Ultimate Frisbee History
“Ultimate doesn’t build character, it reveals it. Ultimate isn’t just the winning score or how well your team plays, it’s also about your competitive conduct while playing the game. If your goal isn’t to win the SOTG award as much as you would like to win the game, you’re not playing ultimate.”
1966-1975, like Tin Lid Golf, there are accounts of ultimate-like games being played with tin lids as early as the 1940s, much earlier than our recent Frisbee history records. Not hard to imagine since both disc golf and ultimate are sports with very similar competitive concepts as very established ball sports. The only thing completely unique is the flying plastic disc, that flies much better than a ball or tin lids.
The history of ultimate was updated in 2003, after an interview with both Jared Kass and Joel Silver.
‘For years it was thought that Joel Silver and fellow students at CHS invented Ultimate Frisbee, however, more recent and rigorous research has come to light to suggest that the truth may be somewhat different. Silver and his friends did much to record the rules and move the sport to the public and eventual popularity. According to Willie Herndon (2003), after interviewing Silver and Kass, it was found that Silver had learned a Frisbee game from someone named Jared Kass while attending summer camp. Herndon (2003), like many, assumed that Silver had played something like Frisbee football with Jared Kass at camp, and then returned to Columbia High School in Maplewood, New Jersey, and made up and named, a whole new game called Ultimate. However, upon questioning Kass closely it seems that the whole of the Ultimate playing world had been somewhat misled. Upon investigation, Herndon (2003) learned that Kass had taught Silver not some distant relative of Ultimate, but Ultimate in its essence and by name, whilst having no idea that he had had anything to do with its creation. Kass recounts that the game evolved from a variation of touch football whilst at Amherst College where he started as a student in 1965.——–Gerald Griggs – University of Wolverhampton, U.K. The Sports Journal’
In 1966, Jared Kass and fellow Amherst students evolved a team Frisbee game based on concepts from American football, basketball, and soccer. This game had some of the basics of modern ultimate including scoring by passing over a goal line, advancing the disc by passing, no traveling with the disc, and turnovers on an interception or incomplete pass. Jared, an instructor and dorm advisor, taught this game to high school student Joel Silver during the summer of 1967 or 1968 at Mount Hermon Prep school summer camp. Joel Silver, along with fellow students Jonny Hines, Buzzy Hellring, and others, further developed ultimate beginning in 1968 at Columbia High School, Maplewood, New Jersey. The first sanctioned game was played at CHS in 1968 between the student council and the student newspaper staff. Beginning the following year evening games were played in the glow of mercury-vapor lights on the school’s student-designated parking lot. Hellring, Silver, and Hines developed the first and second edition of “Rules of Ultimate Frisbee”. The name Ultimate Frisbee appeared on the rules. Silver had learned the name “Ultimate” as well as the game from Kass at summer camp that same year. In 1970 CHS defeated Millburn High 43-10 in the first interscholastic ultimate game. CHS, Millburn, and three other New Jersey high schools made up the first conference of Ultimate teams beginning in 1971. The history of ultimate began with some summer camp activities and high school students (CHS) in New Jersey. Ultimate didn’t become a serious sport in the U.S. and Canada until introduction and development by early disc athlete’s that played ultimate got involved in promoting and organizing in the mid-1970s. When Jared Kass introduced Joel Silver to ultimate, he wasn’t introducing his idea of a sport, he was introducing a new fun camp activity. When Joel Silver introduced the game, he learned from Kass to students at CHS, it was more of a pseudo counterculture inspired amusement than the beginnings of a new sport.
“As a joke one day — because it was a kind of counterculture time — I had raised my hand in my student council and I say, ‘I’d like to move that we have a committee to investigate the possibility of bringing frisbee into the high school curriculum. I mean, it was a joke”. – Joel Silver – interview May 18, 2016, Sludge Output,
“There are a couple of things to say. Even as we try to pin responsibility on me for it, the part that I can’t take responsibility for is that at that moment I leaped up and said, “This is the ultimate” and felt and experienced it – it’s not that the game came from me; it’s that the game came from the joy of life and that was a moment when I was lucky enough to discover it. It’s a joy to be connected to all of you who are playing this game because we all know together – we’ve all had tastes of the experience – that it’s the ultimate. It’s definitely a way of bringing a circle together that I didn’t know was there”. – Jared Kass – interview by Willie Herndon.
