the Game Award (SOTG). At the end of an ultimate game, win or lose, teams will often present a cheer for the other team and after championship games will celebrate their opponent’s victory with them.
“All players are responsible for administering and adhering to the rules. Ultimate relies upon a ‘Spirit of the Game’ that places the responsibility for fair play on every player. It is trusted that no player will intentionally break the rules; thus there are no harsh penalties for breaches, but rather a method for resuming play in a manner which simulates what would most likely have occurred had there been no breach. Highly competitive play is encouraged, but should never sacrifice the mutual respect between players, adherence to the agreed-upon rules of the game, or the basic joy of play”.——Spirit of the Game (SOTG).
‘Spirit of the Game’ evolved from the counterculture and alternative playing appeal of all the early disc sports, including ultimate. SOTG, as it is called in ultimate, is not just about the lack of referees in a game, it is a ‘conduct of play’. The lack of referees and self-dispute settling are the results of this code of conduct. Although this conduct is a playing attitude that extends to all disc sports, it was first officially recognized in ultimate and included as a rule in the 7th edition of the ‘1978 Official Rules for Ultimate’. SOTG also includes an ‘Integrity Rule’ where players are expected to call themselves when they commit a foul, giving the player that is fouled the option. In the AUDL, where referees are used, this option overrules calls made on the field by the referees and is used frequently during games.
Freestyle – the First Frisbee Play.
“Play catch, invent games. To fly, flip away backhanded; flat flip flies straight; tilted flip curves-experiment!” – Wham-O Frisbee.
This was the inscription on the back of all the Frisbees from the mid-1960s, giving instructions and original playing intention for the Frisbee flying disc invention. These were the first words to define the first Frisbee play that would later be known as “freestyle” and promoted as a flying disc for experimenting with different ways of throwing and catching. Many disc sports like guts, disc golf and ultimate began by slightly altering competitive strategies of similar ball sports and replacing the ball with a flying disc. The fact that these new disc sports can be played and enjoyed at any skill level by players with even introductory basic disc skills is key in their growing popularity. Freestyle is considered the hardest disc handling discipline with a play that is completely unique to the flying disc. Throw and catch freestyle play has evolved since the 1960s, with early freestyle specialist inventing and developing all of the throwing techniques that are used in today’s popular disc sports.
Frisbee and Disc Sports First Athletes 1960s – 1973.
Experimenting with ‘throw and catch’ freestyle, at the beginning of disc play in the 1950s-60s predates all of today’s popular modern disc sports. Freestyle competitions and the touring freestyle performers in the 1970s was the beginning of showing people that the Frisbee was more than just a beach recreation.
By the 1960s, while Frisbee was still considered a toy and a fad, Frisbee’s first skilled athletes were beginning to appear and get noticed. The early guts players at the International Frisbee Tournaments (IFT) in Northern Michigan. Beginning their Frisbee play in Michigan in the 1960s and then moving to Toronto in 1970, early Frisbee pioneers, Ken Westerfield and Jim Kenner were playing a fast-flowing trick throw and catch freestyle and object disc golf on a course in Toronto’s Queen’s Park. Already touring as Frisbee Professionals, performing in cities promoting the Frisbee across Canada for Irwin Toy, Ken and Jim had also started early Frisbee Championships in Toronto and Vancouver, BC. During that same period, Victor Malafronte and John Weyand of the Berkeley Frisbee Group (BFG) had raised Frisbee tossing and catching to a delicate art form of flowing throws and receptions and were playing object disc golf on a UC Berkeley campus course. Vaughn Frick, John Sappington, and Scott Dickson were doing creative trick throws and fancy Frisbee catching on the campus of the University of Michigan. Dan Roddick’s father Papa Jack, gave 5-year-old Danny one of Fred Morrison’s original plastic flying saucer discs for Christmas in 1953. That Flyin’ Saucer became part of their regular family fun activities. By the early-1970s, Dan Roddick included individual disc events at his Pennsylvania and New York State Frisbee Championships. Ultimate disc athletes called Johnny Appleseeds, graduates from Columbia and other New Jersey high schools, began organizing ultimate games at their universities.
