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Of The Game

David Leiwant stood in the Columbia High School parking lot watching the younger players throw, chase, and catch the disc under the bright white lights and the cover of a summer night. “If you squint your eyes, it’s almost like 25 years ago,” said the 42-year-old Leiwant, a 1973 alumnus of Columbia, located in Maplewood, N.J. “Just a rag-tag bunch of guys running around with a Frisbee.”

Leiwant was a 13-year-old seventh-grader in 1968, a tumultuous year for America and the world. Martin Luther King, Jr., and then Bobby Kennedy were assassinated, a war raged in Vietnam and the country was coming to grips with the civil rights and women’s rights revolutions. But, in one corner of the country, in Maplewood, things were changing for the better. That year, staff members of the school’s newspaper, The Colombian, and its Student Council developed an entirely new sport as a gag and an activity for their high school nights. Led by Joel Silver, the willful, if somewhat arrogant, member of the Council and the newspaper, the students adapted the rules of Frisbee Football and ultimately invented the fast-moving team sport we know today. The sport of Ultimate.

“Joel Silver said it was the ultimate sports experience,” Leiwant said. “He said, ‘Someday people all over the world will be playing this game’, and we all said, “Yeah, Joel, right.”

Thirty years after Silver’s prophetic words, Ultimate is played in 42 countries, with programs in Sweden, Norway, and Japan receiving government funding. It is estimated that at least 100,000 people play the sport worldwide, about half in the United States. Ultimate will be a medal sport in the 2001 World Games in Japan.

Silver, who is now the head of Hollywood’s Silver Pictures and was unavailable for comment because he was working on the filming of Lethal Weapon 4, had played Frisbee Football at a camp in Mount Hermon, Massachusetts in the summer of 1967. When he returned home to Maplewood, he continued to throw with his friends, including Bernard “Buzzy” Hellring, the editor of The Colombian, and Jonny Hines, the newspaper’s sports editor. Although Frisbee was not quite as big a fad as the hula hoop in the 1950s and ’60s, discs were beginning to seep into the American consciousness.

“I started throwing a Frisbee in 1961 with my two sisters,” said Ed Summers, who graduated Columbia High in 1972. “It was a big fad. We threw mostly backhands. The other big throw was the overhand wrist flip.”



Article by Adam Zagoria.