Ulimate Disc Photos

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: Warming up before a Saturday morning game. • Pink skirt, pink shoes, no problem. • Worn cleats for a serious athlete. • Theo Williamson ('12, Economics) makes an impressive layout (Ultimate lingo for dive). • A regulation size field is 70 x 40 yards.

The sun is shining on Redwood Bowl. Thirty casually dressed players take to the field for another weekend practice. Some stretch, others do knee lifts, as an '80s-style boom box plays hip-hop music in the background. Players chase a disc as it gracefully glides across the field.

On the turf, someone does a cartwheel. "Go Buds!" an enthusiastic spectator yells from the sidelines.

This is Saturday morning practice for the HSU men's Ultimate Disc team—the Buds. Once considered a fringe sport, Ultimate has been popular at Humboldt State for years and has recently become more mainstream around the country. At HSU, both the men's team and the Hags—the women's team—have attracted a devoted following.

To the uninitiated, Ultimate's laid-back style belies the intensity and athleticism required of its players. The sport combines the speed and endurance of soccer with the transitions and handling of basketball. The objective is similar to American football.

In Ultimate, two teams of seven take their place at both end zones of a 70 x 40 yard field. One team launches a 175-gram plastic disc toward their opponent, similar to a kickoff in football. The goal? To pass the disc down the field and catch it in the opposing team's end zone for a point. A typical game lasts 90 minutes and is played to 15 points.

Unlike most competitive team sports, Ultimate is self-officiated, meaning there are no referees. The game relies on a unique honor system called The Spirit of Game, which requires that players uphold the sport's integrity and rules of conduct. Foul and contact rules are similar to basketball: No contact is allowed and players must stop and pivot before passing the disc to another player. There is also a 10-second limit on holding the disc.

Surprisingly, the game got its start on a high school field in New Jersey, according to USA Ultimate, the sport's national governing body. In the summer of 1968, a group of three friends were playing a casual game of Frisbee when they decided to add some rules. They drafted a rulebook, created a school club and dubbed the new sport Ultimate Frisbee. Today, it's simply known as Ultimate due to the "Frisbee" trademark.

With its unconventional rules and laid-back style, Ultimate quickly developed a following among East Coast college students. In 1972, Rutgers and Princeton played the first collegiate game.

Ulimate Disc Photos

TOP TO BOTTOM: Kristin "Charlie" Eide ('12, French) blocks a pass during practice. • The Buds huddle for an impromptu post-game cheer. • Buds Coach Colin Morgan-Outhisack ('11, Studio Art) stops to analyze a play.

Jamie Eickhert (´92, Construction Technology) recalls that Humboldt's teams emerged in the late 1970s shortly after the first California teams began cropping up in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. "We were one of the first Northern California teams that started, along with a handful in the Bay Area like Stanford and Berkeley," says Eickhert, who played for the Buds in the late ´80s and early ´90s. During that time, he says, the team nearly qualified for Nationals and also experienced an unfortunate, but briefly lived, name change to the Storm Trolls. With no regrettable name changes, the Hags have appeared in Nationals once since the 1980s.

Over the years, the teams' competitiveness has waxed and waned as seasoned players graduate. To participate, students register for a two-credit course. For new players, the learning curve is short, says Coach Colin Morgan-Outhisack (´11, Studio Art/Art History). And he would know: He had never played Ultimate or any other sport until joining the team as a sophomore. "I wasn't very active and had never been part of a team," Morgan-Outhisack says. "It was like a family for me."

In fact, that camaraderie is what attracts many former high school and college athletes to the game. For many, the Buds and the Hags provide intercollegiate discipline and competitiveness of varsity sports like track and soccer. That's what prompted Theo Williamson (´12, Economics) to drop soccer and join Ultimate when he transferred to HSU his sophomore year. "I got tired of the idea of being an ‘athlete,' " says Williamson, now the team's only fifth-year player. "With Ultimate it's not all about winning, it's about having fun."

Kristin "Charlie" Eide (´12, French), was originally recruited to play softball for Humboldt State. She chose Ultimate.

