Rich Ellenson was looking for an easygoing group of Ultimate Frisbee players. What he found was his Montgomery County family.
Ellenson, 33, a technical writer from Derwood, is an Ultimate Frisbee aficionado who prefers laid-back games to cutthroat competition. He used to play at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., but grew tired of the hypercompetitive scene.
So in April 2009, he posted an ad on Craigslist searching for like-minded ultimate players to participate in a Sunday morning game in the backyard of his Derwood home, Blueberry Hill Park.
The response was underwhelming at first.
“There would be days where it would be two-on-two,” said Steve Chang, a patent attorney from Gaithersburg. “You’d be here and you’d be happy to see the fourth person.”
Slowly but surely, the group became bigger. Two-on-two games grew into three-on-three, and three-on-three to six-on-six. Four years later, it has evolved into a full-fledged, two-and-a-half-hour Ultimate Frisbee session, with nearly 30 playing each Sunday. Ellenson described it as “a slice of life.”
Group members have become friends, and in the case of Richard and Margaret Ellenson, family.
Margaret joined the group six months after its inception. A friendly Ultimate Frisbee connection developed into a relationship. Richard proposed to Margaret in January 2012 in Blueberry Hill Park and they married in December.
“This is the community that we’ve felt the most connected to here,” said Margaret, a nuclear engineer. “It’s where we met and it’s where we got engaged. It has a lot of history for us.”
The coed group consists of professionals, retirees, college students and elementary school children. Regardless of their background, members share a common interest in creating a relaxed, welcoming community, whether on the Frisbee pitch or at a potluck dinner.
“You know, Ultimate Frisbee has a thing called ‘Spirit of the Game,’ which is like a mantra. It runs across all people who play ultimate. The idea is, we’re about having fun,” Chang said.
Ultimate Frisbee is a team sport, typically played with seven players per side. In order to score, teams must advance the disc to the opposition’s end zone without letting it touch the ground. If the frisbee falls, the defense gains possession.
Some competitive leagues have strict rules and regulations, but his group has three main rules: no offensive and defensive sets, no contact, and share the disc.
“We always tell them what our rules are because in the past, we have had a couple people who came that were a little more gung-ho than we wanted to be,” said Joey Whitford of Germantown. “So we like to set the rules at the beginning.”
Added Chang: “There are people who are like the type-A, hypercompetitive types. There are certainly some games where that’s accepted. But here, we’re all about trying to be welcoming, and having a good time.”
The friendly atmosphere draws in the Blueberry Hill Park crowd.
“When I came here, I joined a couple of the leagues and they were very intense,” Margaret Ellenson said. “I was looking for a game that was more laid-back. More like what I had in grad school [at Berkeley]. So then I found this one and it was like, ‘Yeah, that’s closer to what I’m looking for.’”
Margaret and Richard are moving to San Francisco next month and will be on the lookout for a new group of casual Frisbee tossers.
“It’s really going to be the top thing I’m going to miss in the area,” said Ellenson, who once drove all the way from New Jersey on a Sunday morning just so he could toss around the Frisbee with his Montgomery County family. “I’ve been doing this every Sunday morning for four years.”
New participants can join via meetup.com or show up at 9 a.m. on Sundays at Blueberry Hill Park.
“We welcome all players who want to come and have a good time,” Chang said.