History: 1968-1973; The Formative Years

IFA Pin The International Frisbee Association (IFA) Newsletter made its debut in 1968 and brought together previously isolated and undocumented pockets of disc play. Stories of Frisbee activities, including stories about people who could throw a Frisbee in different ways and could make fancy trick catches began to circulate. There were stories of the legendary Spyder Wills from Laguna Beach, whose floating throws and fancy catches were unlike what anyone else could do with a Frisbee. The Frisbee community found out about the big International Frisbee Tournament (IFT) in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Ken Westerfield and Jim Kenner’s Canadian Open Frisbee Championships in Toronto, Dan Roddick’s Pennsylvania State Championship events, and Wham-O’s National Junior Championships.

The November 1969 “All Comers” meet in Berkeley, California, advertised a “Style throwing and catching” activity area and also a “Free exercise” activity area in addition to the other more traditional Frisbee events like guts, distance, and accuracy.

By the early 70’s, Victor Malafronte and John Weyand of the Berkeley Frisbee Group (BFG) had raised Frisbee tossing and catching to a delicate art form of flowing throws and receptions. Their contemporary counterparts on the East Coast in Toronto, Ken Westerfield and Jim Kenner, were doing the same thing with fast flowing routines, and were already touring as Frisbee Professionals performing in cities across Canada. Vaughn Frick, John Sappington, and Scott Dickson were doing creative trick throws and fancy Frisbee catching on the campus of the University of Michigan during that same period of time. Dan Roddick had featured “Eastern Trick Catch” at his Pennsylvania and New York State Frisbee Championships.

IFA MembershipThe IFA Newsletter was instrumental in bringing all three of these groups together in one way or another. It led Victor Malafronte to the 1973 Canadian Open where he met Ken Westerfield and Jim Kenner. In response to meeting Victor, Ken trekked out to the West Coast later that year to meet and play Frisbee with the BFG players. They exchanged volumes of information about Frisbee styles, techniques, and activities. The IFA and its newsletter helped the UM guys get in contact with the Humblies Guts team and to get involved with the IFT, where they met even more Frisbee players like John Connelly, Alan Blake, and Tom Cleworth of the Highland Avenue Aces guts team. The exchange of ideas about creative throwing and catching grew substantially during this 1968-1973 period of time.

In 1973, Dan “Stork” Roddick met Spyder Wills at Laguna Beach for some Frisbee play and was highly influenced by the graceful and beautiful style that Spyder demonstrated.

All this exchange of Frisbee karma helped to influence the nature of freestyle as it evolved from this point on.

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Thanks to the Freestyle Players Association (FPA) for sharing this information with FrisbeeGuru.com.

The entire document is stored on FreestyleDisc.org, as is the FPA’s Hall of Fame.

History – Prior to 1948; The pre-plastic flying disc era

Old FrisbeePlastic flying discs first hit the market in 1948. Prior to that, we know that people played with flying disc type items of all kinds: pie pans; cake tins; cardboard ice cream container lids; lids from cookie, popcorn, and cherry can containers; and just about any other hand-held disc-shaped item. These all sailed through the air well enough to generate interest in experimenting with the activity of tossing them around.

No one really knows who the very first person was to fling a disc-like item, and it really would be impossible to find out. However, the earliest known documented instance of anyone undertaking an organized flying disc activity was uncovered by Victor Malafronte while doing research for his book, The Complete Book of Frisbee. In 1926, In Bladworth, Saskatchewan, Canada, Ronald Gibson and a group of his Bladworth Elementary school chums played a game they called “Tin Lid Golf.” They played the game on a fairly regular basis until they finished high school and went their separate ways. Victor’s book gives accounts of similar instances of early cardboard and metal container lid play in the 1930s, 40s and 50s.

What is still unknown is how much of this early pre-plastic disc play included fancy “freestyle” type throwing or catching. It is very likely that among the people involved in early disc play, there were some creative people who showed off their disc flying prowess by flipping a disc behind the back and/or catching a disc between the legs, etc. Most likely this happened now and then, perhaps even before 1926, but there is not a lot of documentation about early disc play prior to 1948.

Even after the first plastic flying discs became available, there aren’t many documented stories of Frisbee players doing “freestyle” type of play until about 1968. A notable exception is a quite young Dan Roddick and his father, “Papa Jack” Roddick. Papa Jack gave 5-year-old Danny one of Fred Morrison’s original plastic flying saucer discs for Christmas in 1953. That Flyin’ Saucer became part of their regular family fun activities. Papa Jack and Dan became quite proficient with fancy throws and catches, so much so that at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, they were invited to participate with the Wham-O Frisbee Disc demonstration team. The team inspired them to discover the potential of the game. Then three years later at the New York World’s Fair, Dan and Papa Jack again linked up with the Wham-O Frisbee team, and were actually more advanced with their throwing and catching skills than the demo team itself.

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Thanks to the Freestyle Players Association (FPA) for sharing this information with FrisbeeGuru.com.

The entire document is stored on FreestyleDisc.org, as is the FPA’s Hall of Fame.