“There wasn’t one whiff of competition the whole weekend. It was all one team; it just became one community.” – Phil “Guido” Adams, 50th Anniversary chairperson and architect.
One Community. That’s what the vibe was like in San Diego, Calif., at the 50th Anniversary Celebration of the sport of ultimate. Hosted by the Ultimate Foundation and in conjunction with the 2018 USA Ultimate National Championships, the 50th Anniversary brought together hall of famers, newcomers, teammates, foes, athletes and organizers to celebrate the legacy and future of ultimate.
“Everybody was just blown away and so thrilled at getting together,” commented Suzanne Fields, the organizer for the Hall of Fame dinner and member of the Hall’s inaugural class.
The entire weekend was set up to have the look and feel of a college reunion, as there was something for everybody. From a history exhibit to a parade of teams to the championship competition, the celebration was a well-planned, diverse and memorable event that left attendees awed at how far the sport has come over the last 50 years and excited about where it is headed in the future.
The history exhibit showcased the sport’s evolution since 1968, featuring different discs, jerseys, championship teams and impactful moments. For the alumni, looking back and seeing the impact they had on the sport was heartwarming, to say the least.
“I remember my teammate Nick saying when we won Nationals, ‘They can never take that away from us. Always, the 1982 champions are us,’” reflected Adams. “We made our mark. There’s a lot of pride there in seeing that, and it’s just very cool.”
The history exhibit also paid homage to the trailblazers who have helped expand and diversify ultimate, from the women who lobbied for and established their own separate division to the Downtown Brown mixed team that continues to introduce ultimate to different communities across the nation.
“I was super impressed by the Downtown Brown display,” described Fields. Downtown Brown, a mixed team comprised of primarily players of color, hosts tournaments in different regions and discusses some of the issues a person of color faces in a not-so-diverse sport. “It’s been really great to have seen that come about and how powerful that is.”
Building on the nostalgia inherent in the history exhibit, Saturday’s parade of teams showcased some of the amazing ultimate teams and players that made the sport what it is today.
Representatives of New York New York, BLU, the Rude Boys, the Kansas Bettys, Columbia High School and more marched in the parade and played to the crowds cheering from the grandstands.
“Jimmy Herrick, who was Mr. Fitness on Cornell and our Rude Boys team, is 61 or 62 years old and walked on his hands 15 yards in front of the grandstand!” exclaimed Adams.
The parade also highlighted an ultimate theme that has survived lifetimes: friendship.
“With every single person – my teammates and former opponents – the friendships we forged on the field and heckling on the sideline, that was so resonant [this weekend],” commented Fields.
Along with all of the nostalgia and pride felt throughout the weekend, the alumni also shared respect for today’s athletes who have kept the legacy and traditions of ultimate going strong. As five out of six semifinal matches went to double-game point, the alumni in attendance were amazed at not only the level of competition they witnessed, but also the camaraderie among teammates and opponents that remains intact to this day.
“We were state of the art back then, but the state of the art has moved,” admitted Adams. “They’re [today’s players] more athletic, they’re more precise, and they’re more daring. The one thing that has completely and totally endured is the spirit of community [which] is fueled by the Spirit of the Game and the responsibility that it puts on each player. All of that generates this feeling of community so that, 30 years later, we get together in San Diego, and everybody loves each other still.”
Now, these original titans of the sport are ready to give back. Dan “Stork” Roddick, Hall of Fame Inaugural Class inductee and one of the sport’s originators, called on the ultimate community to give back, so the future generation of athletes can have the same life-changing experiences and learn the same lessons that everyone in the room in San Diego was blessed to have.
Both Adams and Fields took Stork’s call to mean that children should be the focus of the sport for the next 50 years.
“I think it’s all about youth ultimate, just because you see the value our kids have,” explained Adams. “If more and more people played ultimate, then people would get this Spirit of the Game, spirit of cooperation, and realize that it’s a team thing, and you’ve got to have your ego be subservient for the greater good. I think the world would be a much better place if there were 500 million ultimate players.”
“[We should start] bringing this sport to communities that might struggle to have outlets for physical activity and [would] benefit from the foundations of conflict resolution, playing as a team and creating bonds that carry with you throughout your life,” described Fields.
The Ultimate Foundation is working on just that – supporting programs and outreach initiatives that will get discs in the hands of more and more kids in communities across the country. You can follow in Stork’s footsteps and support the Foundation’s efforts by donating today.