Ultimate, as with all disc sports, would not exist without the invention of the flying disc, or “Frisbee,” as it is commonly known. The first known contemporary tossing of a “disc” was by Yale University (USA) undergrads in the early 20th century. The Yale campus was in close proximity to Connecticut’s Frisbie Pie Company, whose pies while being a popular treat in themselves were sold in metal tins that would hold flight when thrown over a very short distance. The now-popular pastime of “tossing the disc” remained in obscurity until the invention of a plastic flying disc by Fred Morrison in 1948, which was much more durable and flight-worthy than anything made of wood or metal. This invention led to the first mass-produced disc, called the “Pluto Platter,” made by the Wham-O toy company beginning in 1951. The year 1954 saw the first recorded competition using a flying disc when Dartmouth University (USA) students organized a tournament for the disc sport known as “Guts.” A year after the Frisbie Pie Company’s closing in 1958, Wham-O, based in California, USA, registered the name “Frisbee” as a name for its flying disc products. This trademark was reportedly the result of the predictable nickname that students at Yale and Harvard had given to the new toys.
The invention of Ultimate, also known as “Ultimate Frisbee,” occurred within a year of the first mechanical patent on a flying disc, by Ed Headrick in 1966. Joel Silver and others at Columbia High School (CHS), Maplewood, NJ, USA, introduced their idea of an “ultimate” Frisbee game to the student council in 1967, and the first known game was played in 1968 between the student council and the staff of the school newspaper. The newspaper staff was victorious in a game where the only boundaries were the goal lines and other natural side boundaries (eg., railroad tracks, river, fence). The games continued the following year, with matches being played in the evening under the glow of the mercury-vapor lights in the school’s new parking lot. The first and second edition rules were drawn up by CHS student Buzzy Hellring, and were later refined by Silver and John Hines. The very first interscholastic Ultimate game was played between CHS and Milburn High in 1970; CHS won, 43-10. The first conference of Ultimate teams was created in 1971, which consisted of five New Jersey high schools, including CHS and Milburn. Some ultimate-playing graduates of the league formed teams at their respective colleges and universities. On November 6, 1972, Rutgers University (NJ, USA) defeated Princeton (NJ, USA), 29-27, in the first intercollegiate game. [Note: The game was played exactly 103 years after the first intercollegiate American football game, on the same exact site, which had since been turned into a parking lot. The same team won by the same margin of victory.] Yale hosted the first Ultimate tournament (8 college teams in attendance) in 1975, which was won by Rutgers. That summer, Ultimate was introduced at the Second World Frisbee Championships at the Rose Bowl, aiding in the development of Ultimate on the West Coast of the USA.
Disc sports began to spread to Europe and Asia at about the same time, as is evident by the formation of the Swedish Frisbee Federation (SFF) in 1974, the Japanese Frisbee Disc Association in 1975, and the Australian FDA in 1976. Belgium and Austria each organized FDAs in 1977, with Finland’s FDA and the Danish Frisbee Sport Union to follow in 1978. The Ultimate Players Association (UPA) was formed in 1979; Tom Kennedy was elected the first director. The UPA, the national governing body for the sport of Ultimate in the USA, was the first national, player-run US Ultimate organization. Prior to this juncture, events were sponsored and/or run by the International Frisbee Association (IFA), which was a former promotional arm of the Wham-O toy company. At the first UPA Nationals in 1979, Glassboro State College was victorious over the Santa Barbara Condors, 19-18. The first Ultimate European Championship was in Paris, France, in 1980; Finland, England and Sweden finished one, two, and three, respectively.
The World Flying Disc Federation (WFDF), the international governing body of all disc sports, was founded in 1984, a year after the close of the IFA [Note: at the IFA’s closure, membership was reported to be 100,000 members in 30 countries]. Flying Circus (open), USA, Lady Condors (women), USA, and Sweden (juniors) win the first WFDF-sponsored World Ultimate Championships (for national teams) in Colchester, United Kingdom (1986). The first World Ultimate Club Championships (WUCC) was held in Cologne, Germany, in 1989. Philmore (open, USA) and Lady Condors (women, USA) win their respective divisions. Seven Sages (masters, USA) become the first international club Masters champions at Millfield, UK, in 1995, and Red Fish, Blue Fish is the first Mixed champion at St. Andrews, Scotland, in 1999. Currently, Ultimate is played by an estimated 100,000+ players in over 30 countries. The Ultimate Players Association (USA) reports an overall membership of 13,000+ dues-paying members. Membership in the UPA and other national organizations is growing yearly at a startling rate. Thirty-five years have elapsed since the first disc was tossed for a goal under the mercury-vapor lights of the Columbia High parking lot. As you bask in the warmth of the Hawaiian sun at the largest Ultimate tournament in history, reflect on the growth of a spectacular sport within which the deepest-seeded value is sportsmanship.