Dawn is breaking on Shangumukham beach in Thiruvananthapuram. Emil Thomas Sony launches a frisbee into one of his trademark long throws to his team’s cutter Madhav Dev, who runs and dives into the end zone of the field to catch the flying disc and gain a valuable point for his team.
Grammar of the Game
There are two basic positions in Ultimate Frisbee: handlers and cutters
Someone who has good disc skills, and will be responsible for fielding the pull, keeping possession of the disc, and running the offense.
A player who usually plays downfield of the disc and the handlers. When the throw comes, cutters need to get downfield and be ready to receive the disc
Players of both teams are part of ‘Trivandrum Ultimate’, the Thiruvananthapuram chapter of Ultimate Frisbee sport. The beach is one of their main spaces for practice as ‘Thira’, the competitive wing of the chapter, prepare for their first tournament in Kodaikanal from May 26 to 29.
The disc is progressed up the field using various throws, such as the ‘backhand inside out throw’ that Emil used to get the disc to Madhav. “Throws and catches are the main moves of this sport. That is why we practise them for a while before starting a match,” says Sankar Ram, the 32-year-old who manages ‘Trivandrum Ultimate’.
Ideally, an outdoor Ultimate field should be 100 metres long with 18-metre end zones at each end. If a team, progressing from one end zone to the other, manages to reach there and catch the disc within that zone, a point is scored. Then, the opposing team starts from the scored end zone and try to get to the other end. Like Basketball, taking steps while holding a disc is not allowed. Instead it should be thrown to a teammate. Opposing team members can try to intercept the disc or make it drop to gain control of the disc, also called a turnover. However, Ultimate Frisbee is a non-contact sport and any contact while blocking or trying to snatch the disc is considered a foul.
Frisbee in Thiruvananthapuram
‘Trivandrum Ultimate’ was started by Benoy Stephen, the 27-year-old player-coach of Delhi-based professional team GK Mad, and a group of his friends in 2021 during the pandemic. Sankar says, “Since he went to Loyola School and I did my schooling at St. Thomas Residential School, both in Thiruvananthapuram, we had a lot of mutual friends and that’s how we met. We gathered a few of our friends and started playing at St. Andrews beach.” Although there was tremendous interest initially, the second wave of the pandemic hit them hard and they lost their momentum.
It was restarted in June 2022, again by Benoy, who runs an NGO called Y-Ultimate in New Delhi that aims to empower kids from marginalised backgrounds through the sport. GK Mad, which is currently the second ranked Ultimate Frisbee team in the country, consists of children and young-adults from marginalised communities from Zamrudpur in Greater Kailash area of Delhi. “I had a teaching stint in Hyderabad after college. There I tried to use Ultimate as a tool for education and improving children’s social skills. The results were encouraging and I moved back to Delhi to start this NGO and focus on GK Mad,” says Benoy.
He wants to try something similar in Thiruvananthapuram, his home town. However, for that, he needed skilled Ultimate players who could work with kids from marginalised backgrounds, especially from coastal communities. Therefore, it made more sense to first start a team with enthusiasts. The group ‘Trivandrum Ultimate’ today has more than 500 members, of which more than 30 are playing for ‘Thira’.
Community building and coordination
Like Sankar, who is working for a company in Technopark, all team members are hobbyists who are taking time off from their busy professional or student lives for this not-so-popular but exciting sport. “We had someone in their 50s who used to come and play in the morning. We also have 12-year-old players. Since what we are playing is not the most physically demanding version of Ultimate Frisbee, we can have people of vastly different ages playing each other. This helps build a community,” adds Sankar.
Nihal Peter Moraes, an engineer in the merchant navy, has been playing for just over a month. He believes that being able to play with different people is one of the most attractive aspects of the sport. He adds, “Moreover, all the sports I have tried till date have involved a lot of contact. So this is something new and really exciting for me. Plus, it’s a mixed gender sport. So you get to play with people of different age groups as well as genders.”
While it may not be as physically demanding as football, it is certainly thrilling since team members, apart from being athletic, have to coordinate with each other under pressure from opposing players to quickly and cleverly progress the disc up the field. “That coordination is the most exciting part of this sport for me. To be able to throw and catch properly while moving up the field requires every one to have amazing presence of mind,” adds Tessa Manu Joseph, a college student who is part of the team.
Spirit of the game
Moreover, everyone embraces the spirit of the game, literally and metaphorically. In Ultimate, ‘Spirit of the Game’ refers to each player’s responsibility on how they play and conduct themselves on the field. This is what attracted Benoy to the sport when he first began playing while a student at Delhi University in 2015.
“It is not some random metaphorical expression. ‘Spirit of the Game’ is something that is actually measured in Ultimate using five metrics — awareness of the rules, being fair-minded and truthful, respectful communication, positive playing attitude and self-control, and avoiding fouls and body-contact. In big tournaments, these are the five things on which the opposing teams would rate you. The most spirited team is selected based on the average score received from their opponents during a tournament,” he adds. It is embodied by the spirit circle at the end of a match in which players from both teams sit around and air their views on the match.
This sporting culture that emphasises on how well the game is played rather than how competitively it is played is unique, and is the reason why Benoy believes Ultimate Frisbee has the power to change lives. He hopes ‘Trivandrum Ultimate’ would eventually be able to do for kids from coastal areas of Thiruvananthapuram what GK Mad is doing for children from Zamrudpur.
Those who are interested in joining ‘Trivandrum Ultimate’ can contact them through their Instagram handle ‘Trivandrum Ultimate’.