Beads of perspiration formed on Jonathan Higgins' forehead. He swung his right arm around a few more times and then pulled up his brown Bermuda shorts, which were falling below his hips. He was finally ready. Confidently, he picked up the Frisbee and tossed it into the air with a quick snap of the wrist.
"What a throw," said his partner. "Good going."
Higgins smiled. He knows he's a natural--even at the age of 2.
Mike Higgins, Jonathan's father, called his family--everyone except the cat, that is--"real Frisbee nuts." He gave Jonathan his first Frisbee the week he was born, and the boy now has dozens of the plastic discs in every size and color.
The Higginses came to Washington from Philadelphia this past weekend for the fifth annual Frisbee Disc Festival on the Mall, sponsored by the National Air and Space Museum. "This is the highlight of our summer," said Mike Higgins. "We wouldn't have missed it for the world."
Neither would several thousand of some of the leanest, most muscular, most bronzed people in America. It was a big day for Frisbee fanatics. Not as important as the world championships at the Rose Bowl, of course, but big nonetheless.
Many amateur Frisbee players came to get a glimpse of the real stars of the sport--among them Judy Horowitz, women's overall champion of the world; Paul Cameron, men's overall champ; and McTavish, a 3-year-old collie who happens to be the best canine Frisbee player in Washington, D.C.
"I've been dying to meet Horowitz," said Sherry Blum, 14, from Los Angeles. "She's absolutely terrific. I hope I get up the nerve to ask her for a few tips."
In addition to the continuous exhibitions from noon to 5 p.m., disc instructors conducted beginner, intermediate and advanced workshops. Some participants had never pitched a Frisbee before. "I always loved to watch people play," said Sara Norris, 67, from Atlanta. "I bought myself one here, and I'm catching on pretty well." She threw it to her husband. It hit him in the head.
"As you can see, he's not too good at catching it," she said. "We'll have to practice."
Crowds gathered around the professionals, watching the Frisbees spin on fingertips, heels and noses. "It looks so easy," said Steve Kaminski of Mississippi with a long sigh. "I wish I could do it."
Three years ago Horowitz, now 22, had never played Frisbee either. She associated the game with "hippie, bohemian types." That was until her first day at Vassar College. There she met Billy Bloom, who was twirling a disc to impress another woman. Bloom and Horowitz fell in love with each other--and the sport.
"We practice five, sometimes six hours a day," she said, running her fingers through her short brown hair. "Like any sport, it takes a lot of dedication and sacrifice."
Three little girls about 10 years old each recognized Horowitz and screamed, "That's her, that's really her." Next year, Horowitz will give up her professional status to go to law school.
JoAnn and Dennis Loftus from Norfolk, along with their Doberman pinscher, Fawn Ever Star, also thrilled the audience with a variety of disc tricks--during which Fawn caught every throw. "We put everything we can into this," said JoAnn. "I'm a nurse, and I cut my hours so I could get more practicing in."
It doesn't take much to get hooked, explained Horowitz. "Before you know it, you're part of the Frisbee family. It's a very tight-knit group.That's how this differs from other sports. It's competitive, but there's also a special warmth. The fun is still in Frisbee."
Mike Higgins wants his son to be part of that Frisbee family someday. "Just look at that move," he said with a laugh. "He'll be a star."