Ultimate Disc Sport History.
There is a lot more to the history of ultimate, then the Jared Kass and Joel Silver story. This article provides some context to the period. These are some of the events and players that shared pioneering moments in the early days of ultimate disc sport.
“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.”
like Tin Lid Golf (1926), there are recorded accounts of ultimate-like games being played with tin lids since the early 1900s, much earlier than our recent Frisbee historical records.
There were so many accounts of an early disc game being played recreationally by ball-minded athletes called Frisbee football, that ‘ultimate’ in some similar form, maybe by a different name was destined to become a popular disc sport. Not hard to imagine since both disc golf and ultimate are sports with similar competitive playing concepts as very established ball sports. The only thing completely unique is the flying plastic disc, that flies much better than a ball or a tin lid and the spirit of playing conduct for all disc sports, including ultimate.
The history of ultimate was updated in 2003 to include Jared Kass as a founder, 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 Kass, 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. Members of the school paper had been tossing a Frisbee during their lunch, and in the spring members of the council and the paper began to play Frisbee Football with a black 150 gram, Wham-O Master Tournament Model. The people who made up the team were part of what made the sport so unique. “It was a chance for The Columbian (the school paper) core – the intelligentsia and non-athletes of the school – to play a sport,” says Silver. Many of the players were excellent students who were headed to Ivy League schools. According to Ed Summers, one of the original players, there was also a good representation of stoners. Summers said, “The core of us were largely among the better students. There were also some druggie types. We were about evenly split between the better students and the half who smoked dope.”
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. It was evident from the personal interviews of 2003 by Herndon that Silver had learned the name ‘ultimate’ as well as the game from Jared Kass at summer camp. 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 counterculture inspired amusement and anti-sport, than the beginnings of a new disc 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.
In the above statement and in several places in his interview with Herndon, Jared Kass tries to explain what was really important to him when playing ultimate, the feeling he gets when he’s throwing and catching a flying disc. “I leaped up and said, “This is the ultimate” and felt and experienced it” – Kass. This is best described as the ‘playing-spirit’ (not to be confused with the ‘Spirit of the Game’). The ‘play’ that Kass refers to, is the flying sensation players experience when throwing and catching a flying disc.
There is a uniquely different experience when playing with a flying disc, then when playing with a ball. At just about any skill level, playing with the flying disc can create moments that can only be described as a feeling that you are flying. Not only does Kass not want to take credit for inventing the sport of ultimate, he believes the credit belongs to every player that has ever played the game. In a way, he is correct. Ultimate, even when played at a championship level, is still mostly about the play. Aside from the initial game concept, bounded by a set of rules and competitive scoring, every game is a unique playing experience for each ultimate player, every time. Jared’s appreciation for playing with the flying disc reflects the motivation that created the ‘playing-spirit’ that existed for all of the early Frisbee and disc athletes and continues to be the primary playing motivation for every disc sports player today. Frisbee play and disc sports were invented with the same objective, to experience different ways of playing with a flying disc. This exuberant playing sensation (playing-spirit) for these early ‘alternative’ disc athletes is what evolved a self officiating conduct of play called ‘Spirit of the Game’. SOTG, as it is also called, serves as the competitive conduct format on which the sport of ultimate is still played to this day. 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, that particular version of the game and the name ‘ultimate’ might never have left Kass and his camps summertime activity. Joel Silver and Jared Kass are the founders of the game, the name ‘ultimate’ and a set of rules. The early alternative-minded disc athletes established SOTG and discovered the ‘playing-spirit’ that players continue to experience for every game, a sensation described by Kass as “the ultimate experience”.
What’s In A Name? – The ‘Ultimate’ Game.
The origin of the name ‘ultimate’ from the Jared Kass – interview by Willy Herndon 2003.
Herndon: It seems that, without realizing it, you named the sport of Ultimate. How did that happen?
Kass: What I do remember – and this piece I do remember clearly – I just remember one time running for a pass and leaping up in the air and just feeling the Frisbee making it into my hand and feeling the perfect synchrony and the joy of the moment, and as I landed I said to myself, “This is the ultimate game. This is the ultimate game.”
Herndon: But did you later name this game Ultimate Frisbee?
Kass: Yes, it was when I was at Northfield Mount Herman. I can remember the moment clearly, but I can’t identify the exact date or the time. [Jared Kass worked there in the summer of 1968, at age 21, between his junior and senior years at Amherst.] This was really the first time in my life I was a teacher in an official capacity. I was an assistant teacher in a creative writing program, and I was a dorm counselor for a bunch of guys. We lived on a floor together, and that’s the matrix, the context in which the thing developed. I think I was probably trying to entice the guys. I felt that they just needed some new kind of energy, so I said, “Hey guys, have you ever played ultimate?”
Herndon: Wait, this is a memory?
Kass: Yes… I think the teacher in me came out in that moment, and I understood that I needed to say something that sounded confusing, flashy to these high school kids who were all over the place in terms of who they were.
After his interview with Kass and Silver, Herndon concluded: “The sport was conceived at Amherst, its DNA more or less complete, gestated at Northfield Mount Hermon, and birthed at Columbia High School. From this point of view, it seems accurate to say that the “Amherst Group” invented ultimate”. – Willie Herndon, interview in 2003
An Accident, That Was A Sport Just Waiting To Happen.