Now, Eide helps create game strategy and lead practice for the Humboldt Hags. On a recent evening, she walked players through a complicated play, referring to a hand-drawn diagram on white paper.

"The dragon is trying to get the disc going under on the dead side," she summarizes, using jargon that would confuse anyone but a serious player.

Rigorous Schedules, Lighthearted Attitudes

Both teams hold three-hour practices, four times a week. Sessions take place at the Redwood Bowl and the Student Recreation Center and focus on building cardio, strength or strategy. It's a level of dedication that breaks the stereotype of Ultimate players, says Sean O'Connell (´14, Business). "You have to have the speed and hands of a football player and the endurance of a track and soccer player," says O'Connell, who ran four years of track in high school.

The mood on the field is lighthearted: One hallmark of Ultimate is that players often wear zany outfits, and the Hags are no exception. During a recent practice, Eide sported a sequin skirt over Spandex and pink socks. The outfit didn't seem to affect her performance. After three hours of running drills, she was already planning the next practice.

The players' commitment is also expressed in its travel itinerary. The teams participate in several regional tournaments each year against schools like Stanford, UC Davis, Chico and Berkeley. A lighthearted rivalry exists between all of them, says Emiliano Rodriguez (´14, Recreation Administration). "We joke that the Cal players are just a bunch of rich guys," Rodriguez says, adding: "We're definitely better."

Naturally, the ribbing goes both ways. At a recent tournament, Chico's players sauntered onto the field dressed as Lumberjacks, and rivals often create cheers mocking each other. Even so, there's an unspoken etiquette between opponents. Hosting teams, for instance, typically help provide housing for their visitors. "You pretty much see the same guys, the same faces, every time you go to these tournaments," Morgan-Outhisack says. "There's nothing like spending two days at a tournament with someone to create a sense of camaraderie."

Like cycling and crew, Ultimate is a club sport at HSU. Funding comes from Associated Students and student fees, while the Recreational Sports Department will match any fundraising done by the team. As Ultimate's popularity grows, the Buds and Hags hope it will bring some much-needed attention to the sport they love.

"We're just out there trying to win and bring a good name for Humboldt," Morgan-Outhisack says.

Ulitmate Defined

Clockwise from top left: Play it where it lies: A player makes a throw from a tree stump. • Experienced players usually carry a range of discs. • The target is typically a round metal basket on a pole. • The Redwood Curtain course winds through trees and other natural obstacles.

Plaid Optional

With a dedicated club and one of the area's most challenging courses, disc golf is booming on HSU’s campus.

Disc golf, another flying disc sport, has a more recent history at HSU—though it has a long history in Humboldt County. HSU's co-ed club was started in 2010 by a couple of students interested in turning the casual affair into an official sport. So far, the club has attracted 25 members.

Top members from the club try out for the team, which recently participated in its first intercollegiate conference at CSU Monterey Bay last fall. This spring, team members will travel to Estacao, Ore., to compete against other teams for a bid to play in nationals.

As its name implies, disc golf combines the skill of golf with the strategy of disc throwing. The purpose is to throw a disc into the hole—typically a round metal basket on a pole—in the fewest shots possible. Courses are nine or 18 holes long and often include natural elements like trees and shrubs. Obstacles and changes in elevation make the course more challenging.

As the course progresses, players utilize different discs, similar to the different clubs used in golf. Smaller and heavier than the discs used in Ultimate, discs vary based on weight, plastic and aerodynamic design. The four most common types are putters, mid-range, fairway and long-range drivers.

"The discs all do different things, so learning that is huge," says Curtis Gregory ('12, Forestry), who participated in shot put, discus and hammer throw in high school. "It's also learning to pull through and use your whole body instead of snapping your wrist."

Humboldt State houses the Redwood Curtain, one of the most popular and challenging disc golf courses in the country. Nestled in the Arcata Community Forest, the 18-hole course winds through ferns, stumps and a canopy of redwood trees. The course is managed by Par Infinity Disc Golf Club in Arcata, whose President, Caleb Gribi, is also the HSU club team's coach.