THE PHILOSOPHY of the game is "while the Frisbee is beautiful in flight, it is even more beautiful when it is caught," said Larry Schindel.
The appeal of the game, said Bob Madden, is its grace . . . "like watching Earl The Pearl (Monroe) going to the basket. The body is in the air, going through these magnificent moves, and no one is sure until the last moment how the catch is going to be made."
The result of the game is uncertain. "Usually," said Dave Stembel, "we don't keep score."
The game is Ultimate Frisbee and it is played every Sunday at noon on a field west of the Washington Monument. Most of the players are members of the Washington Area Frisbee Club, but in keeping with the laid-back attitude of Frisbee players, the game is open to all and requires no equipment. "All you need to bring is your body," said one participant.
To a newcomer the game looks like a variation on soccer without the nets. There are two teams with seven players apiece. The object is to score goals, a player scores for his team when he stands in the opponent's end zone and catches the Frisbee. The only way players may move the Frisbee up and down the field is to throw the disc.
Instead of emphasizing contact and muscle, Ultimate Frisbee emphasizes style and speed. When a player catches the Frisbee he must immediately stop running and fire the disc to a teammate, presumably closer to the end zone. The players on the opposing team, meanwhile, are behaving much like basketball players in a man-to-man defense. They jump and wave their arms, trying to get their hands on the Frisbee.
When the defenders intercept a pass or when the Frisbee touches the ground the defense becomes the offense. Then the Frisbee sails toward the other end zone, with the players streaking after it.
Theoretically the game has two 24-minute periods. But the rules sometimes fall prey to Washington's heat.
"We never know if we are going to play a second half," Stembel said. "At halftime someone will say 'Wanna play a second half?' Then people will either say 'okay' or 'I dunno, it's awful hot.'
Scott Zimmermann, another regular at the Washington Monument gatherings, elaborated: "We meet here every Saturday and Sunday. Except that on Saturday nobody shows up."
Schindel is credited with bringing Ultimate Frisbee to Washington.The game was developed at his school, Columbia High in Maplewood, N.J., he said. He kept playing in college and when he came here about 1 1/2 years ago to work as customer service representative for a printing firm, he brought his Frisbees with him.
Schindel organized the Washington Area Frisbee Club, set up week-night Frisbee tosses in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, and has worked with the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum on a Frisbee extravaganza scheduled for Sept. 4 on the Mall.
"On weeknights, don't try to call me at home until after dark," Schindel said. "I'll be out tossing the Frisbee."
When they tire of Ultimate Frisbee, Schindel and other devotees of the disc turn to either Freestyle Frisbee or Frisbee Golf.
Freestyle Frisbee players try to make the disc dance. They catch the disc with their fingernails and let it spin (this called a "nail delay"). They catch the Frisbee with their feet, they tip it in the with their fingertips.
"It is sort of similar to ballet," said Madden, 38, a photographer for the National Geographic and an admitted Frisbee addict. "When you are tossing the Frisbee back and forth there is a rhythm there, a partnership. A lyrical motion builds up as you make six, eight, ten catches."
Freestyle freaks aren't satisfied with simple throws and catches.Instead of grabbing the disc, they bat it or "air brush" it back into the air. Instead of simply letting the Frisbee settle in their laps, the veterans snag it behind their backs or stick their hand under an airborne leg and snare the disc. This move is called "constorktion."
"They guy who started it," Schindel said, "looked a stork."
Most of the participants in Ultimate Frisbee games are men, but Freestyle Frisbee draws both women and men. "This is all snap, not strength," said Devon Hassard as she sent a disc sailing 30 yards toward Madden. "And it is super excercises."
"I'm not real good not," said Mickey Wykle, a senior at Tusculum College in Greeneville, Tenn. She is working at the Air and Space Museum this summer and at the urging of fellow employees Jerry Barbely and Rob Martella took up the Frisbee." I'm going to practice all winter," she said, "and next summer I'm gonna come back and be real good."
Golf played with a Frisbee differs little from golf played with a golf ball. "You toss the disc to the hole - a tree or a fire plug, something like that - and you keep track of your strikes," explained Larry Kahn. A few Sundays ago Kahn 23, and Zimmerman, 15, were standing near the 18-hole course they had laid out near the Reflecting Pool. Like golfers everywhere, the twosome was having difficulty agreeing on who had the lower score.
There is no consensus among Frisbee players on why they find it so appealing to toss the Frisbee. Ultimate Frisbee players spoke in glowing terms about "all the running." The eyes of Freestyle players glazed when they told of nail delays. Some of the men said playing Frisbee was a "good way to stay in shape." Some of the women said the Frisbee gatherings were good places to watch men.
But the mother of one of players put the Frisbee phenomenon in perspective. After watching her daughter and friends excitedly spin the discs, the mother announced: "You're doing the same thing with Frisbees that they did with plates on the Ed Sullivan Show 20 years ago."