It’s a warm and sunny weeknight in DC, and as the tourists are abandoning Potomac Park and the FDR memorial in favor of dinner, area residents young and old are streaming in. It’s sports night — or so you might think, judging from the number of uniformed people and shouts ringing out across the Polo Fields. Organized soccer, pick-up soccer, team softball and — the most sizable group — ultimate frisbee. Discs are being tossed as team members pull on cleats and stretch, chatting animatedly. Its clear that many of them have been waiting for this all through the workday, and who could blame them? They’re here to run around in the sun, sweat out a bit of the stress and enjoy their game.
The games I’m witnessing are of intermediate play, one of several divisions of the Washington Area Flying Disc Club (WAFC, pronounced colloquially waf-see) summer league. The teams are comprised of players with some league experience, though ages and occupations vary. A couple younger players are sporting the gear of their high school teams. On a far field, a middle-aged man with gray hair tosses a disc with a child who appears to be his daughter while he waits to be subbed in. Many players are clearly coming from work, swapping button-downs for newly silk-screened WAFC league jerseys.
As a sport, frisbee has been gaining traction and visibility in recent years. No longer is ultimate perceived as a pastime reserved for kids at liberal arts colleges and hippies — 30,000 people nationwide are members of the Ultimate Players Association. A New York Times article in April highlighted the important role women have played in the evolution of the sport. Women generally comprise at least 2 of 7 field spots during a co-ed match, and some areas offer leagues purely for women. Many college-age kids playing now have been playing on organized teams since middle school. Leagues such as WAFC not only grant experienced players a chance to throw the disc around a few nights a week, they also offer the opportunity for newcomers to the sport to learn alongside their teammates.
Part of the appeal is the spirit of the sport, which, while increasing in seriousness, still maintains its playfulness. The WAFC leagues have themes to direct team-names and pre-game cheers, a frisbee staple. The Rec division theme is joke punchlines, resulting in several teams being dubbed variations of That’s What She Said. The “B-list celebrities” theme assigned to the Intermediate division has produced such gem team-names as “John & Kate Team 8″ as well as two different puns on David Hasselhoff and MC Hammer, respectively. “Stack Effron” (pictured in light blue in photos) is a pun on both the High School Musical star and the organizing principle of a frisbee offense.
Aside from intermediate and rec, which play a couple nights a week during the summer season, there are also corporate divisions, an advanced division and a weekend league. The season begins again come fall, with clique teams and rec. Essentially, if its ultimate you’re after, there’s a place for you in DC, all you have to do is show up.