History of Ultimate Frisbee

 

Ultimate Disc Sport 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. It also seems that because there were so many variations of early disc games being played of what was then called Frisbee Football, that ‘ultimate’ was destined to become a disc sport. Not hard to imagine since both disc golf and ultimate are sports with very similar competitive concepts as very established ball sports.  The only things that are completely unique are 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, 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’

Jared Kass.

Kass (1966) invented and named the game of ultimate.

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. 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 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, that particular version of the game and the name ‘ultimate’ 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 best represents the attitude of ‘ultimate play’. Not only does Kass not want to take credit for the invention, but he actually believes the credit belongs to every player that has ever played the game. Jared’s selflessness and appreciation for the ‘flying disc’ reflect some of the play and spirit on which all disc sports were founded and the Spirit of the Game (SOTG) that serves as the competitive foundation on which the game of ultimate is played to this day.

Ultimate 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

Many inventions and concepts begin as accidents or turn out to be more than originally intended.  The history of ultimate 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 stated before, ultimate may have never left Jared Kass and his summer camp recreation if 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 be said that ultimate may never have left Columbia High School had it not been for a few determined CHS graduates called ultimates  Johnny Appleseeds. They became excellent disc athletes and along with other disc athletes in the 1970s, promoted the new disc sport across the U.S. and Canada. Ultimate began as a camp recreation and a high school joke, disc athletes turned it into a sport.

Ultimate’s Introduction at Multi-Event Tournaments 1975.

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 sport exhibition at the four major Frisbee and flying disc multi-event and freestyle 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 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”.

Evolving from the counterculture playing appeal of all the disc sports, ultimate’s Spirit of the Game (SOTG) is about fair play and personal 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.  In 1978, SOTG was written into the 7th edition of the ultimate rules.

“Ultimate doesn’t build character, it reveals it. ‘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. 

1976TKleapingRoseBowl

Tom Kennedy (TK) and JC Cohn in the background.

Ultimate and Freestyle Early Play.

“Ultimate is a passing game mostly made up of throwing techniques created and commonly 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”.

Disc sports and early freestyle play share a common history. As was 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 playing activity.imagesKCLJIWWQ Throwing variety and catching the Frisbee behind the back and various other ways, in the beginning, were techniques that would show the enormous possibilities of using the Frisbee and replacing the ball as a sporting implement in future disc 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 called Johnny Appleseed’s became excellent disc athletes and along with very accomplished freestylers in the 1970s began promoting ultimate as a new disc sport. Freestyle play and 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 and making 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.

Ultimate Players Organizations and media sources: USA Ultimate Ultimate Canada | WFDF | FrisbeeGuru | Ultimate Rob

Next Articles:frisbee-anyone-lets-talk-about-the-american-ultimate-disc-league

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 reproduction in whole or part with proper accrediting is permitted. For more information contact: ifafw@hotmail.com

© 2019 Disc Sports History. All rights reserved.