The ultimate sport on display in Portsmouth

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PORTSMOUTH — Flying discs invaded the air space around Glen Farm over weekend. But if you were looking for a friendly game of toss, you came to the wrong place.

In ultimate Frisbee, in fact, you might take one in the chops.

Just ask Thomas Dickerson. The first-year grad student at Brown University caught a disc in the face while playing as an undergrad a few years back.

“Both of these front teeth are fake, and it’s because of Frisbee,” he said, pointing to his mouth. “I was playing as a sophomore undergrad and I was guarding a guy. I saw the guy with the disc out of the corner of my eye, ready to throw. I turned around and went to block it and I just missed. I caught a forehand in the face from like 10 yards. Those are heavy and they move fast.”

Ultimate Frisbee — the sport is usually referred to simply as ultimate — was on full display over the weekend during a collegiate tournament at Glen Farm. Brown University hosted the tournament, which featured roughly 600 players on 16 men's and 16 women's team from all over New England.

Ultimate originated at a New Jersey high school in 1967, and the first college match was played between Rutgers and Princeton in 1972. The sport resembles American football, except that players pass a flying disc rather than a pigskin.

The fields are slightly smaller than soccer size, said Charlie Kannel, a senior player from Brown. "They're 35 yards wide, the end zones are 25 yards deep and the main field is 70 yards long," he said.

“It’s not perfect, tape-measure regulation," tournament director Ben Bauer said of the 12 ultimate fields set up Saturday and Sunday at Glen Farm. "It varies a little bit. You have to make do with the space you have.”

Players also had to make do with the windy conditions at Glen Farm, which weren't exactly conducive to making accurate, long throws.

“Every year it’s tricky here because it’s so close to the water," said Mr. Kannel. "It’s a really different game in the wind; it’s a little more unpredictable. It’s different playing here than in a gym, where you have complete control.”

A point is scored when a player makes a successful pass to a teammate in the opposing squad's end zone. Players are not allowed to run with the disc and they must maintain a pivot foot while holding it. They must pass the disc within 10 seconds or risk forfeiting possession to the opposing team.

Honor system

There are usually no referees in ultimate, so players must manage the games themselves. In fact, the word "ultimate" refers to the fact that the sport requires "the ultimate honor" from its players. Despite the honor system, it's common to hear the occasional f-bomb dropped when there's a dispute over a held disc, or whether a throw was out of bounds.

While ultimate is considered to be a non-contact sport, there's plenty of bumping and bruising going on while players go for the disc. The sport also uses one of the heavier discs — 175 grams — which can do some damage if not caught cleanly.

“People definitely get hurt,” said Mr. Bauer. “There are people on our team with torn ACLs."

Added Mr. Kannel: "Last night we were playing a showcase game against Tufts and one of their players got a concussion. It’s not supposed to be physical, but when you’re in the air there’s a lot of contact.”

The physically demanding pace of the game also requires players to be in good condition, especially during tournaments with multiple games over a short span.

“You’re sprinting all day basically. We come out and play a game at 9, game at 11, game at 1, game at 3, go to bed, wake up and do the same thing again. That’s why there are so many players on each team, so you get breaks," said Mr. Kannel, noting that teams have up to 25 players each. "It combines and endurance of soccer, with the cutting and the quick movement of basketball. It’s a lot of running but it’s also in short spurts.”

Brown edges Cornell

Mr. Kannel's Brown University team found itself in a thrilling match with Cornell University Saturday afternoon. The game was tied near the end until a Brown player caught a throw in the end zone in a sudden-death situation.

“That was a little bit more tense than the normal game; there was a couple of things going on. Two weeks ago at the Ivy League Championships, (Cornell) crushed us. They were the much better team, so we were gunning for them," said Mr. Kannel. "I have a personal thing, too, because my brother (Ethan) is on the (Cornell) team. My whole family came down to watch this. He was in on that last point, too."

In the finals on Sunday, Harvard beat Tufts, 14-10. Brown finished tied for fifth place, besting its original seed of seventh.

View more photos from Saturday's Brown-Cornell game below.

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.