Academic journal article The Sport Journal

The Origins and Development of Ultimate Frisbee

Academic journal article The Sport Journal

The Origins and Development of Ultimate Frisbee

Article excerpt


Over recent years what have been variously termed alternative or lifestyle sports (Wheaton, 2004) have increasingly become the focus of academic study. Examples of such activities and related papers include skateboarding (Beal, 1995), snowboarding (Humphreys, 1997), windsurfing (Wheaton, 2000) and surfing (Butts, 2001). These sports are considered alternative as they have sought to challenge accepted concepts of modern Western achievement sport (Eichberg, 1998; Rhinehart and Sydnor, 2003) and typically have evolved from North America, having later been imported to Europe (Bourdieu, 1984). Another lesser--known example that has made the transatlantic jump is that of Ultimate Frisbee.

Ultimate Frisbee (known simply as Ultimate to participants) is a fast paced, non-contact, mixed team sport played with a flying disc (or Frisbee), which marries features of a number of invasion games, such as American Football and netball, into a simple yet, demanding game (UKU, 2008). To date, little has been written about Ultimate or indeed the developmental process which has given rise to the creation and establishment of alternative sport. What this paper seeks to do is to examine the evolution of Ultimate Frisbee and illustrate the key stages of its development.

Ultimate, as with all disc sports, would not exist without the invention of the flying disc, or Frisbee, as it is commonly known. Flying discs have of course been thrown in numerous cultures for centuries for a variety of reasons, including sport (Malafronte, 1998). The origins of Ultimate can be argued to have gone through distinct and crucial stages and each will be discussed in turn. Firstly, the origin of the name Frisbee will be examined followed by the subsequent development of the plastic flying disc. The idea of Frisbee football will then be explained and then attention will be drawn to locating the development of Ultimate amidst the American counter culture. Finally the creation of Ultimate and the first game will be detailed.

The Origins of Frisbee

The name Frisbee is accepted by most sources to originate from one William Russell Frisbie of Bridgeport, Connecticut (Johnson, 1975; Malafronte, 1998; Iocovella, 2004; Leonardo and Zagoria, 2004). Following the end of the American Civil War, William Russell Frisbie moved to Bridgeport to manage a new bakery, which he subsequently bought and renamed, the Frisbie Pie Company.

The original bakery was situated close to the college which later became Yale in 1887 (Scotland, 2004). Not surprisingly, perhaps, there are strong links between Yale and the origination of the Frisbee. The popular theory--perhaps it is a myth--is that Yale students frequently bought Frisbie Pies and after eating them, would toss the empty pie tins around the Yale campus (Johnson, 1975; Malafronte, 1998). As metal pie dishes are not the kindest of missiles to be struck by, this led to throwers shouting the cautionary word "frisbie-e-e-e!" (not unlike golfers shouting the word "Fore!") to warn both the catcher and bystanders of the approaching disc (Weiss, 2004).

Not surprisingly, in the absence of definitive evidence, modified or alternative stories abound. One particular point of contention is whether the projectile was indeed a pie tin or whether, in fact, it was a cookie tin lid. Support for the cookie argument can be found in ih a study by Johnson (1975), who conducted interviews with former Yale students. An example of one such account is credited to Charles O. Gregory who recalled:

'I clearly remember the cookies; and I also recall that the cover of the tin box was used by the older kids just the same way that Frisbees are now used ... When I went to college ... I saw students using these same tin box lids as people now use Frisbees. So I assumed that the name came from these sugar cookies and the boxes in which they were sold .... I never heard of Frisbie's pies' (Johnson, 1975,18). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.