Flying disk jocks: The ultimate athletes

There is no activity more synonymous with the college experience than throwing a Frisbee around the quad. Some more gifted throwers take a step up from that, and make it competitive.

The 1970s produced a lot of great things, like hacky sacks, video games and a competitive game of Frisbee. Although the word “Frisbee” is colloquial, the sport known as “Ultimate Frisbee” is actually known as “ultimate,” due to a bevy of trademarks by Wham-O Toys Incorporated. Blazing the trail for intercollegiate ultimate were Rutgers University and Princeton University on Nov. 6, 1972.

College of Charleston Ultimate Frisbee team (Michael Wiser)

The College of Charleston’s infatuation with the game officially began in 1999, when the co-ed ultimate team was founded. (Photo by Michael Wiser)

Its growth as a sport has led to the point where, according to the Center for Disease Control, the number of Frisbees and flying discs sold during a year is more than the amount of baseballs, basketballs and footballs combined.

The College of Charleston’s infatuation with the game officially began in 1999, when the co-ed ultimate team was founded. Today there are both a men’s and a women’s team; the men go by the name Palmetto Bums, and the women are named the Charleston Hobos.

How to play:

An ultimate field has the same dimensions as a football field, in that the field is 120 yards long and 40 yards wide. Yet, unlike football, the end zones are 25 yards deep. Each point begins with both seven-player teams lined up on their end zone line, and one player on the defensive team throwing it off to begin play.

“Personally, I am listed as a handler, so I am one of the main throwers on the team,” said senior captain Ziv Agasi. “Other people are cutters who cut in, get the passes and then reset it to the handlers.” The offensive relationship is similar to that of a quarterback and wide receiver.

Points are scored by passing a Frisbee to a teammate over the opposing team’s goal line. When they catch the disc in the field of play, players cannot run and must establish a pivot foot. Similar to basketball, if you drag or lift your foot it is considered a travelling violation. Therefore, a disc is like a pair of scissors; you should not carry them as you run.

“If the other team is playing man to man defense they will have one guy on you, called the mark, and he’s trying to force you to throw it to half of the field,” said senior captain Mike Miller.

Basketball has a shot clock that limits the length of possessions, ultimate has a ten-second “stall count” that limits players in order to keep the game moving. This aids defenders, who are supposed to give “disc space” by remaining a disc’s length from the player in possession. Usually, the call is a contact foul. Players are not allowed to make contact with the opposition, therefore picks and screens are prohibited.

“Disc space is rarely called, because you have to stand up and be a hardo,” Miller said.

A player could be viewed as a ‘hardo’ for following the rules because ultimate does not have referees or umpires. Therefore, players are encouraged to practice good sportsmanship by calling their own fouls for the ‘spirit of the game.’

“Spirit of the game works unless there is a real hothead on the team – which happens more or less with every team,” Agasi said. “There are a couple of professional leagues that have referees to prevent any arguments from happening, but for the most part, spirit of the game and free calls is a really fun way to play.”

Calling all Cougars:

The College of Charleston men’s and women’s teams generally combine to have 30 members on the two USA Ultimate sanctioned rosters. USA Ultimate is the governing body of the game at the college and professional level. This year’s team features 10 seniors, including the three team captains Mike Miller, Ziv Agasi and Hunter Nadeau.

“Ultimate is a lot different than other sports, it’s non-contact, but since the disc floats, it allows for plays in the air and big layouts,” Miller said. “It is spectator friendly, while easy to play, which is what draws a lot of people. You just need cleats and a ten dollar plastic Frisbee to play.”

Given the high number of players who will graduate this spring, the team faces a membership crisis that has caused them to actively recruit new players before the end of this semester.

“We are trying to recruit heavily. We have ten seniors graduating this spring. Numbers next year could be low, so we have been trying to encourage new people to come out,” Miller said.

Agasi explained the shortage of players from a more strategic standpoint.

“A lot of teams that are more competitive have set offensive and defensive lines, we don’t have the luxury of numbers to be able to do that,” Agasi said.

Chris Richmond, Matt Hajek and Vincent James are the underclassmen the Bums are hoping will lead the charge for the future. However, uncertainty in membership next year could prove difficult for the team in such a competitive area of the country.

“We have two of the top five teams in the country in UNC Chapel Hill and UNC Wilmington,” Agasi said. “Last year UNC Chapel Hill won the national title and UNC Wilmington made the semi-finals.”

This advantage for larger schools stems from an emphasis on finding dedicated disc tossers. “They recruit from schools in the Boston area,” said Miller, who hails from Winchester, Massachusetts. “Boston has high school teams everywhere, up and down. So for us with only 35 percent guys and a large in-state population, we are at a disadvantage for who can feed into the sport.”

College of Charleston Ultimate Frisbee team (Michael Wiser)

Freshman Vincent James laying out for the disk. (Photo by Michael Wiser)

With the recent move to play safer sports, ultimate is growing rapidly in high schools around the country. For those who cannot play ultimate through high school, there are leagues in the area that are available to the public.

“The City of Charleston has a rec league which is really competitive,” Miller said. “It has people that have been playing anywhere from 15 to 30 years. They may not be the most athletic but they can throw the disc anywhere on a dime and if you can do that, then that’s much more valuable.”

The Bums’ Bond:

“I’ve been playing for six years now,” Agasi said. “Just the camaraderie amongst the team draws you in. It’s a really fun and easy sport to learn and I’m in love.”

The Bums’ bond is so strong that the alumni still have a major presence at the Chucktown Throwdown. Held in the first weekend of February, the Chucktown Throwdown is an annual men’s ultimate tournament.

“It’s crazy the presence of the alumni that come down,” Miller said. “Usually we allow two teams for the ‘Bum Alum.’ There’s a huge group who look forward to coming down to catch up with old friends.”

Charleston’s tournament also helps serve as a kick off to a busy spring circuit of tournaments.

“It’s all about playing more and ramping it up because it all culminates at sectionals,” Miller said. “Then five out of the nine teams make regionals, and then one or two make nationals.”

This plucky band of underdogs are entering an uncertain moment for their organization. Seniors are preparing for their final tournament run when they head to sectionals, hosted by ECU in Greenville, North Carolina on April 16-17.

Regardless of how this year ends, the Bums are open to everyone.

“Our community still has such a strong presence in Charleston,” Miller said. “We have a great network of alumni that enrich the culture of being on the team and make every member feel a part of something bigger.”

So if you love running, jumping and launching things into the air, come on down to one of the practices. Both squads practice on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2-6 p.m. at James Island County Park.


*This article first appeared in the April 2016 issue of the Yard.

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On a cold January evening in the winter of 2004, Sam Oleksak realized his dream. As a mere fourth grader, he had the chance to announce a high school basketball game for his hometown television station. In the hopes of one day becoming a sports pundit, Sam began at Cisternyard News in Fall 2014. He now serves as the Sports Editor on staff and also makes frequent appearances on Cisternyard Radio.

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