Even in a month when college sports are best known for March Madness, not all the action is taking place on the hardwood. Long a staple on college campuses, Ultimate Frisbee is thriving at Rider, where the club team is entering the home stretch of its seventh season of play, as sanctioned by USA Ultimate, the official governing body of the sport.
Officially termed “Ultimate,” the sport was formerly known as Ultimate Frisbee, but altered its name in deference to the trademarked term owned by the Wham-O toy company, which produces the flying discs used in the game. A competitive, non-contact, seven-on-seven game, Ultimate is actually rooted in New Jersey, having first been organized by students at Columbia High School in Maplewood in 1968. The sport’s popularity quickly grew among college students, spreading to the West Coast by the mid-1970s as an appealing alternative to more structured intercollegiate varsity sports.
In it, Ultimate players attempt to advance the Frisbee up the 120-yard field, finding open passing lanes as players might in soccer, basketball or football, in an effort to enter a 25-yard-deep end zone for a score. Players may not run with the disc, and can only move it forward by passing it to teammates, who must stop on that spot upon a catch. Handoffs are not permitted, and players may pivot on just one foot while in possession of the disc. The sheer expanse of the playing field, occupied by just 14 players, makes Ultimate a wide-open game, filled with movement and the precise, graceful exchange of the Frisbee through the air.
Rider Ultimate Frisbee (RUF) is the brainchild of Zach Aguanno ’08, who was interested in bringing the sport to the Lawrenceville campus as a freshman in 2004. Aguanno approached Debbie Stasolla, associate vice president for Planning, who also taught his freshman seminar class that year, about serving as the club team’s adviser.
“I knew Zach from his freshman seminar class, so he recruited me to serve,” recalled Stasolla, who remains the adviser to RUF. “During Zach’s tenure as club president, RUF was recognized as the Outstanding Club Sport of the Year, and Zach himself was honored twice as the Outstanding Club Sport Leader.”
For the past three years, Rider Ultimate Frisbee has been led by senior Marketing and Human Resources major Tom Wospil, who was elected club president after his freshman season. Though he never played competitive Ultimate before enrolling at Rider, Wospil says he fell right into the game as soon as he arrived in Lawrenceville.
“I got involved at my orientation,” said Wospil, who is also an American Studies minor. “Some of my friends had a team in high school, so I knew a little about it, but I had never played. I got to know some of the team members here and started coming out for practices.”
Wospil says the team consists of about 25 members (USA Ultimate limits rosters to 27), and the club typically travels to weekend tournaments at other colleges and universities with 16 to 20.
“There are usually eight tournaments a year, and we play five or six games at each one,” said Wospil, who added that there may be anywhere from 8 to 32 schools present at each tournament.
Each spring, typically around April 1, Rider Ultimate Frisbee hosts the Huck of the Fools Tournament on the Lawrenceville campus. Taking its name from a “huck,” or a long downfield toss of the disc, Huck of the Fools draws teams from such schools as Rutgers, Rowan, Ramapo, Stockton, Bard and SUNY-New Paltz for an Ultimate Frisbee tournament on or near April Fool’s Day. This year, Huck of the Fools will be Saturday and Sunday, April 9 and 10.
“It’s a tradition here now,” said Wospil of the event, now in its sixth year. “We’ll get some people out just to watch the games, but it’s really about playing. We have fun.”
Stasolla says Rider Ultimate Frisbee has served as a showcase event during Family Weekend the past two Novembers, proving popular with participants and players alike.
“We organized a student vs. alumni competition and had a terrific showing,” she said.