The IFA Newsletter was instrumental in bringing these groups together in one way or another. It led Victor Malafronte to the 1973 Canadian Open Frisbee Championships in Toronto where he met Ken Westerfield and Jim Kenner. In response to meeting Victor, Ken trekked out to the West Coast later that year to meet and play Frisbee with the Berkeley Frisbee Group (BFG) players. They exchanged volumes of information about Frisbee styles, techniques, and activities. The IFA and its newsletter helped the University of Michigan guys get in contact with the Humbly Guts team and to get involved with the IFT, where they met even more Frisbee players like John Connelly, Alan Blake, and Tom Cleworth of the Highland Avenue Aces guts team. The exchange of ideas about creative throwing and catching grew substantially during this period. In 1973, Dan “Stork” Roddick met Spyder Wills at Laguna Beach for some Frisbee play and was highly influenced by the graceful and beautiful playing style that Spyder demonstrated.
Early Frisbee Play, Newsletter and Disc Sports Competitions 1968 – 1973.
“The earliest record of a flying disc sport was disc golf, beginning in Canada 1926”.
The first known instance of a flying disc sport was disc golf, invented in Canada. The first game was held in Bladworth, Saskatchewan, Canada in 1926. Ronald Gibson and a group of his Bladworth Elementary School buddies played a game of throwing tin lids into 4 foot wide circles drawn into sandy patches on their school grounds. They called the game Tin Lid Golf and played on a fairly regular basis. However, after they grew older and went their separate ways, the game came to an end. We don’t have the historical connecting dots from Tin Lid Golf 1926 to the beginning of modern disc golf, but it doesn’t mean they were not there. For all we know, someone from Bladworth Tin lid Golf may have moved to the East Coast of the U.S. for whatever reason and started the pie tin tossing at Yale and other Ivy League universities, we just don’t know. In 1970, the first object target disc golf courses were designed in Rochester, NY, Berkeley, CA and Toronto, ON. In the United States, Jim Palmeri had established an 18 hole object course and in the early 1970s began producing local disc golf competitions in Rochester, NY. In Canada, the first object course was designed in Queen’s Park, Toronto. In the mid-1970s, disc golf competitions were introduced to Canadians at the Canadian Open Frisbee Championships on Toronto Islands and at the Vancouver Open Frisbee Championships in Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC. Disc golf is now played in over 40 countries with a popular PDGA semi-professional tour.
The November 1969 “All Comers” meet in Brookside Park in Pasadena, California, advertised a “Style throwing and catching” activity area and also a “Free exercise” activity area in addition to the other more traditional Frisbee events like guts, distance, and accuracy. There were a few guts and distance tournaments in the 1960s, but Frisbee and modern disc sports were being invented, developed and promoted in the U.S. and Canada during the same early 1970s period. Canada has shown that despite population differences, Canada has always been competitive at the highest level against the U.S. and the World.
The IFA Newsletter made its debut in 1968. Stories of Frisbee activities, including stories about people who could throw a Frisbee in different ways and could make fancy trick catches began to circulate. The Frisbee community found out about the early Frisbee tournaments. The International Frisbee Tournament (IFT), guts Frisbee competitions in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Ken Westerfield and Jim Kenner’s Canadian Open Frisbee Championships in Toronto, Dan Roddick’s Pennsylvania State Championship events, and Wham-O’s National Junior Championships.
Touring Frisbee shows, the 1970s.
Freestyle, being the first Frisbee play, was new and exciting. A few of the top players of the 1970s were able to create Frisbee shows that would travel throughout the U.S. and Canada performing at fairs, universities, shopping malls and professional sporting events. This was the very beginning of demonstrating the possibilities of playing with a flying disc. Frisbee shows were giving the public a glimpse of what would soon become known as disc sports. Some of the more famous touring Frisbee shows were. Frisbee South, Goodtimes Professional Frisbee Show, The Aces, The Flying Aces and The Jammers. Wham-O (USA) and Irwin Toy (CANADA) organized several international tours. There were also sponsored Frisbee shows for major companies like Coca-Cola, Orange Crush, Copper Tone, Molson, Labatt, Budweiser, Lee Jeans and a tour with the Harlem Globetrotters. These shows would reach millions of people in every city and small town across North American and eventually the World. The early Frisbee freestyle shows, deserve a lot of credit through their performances and publicity with bringing about the awareness of this new age of flying disc sports.
Disc Sports and First Multi – Event Tournaments 1972 – 1976.