Many inventions and concepts begin as accidents or turn out to be more than originally intended. Remembering, that in the 1960s, there were other disc games similar to ultimate, with concepts from football, basketball, and soccer being played recreationally in various places throughout North America. The reason today’s version of ‘ultimate’ has become the standard is that someone wrote up the rules and gave it a name. It’s easy to see the necessary personal abilities that Jared Kass and Joel Silver each had that contributed to producing those first ultimate games. Kass was a creative camp instructor and an athlete, with some prior experience in other sports. Jared recognized the attraction of playing with a flying disc and invented a disc activity. What made this particular disc activity destined to move forward beyond Kass and his camp is that it was seen by Joel Silver, who became one of Hollywood’s most successful film producers. Silver, who was not an athlete, had a gift for spotting creative quality and a natural talent for producing. Without this chance meeting of Kass and Silver, ultimate as we know it today doesn’t begin n New Jersey.
The history of today’s ultimate disc sport began with some summer camp activities and high school students (CHS) in New Jersey. Ultimate didn’t become a popular disc sport in the U.S. and Canada until disc athlete’s, that also played ultimate, got involved in promoting and organizing in the 1970s. 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. Silver and CHS students played ultimate as a fun alternative to traditional sports for students that didn’t play sports and probably not even considered athletes. Whatever the reason, this was the beginning of ‘ultimate disc sport’ as it is played today. As has been stated before, today’s ultimate sport may have never left Jared Kass and his summer camp recreation if Joel Silver had not brought the game to his high school (CHS) and wrote up the first edition of rules for ultimate. By that same logic, it could also be said that ultimate may never have left Columbia High School had it not been for the effort of a few determined CHS and other New Jersey High School graduates called ultimates Johnny Appleseeds. The Appleseeds became excellent disc athletes and along with other disc athletes and disc sports promoters in the 1970s, introduced ultimate at the early disc sports tournaments in the U.S. and Canada. Ultimate began as a camp recreation and a high school anti-sports joke, the ‘Johnny Appleseeds’ and other disc athletes of that period turned it into a sport.
Ultimate’s Introduction in 1975 at the First Multi-Event Tournaments.
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.
Beginning in 1975, ultimate was included as a new disc sports exhibition at the major Frisbee and flying disc multi-event tournaments of that period. The World Frisbee Championships (WFC), California, the Canadian Open Frisbee Championships, Toronto, Ontario, 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.
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 as its first director.
Spirit of the Game.
“An ultimate game is made up of many moments to be won or lost. The final score at the end of the game is only one of those moments”.
‘Spirit of the Game’, is about more than the game. SOTG is about integrity, honesty and respect, not just in a game, but the qualities you choose to have as a person. Every time you make a play, a call or counter a call, no matter how important it may seem at the time that you want it to favor your team, your integrity and character as a player and a person is on display and being witnessed by everyone present. These moments are how you will be judged and remembered by others as to how you played the game and when under moments of intense game pressure, you measured up.
“Ultimate doesn’t build character, it reveals it”.
Evolving from the counterculture playing appeal of all the disc sports, ultimate’s Spirit of the Game (SOTG) is about fair play and personal competitive conduct. ‘Spirit of the Game’ wasn’t invented by any one group or person, it evolved from the playing attitude that alternative disc athlete’s brought to all of the disc sports. SOTG was mostly recognized in ultimate, disc sports most competitive team sport. At the end of an ultimate game, win or lose, teams will often have a cheer for the other team and after championship games, will even celebrate their opponent’s victory with them. In 1978, SOTG was written into the 7th Edition of the Ultimate Rules.
Ultimate and Freestyle Early Play.
“Ultimate is a passing game mostly made up of throwing techniques created and used by early freestylers before disc sports were invented. When I watch an ultimate game, I don’t just see ultimate players, I see what looks like early freestylers that like to run a lot”.
Guts, disc golf and ultimate have rules and playing strategies that are similar to ball sports played with a flying disc. Disc sports and early ‘freestyle play’ share a common history. Inscribed on the underside of all the Frisbees since the 1960s, to ‘PLAY CATCH’ and experiment with different ways of throwing and catching, freestyle was Frisbee’s first play. Throwing variety and catching the Frisbee behind the back and various other ways, in the beginning, were techniques that would show the possibilities of using the Frisbee as a sporting implement in future sports. Every disc sport, including ultimate, uses what were originally known as freestyle throwing techniques. The early 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 called Johnny Appleseeds became excellent disc athletes and along with very accomplished freestylers in the 1970s began promoting ultimate as a new disc sport. Freestyle play and freestyle competitions were the most popular events in all the tournaments through the 1970s. When players weren’t freestyling they would recreationally play other disc sports like disc golf and ultimate. Freestylers, through their playing evolution, invented and developed all of the advanced throwing techniques used in disc sports. Freestylers were some of the first accomplished overall disc athletes and ultimate handlers, introducing the big throwing techniques that make ultimate the fun throwing and 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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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