Normally, when you see the Columbia High School Ultimate Frisbee Team play, you will see them looking like any other high school team–playing their games on proper fields, in proper lighting, and in the proper conditions. Unless, of course, you see them on what some consider to be their most important game of the year.
On Thanksgiving night, after the seemingly endless supply of turkey and stuffing has left the rest of us slothlike and motionless at the dinner table, the Varsity Ultimate players at CHS will face their greatest rivals–former Varsity Ultimate players from CHS. But they’ll be playing minus the frills and trappings of a normal game of ultimate frisbee. In fact, as they have for decades, they’ll be playing in the dim parking lot in which the sport was invented.
The alumni game is almost as old as the sport itself, which–unbeknownst to many ultimate frisbee fanatics–was created in Maplewood by a group of Columbia High School kids in 1968. Officially unaffiliated with the school itself, the team manages to remain successful year after year–playing competitively against college teams, winning the 2008 Eastern Championship–despite having to pay expenses out of pocket.
“It’s a labor of love,” says team captain Evan Walter (shown right). And labor is an appropriate word; they play two seasons, condition from late July to September, and fundraise by themselves to pay for insurance. And indeed, love of the game and community is what has driven volunteer coach Anthony Nuñez to continue participating every year since his graduation in 1998. “I couldn’t replace this kind of experience with anything,” he said. “We won the high school championship in 2008. You can’t put a price on something like that.”
Wearing uniforms nearly identical to the original team getup, the Columbia team always keeps its history as the sport’s founding team in mind–a fact lost on many of their opponents. “It’s interesting,” Walter said frankly, when asked if the team got any particular attention for its place in frisbee history. “We don’t.” But with the accomplishments that the team continues to achieve even now (including being one of only 6-10 teams to be invited regularly to Georgia’s annual Pidea Tournament), extra attention hardly seems necessary.
The alumni game features (among a no out-of-bounds rule and the occasional player ending up in the creek) a veteran team playing in chronological order–from oldest vets for the first few points, to the most recent alums towards the end of the match. It takes place at 8 pm on Thursday in the Columbia student parking lot on Parker Street in Maplewood. It marks the end of the CHS Ultimate fall season.
The team will be hosting a tournament open for the public to play in at 10 am this Saturday. It will take place at Cameron & Meadowland Fields at 10 Mead Street in South Orange. You can register in advance here.
Noah Levinson plays on the ultimate frisbee team at Hamilton College.