Organized disc sports, began with promotional efforts from Wham-O (U.S.A.) and Irwin Toy (Canada), a few tournaments and professionals using Frisbee show tours to perform and promote disc sports at universities, fairs and sporting events. The foundation for the beginning of all the disc sports were the early player pioneers and their multi-event tournaments of that time.
The earliest competitions presenting the Frisbee in disc sports was at the International Frisbee Tournament (IFT) in Michigan, in the late 1950s, the Canadian Open Frisbee Championships (1972) in Toronto, the Vancouver Open Frisbee Championships (1974), Vancouver, BC, the Octad (1974), New Brunswick, NJ, the American Flying Disc Open, AFDO (1974), Rochester, NY and the World Frisbee Championships (WFC) (1974) Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA. These were the earliest multi-event competitions on the tournament trail for the first disc athletes and the beginning of presenting all of the disc sports. Guts, freestyle, disc golf, ultimate, double disc court (DDC) and a number of Frisbee individual events like accuracy, distance, MTA, TRC, and discathon. Not only did these early multi-event tournaments present all of the first disc sports to the world, the tournament directors for these tournaments were also the pioneers and founders of these first disc sports.
Founders – Pioneers – First Events – Organizations.
There are certain people and events that stand out when acknowledging who laid the groundwork for the transition of playing with the Frisbee as a toy to disc sports.
The Healy family (guts and IFT), Ken Westerfield (ultimate, freestyle, disc golf, Canadian Open and Vancouver Open Frisbee Championships), Jim Kenner (Discraft, ultimate, disc golf, freestyle, Canadian Open and Vancouver Open Frisbee Championships), Jared Kass, Joel Silver, Tom Kennedy, Irv Kalb, Dan Roddick and Johnny Appleseeds (ultimate and UPA), Dave Marini (freestyle, FPA), Jim Palmeri (AFDO, disc golf, freestyle and DDC), Dan Roddick ( Octad, WFC, IFA, Frisbee World and WFDF), Ed Headrick (Wham-O, IFA, WFC, and disc golf), Tom Monroe (Frisbee South, tournaments and disc golf), Tom Schot (disc golf and Santa Cruz World Disc Championships). These were Frisbee and disc sports pioneers that not only excelled with the Frisbee when it was still considered a toy but produced the formats and competitive concepts through their own tournaments and organizations that created the disc sports we see today.
In the early to mid-1970s, several player Frisbee publications became available, like Flying Disc World, for the purpose of communicating everything that is Frisbee and disc sports. Beginning in 1976, Frisbee World Magazine with Dan “Stork” Roddick as the editor, provided tournament dates, finishes, stories and was instrumental in providing the information needed for the early growth of Frisbee and flying disc sports.
Timeline of Major Events in Disc Sports History
1926 – World’s first flying disc sport is disc golf invented in Canada. The first game was held in Bladworth, Saskatchewan, using tin lids.
1940s – In response to discovering the fun of sailing tin lids, Fred Morrison invents and introduces the world’s first plastic flying saucers.
1958 – International Frisbee Tournament (IFT Guts) in Eagle Harbor, Michigan.
1964 – Wham-o introduces the “Official Pro Model” to be used for disc sports.
1964 – 1969 – George Sappenfield and Kevin Donnelly as recreation counselors organized several Frisbee golf events for children on playgrounds in southern California using hula hoops as targets.
1966 – Jared Kass and fellow Amherst students start playing early games of ultimate.
1968 – Kass teaches his ultimate game to Joel Silver. Silver and fellow students at Columbia High School write up the first set of rules.
1969 – The first ultimate game played at CHS is between the student council and the school newspaper staff.
1970 – The first significant object disc golf courses are designed. Rochester, NY, Toronto, ON and Berkeley, CA.
1970 – Jim Kenner and Ken Westerfield move to Canada and set up their freestyle play and disc golf at Queen’s Park, Toronto.
1970 – New Jersey high school graduates called Johnny Appleseeds begin promoting the sport of ultimate at their universities.
1971 – A small group of Frisbee enthusiasts in Rochester, NY, discover disc golf, and form the “Rochester Frisbee Club”
1972 – Ken Westerfield and Jim Kenner are hired by Irwin Toy in Toronto to tour Canada as Frisbee Professionals.