Joel Silver and his classmates get credit for writing up the first set of rules and there’s always the possibility that if Silver had not learned the game from Kass during his days at Mt Hermon Prep School summer camp, the game might never have left Kass and his camps summertime activity. This would make Silver and Kass co-founders. After reading their two statements above, it is clear who actually invented the concept of ultimate. Not only does Kass not want to take credit for the invention, but actually believes the credit belongs to every player that has ever played the game. This selflessness is the Spirit on which all disc sports were founded and embodies the Spirit of the Game (SOTG) that serves as the competitive foundation on which the game of ultimate is played to this day.
Many inventions and concepts begin as accidents or turn out to be more than originally intended. Kass and Silver never competed in ultimate or any other disc sports outside of camp and high school. After CHS graduation, Silver went on to Hollywood for a career in movies. It was the sixties, looking for alternatives was always a fun option, for Silver and CHS students, ultimate was played as a fun alternative to traditional sports for students that didn’t play sports and were not considered athletes. Whatever the reason, this was the beginning of ultimate play. A few of the CHS students who played early ultimate at the high school would go on to become excellent disc athlete’s called Johnny Appleseeds and with other disc athlete’s began promoting the new sport of ultimate around the U.S. and Canada in the mid-1970s. Ultimate began as a joke, early disc athlete’s turned it into a sport.
Beginning In 1975, ultimate was included as a new disc sport exhibition at the big overall (multiple event) Frisbee tournaments of that time, including the World Frisbee Championships, California, the Canadian Open Frisbee Championships, Toronto, the Octad, New Brunswick, New Jersey and the American Flying Disc Open (AFDO), Rochester, NY. In the late 1970s, the first ultimate leagues began to appear in the U.S. and Canada.
Spirit of the Game
Evolving from the counterculture playing appeal of all the disc sports, ultimate’s Spirit of the Game (SOTG) came later and in 1978, was written into the 7th edition of the ultimate rules. “Spirit of the Game” wasn’t invented by any one group or person, it evolved from the type of athlete’s that were attracted to all of the disc sports of that time, including ultimate.
In December 1979, the first national player-run ultimate organization was founded in the United States as the Ultimate Players Association (UPA), Tom Kennedy was elected its first director.
Ultimate and Freestyle Early Play
“Ultimate is a passing game mostly made up of throwing techniques invented by freestylers that were commonly used in early freestyle. When I watch an ultimate game, I don’t just see ultimate players, I see early freestylers that like to run a lot”.
Ultimate and early freestyle share a common history. As was inscribed on the back of all the Frisbees since the 1960s, to invent games and experiment with different ways of throwing and catching, freestyle was Frisbee’s first playing activity. Throwing variety and catching the Frisbee behind the back and under the legs even before the introduction of any disc sports, were moves that would show the possibilities of using the Frisbee as a flying disc skill that could be used in sports. The earliest introduction of ultimate was played as a backhand passing, two-hand catching camp activity by Kass and Silver with friends in high school. Many of ultimate’s earliest promoters (Johnny Appleseed’s) became excellent disc athletes and some became very accomplished freestylers in the early 1970s. Freestyle play and competition was the popular tournament event through the 1970s. When players weren’t freestyling they would play other disc sports like disc golf and ultimate. Freestylers invented and developed all of the advanced throwing techniques players used in early freestyle. These basic freestyle throwing techniques were brought to disc golf and ultimate and have become an exciting part of today’s disc sports including ultimate. Freestylers were some of the first accomplished handlers and early contributors, introducing the big throwing styles that make ultimate the fun passing game it is today.
To see early freestyle throwing techniques and some new throws that could be used in ultimate see Rowan McDonnells 80 Ways to Throw a Frisbee.
Ultimate Frisbee History in Canada
Disc Golf History in the U.S. and Canada
Freestyle Frisbee History
Guts Frisbee History
History of Disc Sports in Canada
Home Page: The History of Frisbee and Disc Sports
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 reproducing in whole or part is permitted. For more information contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2019 Disc Sports History. All rights reserved.