Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

June 27, 2013

The spirit for Ultimate: Frisbee soaring as a team sport

By Bill Kirk

---- — There are no referees. No cheerleaders. And at the end of each game, the teams sing songs to each other.

This is certainly not your typical sport.

But it is Ultimate Frisbee.

Once derided as a game for hippies, Ultimate Frisbee has attracted growing interest from “nerds and geeks” who more than likely end up at elite colleges where they continue playing the sport they love.

“People think it’s a bunch of stoners hanging around throwing a disc at each other,” said Keith Westgate, the head coach of the Andover High School program that is offered jointly with the Andover Youth Foundation. “Now it’s for the athletic, and sometimes not very athletic, nerds and geeks.”

Known as the Golden Gophers, the Andover High School teams are comprised of more than 70 boys and girls from all grades.

In addition to the high school’s junior varsity, varsity and girls teams, there is also a team at the middle school level.

The team logo — AU for Andover Ultimate — is also the chemical symbol for gold, Westgate said. And the gopher? One of the founders of the program, Tommy Proulx, was known for doing a great imitation of the dancing varmint from the movie “Caddyshack.”

Cindy Cromer, the paid Ultimate Frisbee coordinator, agreed that the sport “has always had the reputation of being a hippie sport.”

“Even the coaches at the high school say that. I say it’s not. Most of the kids who play this are very bright kids,” she said. “Look at our alums and where people have gone. They are going to top schools and all the top schools have Ultimate.”

Kylie Moynihan is a case in point: The 18-year-old who just graduated from Andover High School is going on to Wesleyan University in Connecticut, which has three teams — men’s, women’s and co-ed.

“The sport is getting bigger and bigger,” said Moynihan, standing in bare feet during a spring season practice at Upper Shawsheen Field off Burnham Road.

A “cutter,” as the position is called, Moynihan is responsible for running downfield to try to get open for the “handlers,” or the people in the “back of the pack,” who start the plays.

Howard Cosell, the famous sportscaster, once described Ultimate Frisbee as a cross between soccer, basketball and football.

“But unlike those sports, there is no referee,” Moynihan said. “Players are honor-bound to call their own fouls. ... And their reward? Nothing, save the joy of competition — a refreshing reminder of what sports is meant to be.”

It’s that mentality that drew Moynihan, and many other players, to the sport. Participants say Ultimate Frisbee attracts a community of athletes who aren’t in it for their own gain.

Moynihan’s favorite part? Something known as the “Spirit of the Game.”

“The whole concept, that it’s self-refereed, so you have to have integrity to make your own calls,” she said. “The people who play Ultimate have that integrity and are willing to make those calls.”

The Spirit of the Game is central to Ultimate Frisbee and is something nearly everyone involved in the sport talks about.

While it is codified in USA Ultimate’s rules and regulations, Spirit of the Game, or SOTG, is pretty vague. It involves statements like: “Treat others as you would want to be treated, “Be generous with praise,” and, finally, “Have fun.”

Carter Ishihara, 17, said he enjoys that social aspect.

“Sportsmanship, fun,” he said. “The teams are nice. It’s laid-back. It’s not stressful.”

During tournaments, the largest trophy awarded to any player is the Spirit of the Game award, given to players who exhibit the utmost respect for their opponents, their teammates and the game in general.

And while the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association doesn’t recognize Ultimate Frisbee as a varsity sport, the International Olympic Committee recently took the first step toward making it an Olympic sport by granting its governing body — the World Flying Disc Federation — provisional recognition.

Olympic Games status would provide recognition of the sport’s growing popularity. According to the Disc Federation, there are currently 7.5 million participants around the globe actively involved in some sort of flying disc sport, the most popular being Ultimate Frisbee.

In Massachusetts, 79 high schools field teams, according to Westgate, with 28 participating in Vermont, 22 in Maine, 40 in Connecticut, four in New Hampshire and one in Rhode Island.

Locally, in addition to Andover High School, Phillips Andover has a team, as does Merrimack College in North Andover. Last year, in fact, the Merrimack College team was listed as the club sport of the year at the school.

Give it a spin

Here are some Ultimate Frisbee facts and figures:

There are seven players to a team.

Games are 90 minutes long.

The field is roughly the size of a soccer field.

Teams score when players make a catch in the end zone, worth 1 point.

Players can take about three steps after making a catch, and must then throw it to a teammate in 10 seconds or less.

If the disc is dropped, it goes to the other team.

Fouls are called by the person who gets fouled.

Contested fouls result in do-overs.

Uncontested fouls result in turnovers.

There are no referees.

Games go to 15 points, and teams must win by two points.

The sport is played in 56 countries by 7.5 million players.

Summer League

Andover Youth Services runs a summer league on Wednesday nights from 6 to 8 starting July 10 through Aug. 14 at Wood Hill Middle School. This is a learning league and no experience is necessary. Everyone is welcome, even those who have never touched a Frisbee.

Visit for details and online registration.