Frisbee culture still vibrates with a quirky ragtag energy, even as the American Ultimate Disc League — founded in 2012 — professionalizes the sport and sharpens its competitive edge. It’s a sport of constant action, like basketball or hockey. Like football it’s played on a field with end zones — such as one multi-use field at Catholic University, home venue of the DC Breeze. It demands serious athleticism and stamina from its squads of seven to score points. Sprinting players often launch themselves into the air, diving after hard-to-reach throws. It’s not unusual to see clips go viral across social media.
The AUDL, which has 22 franchises in the United States and Canada (and avoids the word Frisbee because of trademark concerns), has modified the sport’s amateur rule book. The rules were originally codified by teenagers in the 1960s from an informal game played at summer camps. The changes have made the game faster and more exciting, and have introduced referees onto the field, but the basic objective remains the same: The team on offense tries to move the disc up the field to score in the opposing end zone, while the team playing defense tries to block throws or force drops for a turnover. After catching the disc, a player must stop running and has seven seconds to throw to a teammate and keep the disc moving, otherwise a “stall” is called, resulting in a turnover.
Today’s star players are still among the first generations to play the sport, and it’s common for veterans of the league to have only started learning to throw a disc in college. But a growing number of younger players who began playing on organized teams as children are rising through the rosters and pushing the level of play. Now, some of the youngest played their first professional game for the Breeze fresh out of high school. The Breeze, founded in 2013, kicked off preseason in April, more than a year after the pandemic forced the AUDL to delay and ultimately cancel the 2020 season. Opening weekend in June brought the return of fans; the Breeze’s goal is to achieve a summer of victories that will take it to the championship in September.
Graeme Sloan is a photojournalist based in the D.C. area.
Photo editing by Dudley M. Brooks. Design by Clare Ramirez.