Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007

Frisbee: The Ultimate avengers

Poolesville tournament has international flavor

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Laurie DeWitt⁄The Gazette
Jim Kirchhoff (left) and Dave Branick of the Baltimore Hustlers warm up before their practice Monday night, as they prepare for the Chesapeake Open Ultimate Frisbee Tournament this weekend in Poolesville.
It used to be the ‘‘alternative” sport, the one played on college campuses by shaggy-haired, barefoot late-teens looking for a way to bounce back from Friday night’s diversions.

But now, Ultimate Frisbee is much more than that.

The proof is in the pudding — according to the Web site www.upa.org, an estimated total of over 100,000 people across the globe are involved in the sport, which was created at a New Jersey high school in 1968. A chunk of them will grab their discs and cleats for the Chesapeake Open Ultimate Frisbee Tournament, Aug. 25-26 at the Potomac Country Club in Poolesville.

The event will feature 42 teams from as far away as Toronto and London. And unlike the old days, you don’t have to be fond of the word ‘‘dude” to be eligible.

‘‘You can really find a pick-up game of Ultimate anywhere now,” said tournament director Dave Branick, who helped originate the event in 2005. ‘‘The majority of the players got involved in college, but people stay involved because of the things that set it apart. There’s no referees, so all foul calls are pretty much left up to the players, and so there’s sort of this mutual level of respect amongst everyone.”

For those who haven’t ever seen a game of Ultimate Frisbee, the rules are fairly simple. Each team has seven players on a field with two end zones, similar to football. Play begins when the defense (standing on their own goal line) throws off to the offense. The offense will try to reach the end zone by completing passes to its players, but can only move the disc by passing — running with the Frisbee is illegal. When a Frisbee hits the ground, possession changes. No contact is allowed, and a player has only 10 seconds to launch the disc.

Branick was a student at Towson University when he first got into the sport, and dove in headfirst. He quickly became the spokesman for TUFrisbee, the school’s official Ultimate Frisbee team. They traveled as far as Baton Rouge, La., for tournaments, and created their own event in 2002, called ‘‘The Huck of the Irish.” Branick helped originate the spring-break event, and is still the tournament director.

He has watched the event grow since. There are now two prominent local organizations, the Central Maryland Ultimate Association and the Washington Area Frisbee Club, sponsoring co-ed leagues and games throughout the district and state. The latter is immensely popular in the area, with roughly 2,300 members.

The two groups got together to found the Chesapeake Open two years ago. The event separates competition into four different divisions — Elite, Open (eligible to anyone), Mixed (co-ed) and Women’s. The teams usually have snazzy, or more appropriately, ultimate, names such as the Bashing Pinatas (N.Y.), Madcow (Columbus, Ohio), Chewbacca Defense (Austin, Tex.) and D.C.’s own Big Red Death Machine.

Saturday will feature pool play, as teams randomly square off against one another to determine the seeding for Sunday’s action that will ultimately, no pun intended, decide the champions.

‘‘It’s just been spreading so much through word of mouth — there’s so many different tournaments all over the place now, it’s incredible,” said Branick, who plays for the Baltimore Hustlers. ‘‘And because there’s no professional Ultimate Frisbee, everyone is really just playing for the love of the game.”