Ultimate Frisbee Builds Muscles and Community

Two PADA players jump for a disc in the end zone.
Two PADA players jump for a disc in the end zone.
Two PADA players jump for a disc in the end zone.

The Philadelphia Area Disc Alliance (PADA) Memorial Day Hat Tournament starts at 10 a.m. Monday morning. On PADA time, however, that means things will generally get going by around 11 a.m. All are invited and every skill level is welcome. Once today’s volunteer organizers suspect that the bulk of people who will show up have—today about 100 people—everyone chooses a skill level and writes it and their name on a post-it. Then names are divided into teams of equal skill level. The ultimate frisbee tournament will likely last all day, with each team playing about three games, with soft pretzels, bagels and beer between games. No, make that between points.

Actually, this is the scenario at most league games throughout the spring, summer and fall here at Fairmount Park’s Edgely Field, which PADA shares with a local cricket league. There is usually food and there is frequently a few kegs of beer. Spring and Fall League games are played on various nights of the week elsewhere in the city too, at city recreation centers and playgrounds in Mount Airy, South Philly, West Philly and Germantown. With about 1,500 people involved in PADA this year, you can find an ultimate frisbee game happening on just about every day of the week somewhere in Philadelphia.

Ultimate frisbee games start seven people on the line in each of two end zones. In coed games, the standard breakdown is two women, five men, with variations on the number of women on the line depending on how many show up for the game. The disc is pulled, or thrown, by the defensive team to the offensive team. The offensive team either catches or picks up the disc and brings it into play, from which point the game plays out like a cross between soccer and football, with each team trying to catch the disc in their respective end zones.

Founded in 1985, PADA provides an organizational structure for Philadelphia area ultimate frisbee players young and old and at every skill level, as well as support for area coed, men’s and women’s club teams. Club teams are more competitive teams that play on regional and national levels. PADA YO is the organization’s youth outreach program for Philadelphia kids who see PADA games happening at their local playgrounds and want to learn. Philadelphia High School ultimate Education League (PHUEL) also helps to develop fundamentals in a younger group of players, this time high schoolers, and sends kids to PADA’s Philadelphia Ultimate Camp each summer since 2004.

PADA member goes in for a catch during Monday's Hat Tournament.
PADA member goes in for a catch during Monday's Hat Tournament.

Between points, today’s frisbee players are eager to talk about why they love the organization so much. And besides love for the sport, the answer is overwhelmingly, “The community.” Allison Barker has been playing in PADA for about a year, after having played ultimate frisbee in college for two years. “A big part of my social network is people I know from PADA,” she said. Despite her full commitment and involvement in PADA, Barker has some suggestions: “I would have PADA support better opportunities for women’s ultimate development, and better support for women’s league and women’s recruiting. Oftentimes you have a hard time getting enough women to show up to a game.”

Meagan Todd has the same experience in the PADA community. She’s been playing with PADA for about a year and is volunteering as coordinator of today’s hat tournament: “They just had a posting on the Website that we’re going to have a hat tournament and we need volunteers, so a bunch of us were like ‘Oh okay we’ll volunteer.’ And then then John said do this and enjoy running it.”  She was pleasantly surprised that after only a year’s experience in the league that she would be running an all-day tournament: “It’s kind of like putting the responsibility into the players hands, which just shows, I guess, that it’s something more community. It’s not just five people running it. It really is Philadelphia frisbee players, I feel like it’s actually us running it.”

Dark team member "marks" white team member, who is trying to move the disc up the field.
Dark team member "marks" white team member, who is trying to move the disc up the field.

Marc Silver has been playing in PADA for five or six years now, and came to PADA having only thrown a disc around with is sister who competes on the West Coast. He loves the community, and while he wishes that some of the club team players would offer more skills clinics for mid-level players like himself, he thinks the spirit of ultimate frisbee is especially exemplified in PADA’s Uhle League. Uhle is a developmental league played in the summer alongside the Fairmount Park Summer League. Because of it’s nature to encourage and support new players, the league is fun for more experienced players who want to teach or have a casual game with a beer in-hand on a breezy summer day with their friends.

Todays tournament was a bit of a warm one. But despite a hot sun and 80 degrees, the folks who came out today wouldn’t have Memorial Day any other way.

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