Disc Jockeys

Disc Jockeys

East Rock’s fall colors cradle an overcast sky as a man with a pink visor sits down on one of the benches at Rice Field. His name is Matt Nelson, and he’s here on a Sunday afternoon for New Haven Ultimate. When I tell him someone else on the field said the group had already left, he laughs and says, “Oh yeah. That wasn’t us. We’re never here early.”

More people trickle in, taking to their individual warmup rituals. One player works his calves with a wooden rolling pin, while another stretches behind the bench. Others pair up to toss a frisbee—or in preferred ultimate parlance, a disc. Despite going by the name “ultimate,” the sport, Nelson contends, “has a different feeling. People don’t take themselves as seriously.”

But they do take ultimate seriously, enough to spend precious weekend hours throwing flicks and the odd scoober and maybe going for glory with a sweet layout. Nelson, for one, has been playing ultimate for a decade, ever since his friends introduced him to the sport during sophomore year of high school.

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To accommodate complicated adult schedules, New Haven Ultimate’s game days are proposed via weekly multiple-answer polls posted to the group’s Facebook page, with the number of votes for a given game time determining whether or not it will happen. Sundays, I’m told, are consistently the most casual day to play. These sessions are called “Fun Frisbee,” mixing newbies and veterans without getting prohibitively competitive. “Sundays are our days when we encourage new folks to come. Nobody’s that bad for more than an hour,” jokes Dan Gaulzetti, a member of New Haven Ultimate for 18 years. Member Becky Lindsay says she “joined in the dead of winter” in 2019, when, sure enough, “I didn’t know how to play.” The group formed a little over 20 years ago, perhaps making Gaulzetti the closest remaining link to the club’s founding.

Players today bring both light and dark shirts for optimal flexibility. During my visit, one player arrives in a light gray shirt, and that’s all he’s got. No problem; “we’ll just switch you to the dark team if you sweat a lot,” another player says. Sweating won’t be a problem, either. The sport is heavy on running, and it’s an unseasonably hot and humid day, 70 degrees in November. As the game begins, so does a light rain.

Before each point, the teams line up on opposite ends of the field. Play begins when one side lobs, or “pulls,” the disc down to the other, hopefully catching enough air under the disc to give themselves time to rush down the field and mark their opponents. From the sidelines, teammates shout affirmations, making sure to communicate when they like what they see. Players sub out when they need a break. Many of them hail from all around the country, often having come to New Haven to study.

At the beginning of today’s game, there are 10 players. An hour or so later, the roster has doubled. New Haven Ultimate provides enough sense of community that you actually “look forward to exercising for 2 to 3 hours,” member Mike Blazanin says.

Some members play multiple times a week, while others only join on Sundays, when truly all skill and experience levels are welcome. Indeed, as the game winds down and I say my goodbyes, they invite me to come back and play next time. The following Sunday, I do just that, and it turns out it’s even more fun to play Fun Frisbee than it is to watch.

New Haven Ultimate
Rice Field, New Haven (map)
Winter Timing: Sat-Sun 2pm, pending 8 or more signups via the group’s Facebook Page

Written and photographed by Lindsay Skedgell.

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