1972 – Bill and Mike Schneider are hired by a German company to perform Frisbee demonstrations in Europe.
1972 – The Canadian Open Frisbee Championships, Toronto. The second oldest guts tournament.
1972 – The IFA Newsletter made its debut in 1968 and in the early 1970s began bringing together what would become the pioneers of modern disc sports in the U.S. and Canada.
1973 – The Flying Disc World newsletter by Dan Roddick and Flash Kingsley becomes the first independently published magazine for disc sports.
1974 – First multi-event disc sports tournaments. The Canadian Open Frisbee Championships in Toronto, Ont, the Vancouver Open Frisbee Championships, Vancouver, BC, the Octad, New Brunswick, NJ, the American Flying Disc Open, AFDO, Rochester, NY and the World Frisbee Championships (WFC) Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA.
1974 – Jim Kenner and Ken Westerfield perform halftime Frisbee shows at university basketball games for several years as the Molson Frisbee Team.
1974 – John Kirkland and Victor Malafronte perform Frisbee shows for the Harlem Globetrotters tour.
1974 – The Rochester Frisbee Club introduces the concept of disc golf as a competitive sport by hosting the first disc golf tournament of national scope.
1974 – Freestyle Pairs Competition. Canadian Open Frisbee Championships, Toronto.
1975 – Installation of the first permanent disc golf course in Oak Grove Park, La Canada, California.
1975 – Wham-O introduces the World Class 119g disc, an improvement in discs for competitive sports.
1975 – Ultimate is played for the first time in Canada at the Canadian Open Frisbee Championships. Toronto Islands.
1975 – World Class Frisbee signature disc for the U.S. and Canada.
1976 – NAS tour events are introduced by Dan Roddick at Wham-O to qualify players for the annual Rose Bowl World Championships.
1976 – Frisbee World Magazine is published by Wham-O with Dan Roddick as editor.
1976 – Disc golf competitions are introduced to Canada at the Canadian Open Frisbee Championships in Toronto and Vancouver as object target courses.
1976 – Ed Headrick invents the chain-style disc golf target and organizes the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA).
1977 – First Canadian NAS event in Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC, Canada
1977 – The first PDGA tournaments are held simultaneously in Northern New Jersey and Mobile, Alabama, the modern era of disc golf competition begins.
1977 – Mercer County Ultimate league (New Jersey).
1977 – Northern Calfornia Ultimate Frisbee League (NCUFL).
1978 – Discraft begins manufacturing the Sport Disc in London Ontario, Canada.
1978 – Freestyle Players Association established with Dave Marini.
1878 – Santa Cruz Flying Disc Championships, produced by Tom Schot and Ken Westerfield.
1979 – Ultimate Players Association is formed. Renamed USA Ultimate in 2010.
1979 – The first ultimate league in Canada. The Toronto Ultimate Club (TUC).
1980 – 18 disc pole hole course is installed on Toronto Islands.
1982 – The PDGA becomes a player-run organization to schedule tournaments and formalize the rules of play.
1983 – Dave Dunipace of INNOVA-Champion Discs invents the modern golf disc, a plastic flying disc with a beveled edge rim.
1987 – PDGA World Dsc Golf Championships – Toronto.
1987 – The World Flying Disc Federation (WFDF) first overall competition is held in Ft Collins.
1991 – World Ultimate Championships, Toronto.
1993 – Lavone Wolfe establishes the PDGA Hall of Fame.
1993 – Ultimate Canada is formed.
2004 – Ultimate Hall of Fame – USA Ultimate.
2011 – Ultimate Canada Hall of Fame – Ultimate Canada.
2016 – Freestyle Players Hall of Fame – Freestyle Players Association.
Note: This information was referenced and time-lined from disc sport historical and biographical articles including U.S. and Canadian Disc Sports Hall of Fame inductions, Disc Sports Player Federations and other historical resources. This article was researched, written and compiled by Frisbee and disc sports historians. The history in this document may change as events and people are added. Linking or reproduction in whole or part with proper crediting is permitted (discsportshistory.com). For more information contact: email@example.com
Top photo: Kenyon College students playing with a Frisbee-like flying disc in Ohio, 1950.
Eliot Elisofon—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images.
Page wallpaper photo collage: Frisbee World Magazines produced by Wham-O, 1976 -1982.
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