Eugene Weekly : Coverstory : 6.3.2010


Carson Bee plays disc golf

Frisbees Gone Wild
Disc golfin’ and Ultimate fun
By Sachie Yorck, Photos by Naomi Levit

Soaring in the sky is a parade of iridescent flying saucers. It’s a sunny day in Westmoreland Park, and the clanking of metal chains mixes with the sounds of birds chirping and the whirring hum of passing cars. 

Eugene residents had better keep an eye out for flying objects because the popularity of sports like Ultimate Frisbee and disc golf continues to grow each year, and Eugene is home to top Ultimate teams from high schools to the UO.

“The flight of a disc is pretty amazing,” says Dave Battagua of Eugene Recreation Services. “You can’t make a ball float, and there’s so many things you can do with a disc.”

Battagua helped bring disc sports up the West Coast in the 1980s. Eugene Ultimate Frisbee leagues started with eight teams in 1992, but there are now 31 teams with three ability levels. “There’s a place for pretty much everyone,” says Battagua.

Philip Renich, Nam Vo, and Lucas Spiegel play Ultimate Frisbee

Ultimate Frisbee and disc golf both rely on floating plastic platters, but they have fundamental differences: One is a (limited) contact team sport and the other can be played alone or in groups.

Disc golf, like regular golf, can have 18-hole courses, and the lowest score wins. There are also similar concepts — drivers (more flat for distance), putters (stubby for slower speed with more aim) and midrange discs.

Instead of holes, disc golf incorporates metal baskets for goals. Originally, colored poles were used as targets but were deemed ineffective for verifying hits. Now, discs must be caught in the chains or basket to be considered a valid goal. Trees are intentional obstacles.

Currently, Eugene proper has only one disc golf course, with another in neighboring Cottage Grove, one in Dexter near the dam and two in Corvallis. Plans for a course in Alton Baker Park are in the very early stages.

Comparing Eugene’s Westmoreland disc golf course to the one by Dexter Lake “is like day and night,” says Okke Duursma, a native of the Netherlands who began playing disc golf in Eugene a year ago and already has a collection of nine discs. Dexter’s course is located in the woods.

“I love being outside; it’s challenging, and it’s cheaper than regular golf,” Duursma says.

Ultimate Frisbee – usually simply called Ultimate – on the other hand, has a standard disc and pits a team of people against one another. Battagua says comparing disc golf to Ultimate is like comparing golf to soccer. Ultimate was actually created by high school kids in 1968. The first official rules for the game were established in 1970.

“I’m personally not very good at [disc golf],” says Jenica Villamor, team captain of the UO women’s Ultimate Frisbee team. “Just because you’re good at Ultimate doesn’t mean you’re good at disc golf. It’s a totally different game.”

The beginning of an Ultimate game is like a football kick-off to the opposing team, but when someone catches the disc, they can’t advance. Contact is supposed to be limited, although it is often unavoidable.

This year, both the UO men’s and women’s Ultimate Frisbee teams were the #1 seeds in the nation. Last year the men’s team’s hopes for a national championship crashed to a halt after they played naked in a match against OSU. 

At the 2010 USA Ultimate College Championships in Madison, Wis., over Memorial Day weekend, the UO women’s team took home the top honors, beating defending champions UC Santa Barbara 15-8. The men’s team fell in the pre-quarter finals to number four seed University of Florida.

Villamor says a lot of really good players come out of Eugene.

Playing with discs can be appreciated by every age, gender or ability. The same goes for organized disc sports. Adaptive Recreation Services in Eugene plans to offer disc golf clubs and clinics this summer for disabled residents.

“I think disc golf is one of those sports, just like biking, where anyone can do it if there’s the right accommodations,” says Adaptive Recreation Programmer Carly Schmidt. She says disc golf offers great social interaction outdoors.

In August, Eugene Recreation Services will put on the Eugene Flying Disc Festival at Westmoreland Park. It will be an all-around competition with different divisions and events, including distance, accuracy, maximum time aloft and disc golf. There’s even a division for dogs. 

Peterson Barn Community Center will hold a five-day disc camp for kids the week before the festival. “It’s an event that doesn’t really give an advantage to Ultimate players or disc golfers,” Battagua says.

The trail of discs is easy to follow in Eugene. Discs are available at sporting good stores such as REI, Dick’s, Play It Again Sports and at SeQuential Biofuels. Bag tag challenges meet weekly to vie for the number one spot. FLYDO is a statewide organization for disc catching canines. Newcomers and pros can also contact Eugene Recreation Services for scheduled games.


South Eugene’s Champion Flingers

The competitive level of Ultimate Frisbee in Eugene caught a zinger of an upward gust when the Axemen of South Eugene High grabbed first place at the UPA High School Westerns Championship the weekend of May 8 in Burlington, Wash., crushing a formidable line-up of opponents by lopsided scores that included a 13-0 shutout of Seattle Academy.

Leading the Axemen that weekend were two junior world-ranked players, seniors Aaron Honn and Dylan Freechild, a pairing that in the final match proved unstoppable for Seattle’s Northwest School. According to Freechild, South Eugene — which has traveled as far as Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado to compete in the UPA tourney — has placed in the top bracket of eight teams for six years running. And yes, he added, Ultimate Frisbee seems to have grown “a little bit stagnant the last few years,” a state of affairs that might change now that the Axemen proved themselves the best flingers this side of the Mississippi. “Hopefully it’ll get bigger,” Freeman said of the sport’s prevalence in Eugene.

Freechild, who said he plans on attending the UO this fall, noted that among the area’s schools, South Eugene seems to be the most enthusiastic about Ultimate. “At South it’s a lot more accepted than at Churchill,” he said (Freechild played at Churchill before coming to South Eugene). He said he couldn’t tell for sure whether the Axemen’s UPA title has had a dramatic impact on non-fans or the school in general, though he guesses folks noticed. “In my group of friends, they were really excited,” Freechild said.

There doesn’t seem to be any particular type of athlete who feels the draw of Ultimate Frisbee, Freechild said. Two of the captains on the Axemen are soccer players, he said, but he’s also seen people from track and baseball play the game. “It’s pretty divided,” Freechild said of the types of athletes that comprise both the men’s and women’s teams. “A lot of people do get recruited from other sports.”

Perhaps as a testament to the growing popularity of the sport, Ultimate at South Eugene is split into two seasons, one in the fall and one in spring. “In the fall we have a lot more relaxed season,” Freechild said, noting that the teams were player-managed up until coach Breeze Strout, a South Eugene alum, was brought aboard this spring. — Rick Levin








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