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The History of Flying Disc Freestyle: a synopsis

Freestyle, like any creative endeavor, is the result of many people and many influences. Much like mathematics, there were critical developments by uniquely talented individuals that this account will acknowledge.

Birth of the flying disc

It is widely acknowledged that disc play started on the campuses of Ivy League schools during the late forties, specifically at Yale and Dartmouth. Early players used cookie can lids and pie tins. By the early fifties, the pastime had grown to such fad proportions that it caused Bill Robes of Etna, New Hampshire to produce a plastic version of the tin lid. A similar effort was undertaken by Fred Morrison and Warren Franscioni on the West Coast. Robes called his plastic disc the Space Saucer. By the late fifties, college and university bookstores around the country were carrying the Space Saucer. Wham-O Manufacturing stepped in and began marketing Morrison's work in the form of their Pluto Platter. In 1958, a year after Wham-O began selling their disc, they trademarked the name "Frisbee" and added it to the mold that made the Pluto Platter.


The International Frisbee Tournament

Another important event occurred in 1958. Bob and Jake Healy organized a frisbee game at their family's Fourth of July celebration in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the Ball Yard at Eagle Harbor. This family's frisbee get-together became an annual event that grew in size and popularity each year. It became known as the IFT (International Frisbee Tournament). During the mid-sixties, the event's enthusiasm attracted the attention of Wham-O. The synergy that developed between Wham-O and the IFT started the modern era of disc sports. The formation of the IFA (International Frisbee Association) newsletter in 1968 was a direct result. The IFA newsletter spread information to frisbee enthusiasts in Canada and the USA. Frisbee players started to travel to the IFT in huge numbers. By 1970, the tournament became the Mecca for frisbee enthusiasts from all over the world. The event fostered the free exchanges of ideas on all types of frisbee play. This is where the idea of freestyle as a distinct type of disc play got disseminated to the frisbee community at large.


The Berkely Frisbee Group

The IFT/IFA newsletter brought together Wham-O and the BFG (Berkeley Frisbee Group). The BFG was started in the late 1960's and met regularly to play frisbee at Sproul Plaza on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley. The core of players is a veritable who's who of freestyle: Roger Barrett, Chuck Shultz, John "the Dreamer" Weyand, Victor Malofronte, Dave Book, Jay Shelton, Bob May, Chuck Pitt, Tom Boda' and Steve Sewell. They took frisbee play beyond mere the simple throw and catch. They developed new types of throws and catches. They were the first individuals to regard throwing and catching as an art form. The leading freestylers of this group were John "Dreamer" Weyand and Victor Malafronte. This pair created the notion of a freestyle "routine." Some of the BFG players, including Malafronte, attended the IFT where their impact was dramatic. Each year they introduced more refined combinations of fancy throws and trick catches. A freestyle culture began to develop. Frisbee notables like John Connelly, Tom Cleworth, Alan Blake, Scott Dickson, and John Sappington shared in the development of this new disc art form. The 1973 IFT was especially significant. Dan "the Stork" Roddick, Bob "Flash" Eberle and John Kirkland made their first visit. Irv Kalb and his New Jersey ultimate contingency were there. Jim Kenner and Ken Westerfield, widely considered the second freestyle team, were there.


Octad and the Canadian Open, the first freestyle tournaments

After the 1973 IFT, Dan Roddick and Bob Eberle began a feverish period of work that established the roots of competitive freestyle. First, they laid the groundwork for a flying disc event called Octad which was comprised of eight distinct skill events. Then they published their first issue of the "Flying Disc World" newsletter in March of 1974.

Octad was held in May of 1974 and featured an event called "Eastern Trick Catch." This skill test consisted of two players, competing against one another, taking turns throwing the disc back and forth with points awarded for trick throws and catches. Unfortunately, the adversarial aspect of the game left the players dissatisfied and a post event discussion on the game generated the suggestion that the two players should work together rather than against each other. It was also suggested that the players should be judged in a manner similar to ice skating and gymnastics. Dan Roddick's reply to this suggestion, "Oh I don't know, that would be so subjective. I don't think it would work too well," is a criticism that still reverberates at modern freestyle events.

Jim Palmeri hosted a big disc golf and double disc court tournament in August of 1974 that was the backdrop for the burgeoning freestyle movement. Players spent much of their free time working on new throws, catches and tipping. Victor Malafronte showcased behind the back throws, Irv Kalb displayed accurate and powerful one finger throws. Doug Corea was developing aerial between the leg catches. John Kirkland was trapping high curving shots between his knees and feet. Multiple tipping became the latest game of one-upmanship. A two hour rain delay on Sunday moved the fun indoors. It was there that Kirkland unveiled the air bounce throw and by the end of the day, ten consecutive tips had been achieved.

Freestyle was reaching critical mass. Two weeks later, virtually the same crowd appeared at the third annual Canadian Open Frisbee Championships. This event featured the very first freestyle pairs competition, conceived by Jim Kenner and Ken Westerfield. Players were judged by their fellow competitors. Along with the IFT, Jim and Ken were influenced by the late Mike "Muk" Young. The pair had been doing shows for several years before the 1974 Canadian Open. They thought freestyle was a natural addition to the traditional guts, distance and accuracy events that comprised competitions of that era.

The Canadian Open featured eight freestyle teams. Among the illustrious pairings were Doug Corea/Jim Palmeri, John Kirkland/Jose Montalvo, Irv Kalb/Dave Meyers, Dan Roddick /Bruce Koger, Tom Cleworth/John Connelly and finally, Jim and Ken. The competitive art form, which began it's gestation at Berkeley six years earlier, was born at the Canadian Open on Sunday August 18, 1974 at approximately 3:00 PM Eastern Daylight Savings Time.

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Learn to Jam Video!Secrets of Pro Disc Freestyle Vol. 2 DVD

Dave, Z and their Freestyle Frisbee champion friends from around the globe explain advanced moves and techniques. Available from The FPA Store at The Wright Life.