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Ultimate Frisbee is in a league of its own

Athletes play ultimate frisbee at the Huntington YMCA.

Athletes play ultimate frisbee at the Huntington YMCA. (May 13, 2010) Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Chris Grenier knows the stereotype: "People hear 'Ultimate Frisbee,' and they think of people barefoot on the beach with a disc," he says.

But that's not the case with the Huntington Ultimate Summer League, which Grenier started with a handful of friends two summers ago. "It takes a lot more conditioning to play this game. You need speed, you need agility, you need to be able to throw, you need to be able to jump."

Grenier and about 150 other players kicked off their third summer season this week - it's the only Ultimate league on Long Island, with the closest others in New York City or Westchester, according to the national Ultimate Players Association.

At a recent preseason pickup session, about 30 players dripped with sweat as they ran full-force on the field at the YMCA of Huntington, cheered each other on from the sidelines and listened to music from a boom box on the bleachers.

How to play

Teams face off with seven players each on the field. Picture football - the purpose is to get the disc into the opponent's goal to score. Each goal is one point. Players toss the disc to teammates - players can't run with it; they must pivot and throw. If the disc hits the ground or is intercepted, it goes to the other team. Play continues to a set number of points, in this case 15. There's a two-minute "halftime" break after point 8. A team must win by two points.

League teams have about 25 players on them, to allow for absences due to vacations and work schedules, and for constant rotation of players. "It's fast-paced, quick action. You get tired very easily," says player Tom Murray, 20, of Mastic.

Officially Ultimate is a non-contact sport, but collisions occur. "Everyone running around on the field, contacts happen," Grenier says. No referees are needed; conflicts are resolved amicably, he says.

Meet the 'Godfather'

Grenier, 22, started playing Ultimate at George Washington University. When he came home for the summer, he wanted to keep playing. So he and five Huntington area friends started the league. They got insurance through UPA and started spreading the word through Facebook and by mouth. Eric Diamond, a married 40-year-old lawyer with two preschool children, found out about the league when he saw some players tossing a Frisbee at Gold Star Beach in Huntington. He was thrilled to find out there was finally a place to play on Long Island. "This is the Godfather of Huntington Ultimate," Diamond says of Grenier. "Others tried; they couldn't do what he accomplished." 

About the league

About 150 people will play on four to six teams, with about 40 of the members being women such as Caitlyn Hauswirth, 19, of Holbrook, who just got home from the University of Hartford for the summer, and Jayme Mendelsohn, 22, of Commack, who played Ultimate at Brandeis University. At the end of the season, there's a tournament. (Newcomers interested in joining can e-mail Grenier at husl.ultimate@gmail.com).

The Ultimate culture

"It's a little enclosed network," Ryan Delaney, 22, of Babylon, says of the league. "It's a great community." When Delaney was unemployed, league-mates helped him with contacts to find a job selling office supplies; one was his first sale, he says." Matthew Tracy, 39, of Huntington, echoes: "The characters that play are these kooky people. They have fun."

Other ways to play Ultimate

CLUB TEAMS: League play isn't the only way to get some Ultimate in your life. If you're a more serious player wishing to commit to regional competition, you can try out for an Ultimate Club team based on Long Island. Details at upa.org

PICKUP GAMES: If you don't want the weekly commitment that league play entails, some areas of the Island also have pickup games on a regular basis. For instance, a group plays some summer Sundays at 1 p.m. at Plainview High School. (To make sure play is happening each week, e-mail clutzalot1010@aim.com)

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