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Ultimate Grows Up

Before going off to college in 1970, Silver, Hellring, and Hines decided to print the rules and bring them up to date. Though many of the original rules are still in place today, some have changed dramatically. The only limit to the size of the field was that “The two goal lines must be parallel and should be somewhere between 40 and 60 yards apart, depending on the number of players.” Games continued to be played with as many as 20 or 30 players per side. And the end zones were unlimited. A player standing a foot from the goal line could score with a fifty yard bomb. The booklet was entitled “Official Rules of Ultimate Frisbee” and cost 10 cents.

In the summer of 1970, a group of younger Columbia students including Summers, Larry Schindel, Irv Kalb, and others known as the Richmond Avenue Gang or RAG challenged the CHS team to a game. RAG lost 47-28 but played with the varsity for the rest of the summer, and Kalb was selected as new varsity captain when the original players went on to college. An annual Thanksgiving match between the Columbia team and the alumnus was established a tradition that still exists today.

The RAG members sent the rules to many other high schools in northern New Jersey, asking them to form Ultimate Frisbee teams. Millburn High School responded and on Nov. 7, 1970, the first interscholastic game pitted Millburn against the more experienced Columbia varsity. CHS won 43-10 in the Columbia parking lot. The game was covered by the Newark Evening News, and copies of the rules were subsequently requested by other schools. When the New Jersey Frisbee Conference was formed in the spring of 1971, it had five teams: Columbia, Dumont, Millburn, Mountain (now West Orange), and Nutley. “We wanted to spread it throughout the world,” said Summers, who recalled a 24-hour road trip to the International Frisbee Tournament in Upper Peninsula, Mich. “We were really spreading the gospel.” Summers and his cohorts were the forerunners to generations of high school and college kids who load up for road trips, poor, smelly, and hungover, every weekend.

Meanwhile, Columbia graduates were organizing teams at their colleges and universities. In addition to Hines’ efforts at Princeton, Leiwant co-founded the Yale squad, and Summers the Tufts team. Hellring died in a tragic car accident during his freshman year, 1971, at Princeton.

Twenty-five people showed up for the first practice at Rutgers University, seven of them former New Jersey high school players. The first intercollegiate competition was held between Rutgers and Princeton on Nov. 6, 1972, the 103rd anniversary of the first intercollegiate football game, and at the same site on the Rutgers New Brunswick campus. That game and the rematch a year later were the only two intercollegiate games Hines played his entire career.

Hines arranged for the game to be videotaped by a national network and for former Yankees pitcher and sports commentator Jim Bouton to cover it. “It was a thrill and a half,” Hines said. “I felt nervous and dead serious about winning. It was an incredibly close game, from beginning to end, and Bouton was very surprised at what a good game Ultimate was.”

CHS Varsity Frisbee Squad: (Top row from left to right) Captain Joel Silver, Head Coach Cono Pavone, Bob Mittlesdorf, Jonny Hines, Buzzy Hellring, Arnold Tzoltic, Joe Staker, Paul Brenner, Tom Carr, Mark Epstein, General Manager Alexander Osinski, (Second row) Tom Corwin, Frisbee (Pro Model), David Medinets, David Leiwant, (Third row) Fred Appelgate, Howard Straubing, Steve German, Vincent, (Laying down) Steve Schwartz, Frisbee (Master Model).

Photo by Ed Summers

Note: Eric Halperna’s research contributed greatly to the writing of this article.

Article by Adam Zagoria.