Yes, Flying Saucers Do Exist!

P lease don’t call it Frisbee. Colorful flying plastic discs fill the air around this time of year, tossed from hand to hand in fields, parks, and parking lots; anywhere there’s a bit of room to run. They’re a sure sign that summer has arrived here in the Miami Valley and are as predictable as […]

2018 World Flying Disc Title ‘Up For Grabs’ in Warren County

Allison Maddux (white jersey) attempts an interception against team Riot. Photo: Jolie J. Lang/

By Tim Walker

Please don’t call it Frisbee.

Colorful flying plastic discs fill the air around this time of year, tossed from hand to hand in fields, parks, and parking lots; anywhere there’s a bit of room to run. They’re a sure sign that summer has arrived here in the Miami Valley and are as predictable as mosquitoes, swimming pools, outdoor concerts, and the ice cream man.

But for eight jam-packed days, from July 14 to July 21, flying discs—and Ultimate, the unique sport that has evolved (and revolves) around those discs—will take on more signifigance. For the World Flying Disc Federation, Ultimate’s governing body, will hold its 2018 World Ultimate Club Championships (WUCC) south of Dayton in two locations: at the Lebanon Sports Complex in Lebanon and at William Mason High School’s Atrium Stadium in Mason. Over 3,000 athletes comprising 128 teams, some from such far-flung countries as Columbia, Singapore, Belgium, Japan, China, and South Africa, will travel to the area to compete along with qualifying American teams. Over 1,000 Ultimate games will be played in the two locations—the Lebanon site alone is large enough to hold 28 full-sized Ultimate fields.

Ultimate is a fast-moving, non-contact team sport in which seven-person teams compete against each other on a field by tossing and catching a flying disc. The sport was originally called “Ultimate Frisbee,” but Wham-O Inc.’s legal trademark on the name “Frisbee” necessitated the change. In the game, points are scored when one team completes a toss to a teammate in the opposing team’s end zone. Players cannot run (‘flatball’) with the disc, and it can only be advance by passing. When a pass is not completed, control of the disc flips to the other team. Combining some of the best aspects of soccer, basketball, and football, the fast-growing sport has Women’s, Men’s, and Mixed Divisions and has seen a surge in popularity over the past few decades, with league participation tripling since 2012. Players compete at a variety of levels, with teams now based at schools, amateur clubs, and in semi-pro, professional, and national leagues.

The Cincinnati Ultimate Player’s Association, or CUPA, serves as a regional resource for the sport and promotes the growth of Ultimate in Southwest Ohio. CUPA, a non-profit corporation staffed strictly by volunteers, is the lead organizer for the 2018 WUCC tournament, and Dale Wilker is the tournament director. A bit closer to home, Dayton Ultimate, started in 2013, also provides information and opportunities for people to play, and maintains a list of contacts and regular Dayton-area pick-up games, available on social media and the CUPA website.

“The sport is pretty much seven-on-seven, competitive Frisbee football,“ says Eddie Mack, Co-Communications Director for the 2018 WUCC and a player himself, when he spoke to the Dayton City Paper recently. “Although there’s no contact allowed. It’s all self-officiated, which is really nice. The players call their own fouls when necessary. They do have game advisors, to help move along any disputes and add a different perspective. It’s a fast-paced, on-the-go type sport that is played by Juniors, anywhere from 8 to 13 years old, all the way up to Grand Masters, which for males is 40 and above, and Great Grand Masters which is 50 and above. It’s pretty much played by all, and there are local leagues that can be casual fun, just a pick-up game, or there are traveling club teams that play all year round and travel internationally.”

Mack brings up one of the more interesting aspects of the sport, which is that, even at the higher levels of play, there are no referees—ultimate games are largely self-officiated. With a mindset that harkens back to the sport’s somewhat counterculture origins, the players operate on an honor system, calling penalties themselves and counting down the ten-second time limit when an opposing player who’s clutching the disc must fling it. According to the World Flying Disc Federation website, “actions such as intentional fouling, cheating, dangerous plays, disrespectful conversations and other ‘win at all costs’ behavior are contrary to the Spirit of the Game.” That’s certainly a breath of fresh air in a sports world where big contracts, NCAA sanctions, and Deflategate grab the headlines.

The origins of Ultimate can be found in a strange confluence of events centered around East Coast college life in the swinging sixties: free time…and pie. Ultimate dates back to 1968, with the first set of rules created by a group of students at Columbia High School in Maplewood, New Jersey, one of whom was a young Joel Silver, the eccentric film producer whose credits include “Predator,” “Die Hard,” the “Matrix” trilogy, and “Lethal Weapon.” Prior to that, students at several colleges had, for years, been spending their idle hours tossing aerodynamic aluminum pie tins back and forth; tins which bore the logo of the venerated Frisbie Pie Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut. Because the pie tins were metal, students would warn each other by shouting “Frisbie!” before a toss, much as golfers warn each other by shouting “Fore” before they swing. California-based Wham-O Inc., which developed and sold a similarly shaped plastic disc called a Pluto Platter in the 1950s, found out the game had become popular on the East Coast and began selling it as a “Frisbee,” changing the name slightly to avoid any trademark issues. The first intercollegiate game was played in 1972 between Princeton and Rutgers, and Rutgers would also later win the first ultimate Frisbee tournament in 1975 at Yale, which consisted of 8 teams. The rest, as they say, is history.

The pie tins are long forgotten, of course. Wham-O had sold over 100 million Frisbees by 1994, and today’s Ultimate athletes have a wide variety of teams, leagues, and disc brands to choose from. New players learn the game and begin playing all the time, and some, like Tennessee native Liz Anderson, never leave.

I have lived in the Cincinnati area since 2012 or so,” says Anderson, a graduate of the University of Dayton and current player on the team Cincinnati Goose Lee, a mixed club Ultimate team based in Cincinnati. Anderson is also a Co-Communications Director for the 2018 WUCC. “I went to UD and I graduated that same year. I have a bunch of family that lives here, and that’s how I ended up here. I started playing at UD when I was in college, and I just never stopped once I started. That’s where I found all my friends, the people I hung out with the most. And then, as I came to Cincinnati and grew up a little bit more and became involved with the non-profit board here that runs all the leagues and the teams, I started working with the board. I’m a member at large and I do mostly design work. For the tournaments specifically, I am in charge of design, advertising, and marketing needs.”

When asked to describe the sport, Anderson laughs. “A lot of running,” she says. “High action, pretty fast-paced—it involves elements of many different sports, so it has a lot of defensive similarities to basketball, like the man-to-man or the zone defense. We use those two techniques. Then in the running, it’s pretty comparable to soccer, because we have huge fields, and you’re just running around and trying to score in the end zone, so that brings in the football aspect. There’s nothing really like it, which is why I find it so interesting. One of the most interesting parts about it is that for the most part, it’s self-officiated. So at this tournament, at this level, there will be people there who’ll be keeping an eye on the game and timing it, but like if I’m playing it recreationally, and somebody kicks me, for example, I can call a foul and the game stops. A lot of the sport focuses on really good sportsmanship and respecting people.”

In keeping with the Spirit of the Game, unsportsmanlike players and taking advantage of the game’s honor system, Anderson adds, “Most, I’d say at least 90% of the times I’ve played, the game goes how it’s supposed to go. In every sport, there’s going to be competition, which elevates it a little bit, and I’ve had some instances where it’s gotten a little bit out of control, but it’s on everybody. So if that happens, if there’s one player on a team, the team talks to them and kind of coaxes them down. It’s never become a huge problem.”

Sportsmanship aside, however, it’s the upcoming 2018 Tournament that has Ultimate players in the area excited.

“You’ve got the best club Ultimate teams from all over the world coming here and competing for the world championship,” says Ryan Gorman, president of CUPA and mixed team captain of Steamboat Ultimate, which was formed ten years ago and finished 5th at the national championships in 2016. “There was a big process a couple of years ago to bring the event here, and we’ve got some amazing organizers and volunteers here that are making it all happen. Thousands of athletes and fans and families and spectators are all going to converge on Lebanon and Mason, Ohio in just under a month now.”

When asked how he explains the sport’s popularity, Gorman says, “It’s a very dynamic sport that combines a lot of elements from more commonly known sports. The awareness is growing, and one of the things I’m most excited about for this event coming to Lebanon is that any spectators who get out and see the event will witness just the atmosphere and the level of play, with 28 fields and all the teams going on at one time, thousands of people at the complex. I think it’s going to be a really cool experience, and it’s an opportunity for people to see what the sport really is.”

Just don’t call it Frisbee.

The 2018 World Ultimate Club Championship tournament will take place in Lebanon and Mason, Ohio from July 14th–21st. For more information about the tournament or the sport, go to,, or call 937–265–0001.

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Tim Walker is 51 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz, and black T-shirts. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at

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