November 22, 2012
My doctor recommends that I get more fun in my diet (vitamin F), so here I am at an ultimate Frisbee match between a school from Silver Lake and a team from Inglewood.
It you expect me to make a big deal about class distinction — haves and have-nots, all that predictable liberal crud — forget about it. These kids don't give a whoop about that. And to keep things fair, the Inglewood team (Century Academy for Excellence) ends up QB'd by a player lent to them from the more-experienced Silver Lake team from Thomas Starr King Middle School.
There, a Thanksgiving moment, tribes coming together to share and all that. Let's move on.
Because when you're 13 like this, all that really matters is that the right people like you. And that you have cool kicks (shoes). And that you have a little fun to the point where you sputter and can barely breathe (raw laughter).
See, adolescents I sort of understand. Where I struggle is with the whimsical sport of ultimate Frisbee.
This is all new to me, but maybe not you. After all, ultimate Frisbee — essentially football with a plastic disc — is now played competitively at 400 colleges. Of all people, producer Joel Silver is credited with inventing it back at his New Jersey high school in the '70s.
Graceful, occasionally even balletic, ultimate Frisbee is performed with world-class athleticism or loopy, middle school goofiness.
In either case, it is played with a lot of giggles and grins.
No blocking or tackling or even refs? Get out.
A sport without concussions? Spare me.
I blame Obama.
Now, I'm no sociologist — truth be told, I'm a registered Yippie and a lifelong deist. But I suspect the soaring popularity of niche sports like this is a direct reaction to over-involved parents, travel ball, AAU scandals and (my personal favorite) $75-an-hour pitching lessons for first-graders.
So beware, moms and dads, activities like ultimate Frisbee are a blatant, corruptive effort to put vitamin F back into youth sports. Let me assure you, no good can possibly come of this.
Benjamin Brin is one of ultimate Frisbee's main advocates, a lawyer who sneers at the idiocy and win-at-all-costs approach to the major sports. "The %^&$%**&^ sports," he calls them, using a fragrant term that brings to mind guys like Jim Harbaugh. Just use your imagination, OK?
"I have parents of 7-year-olds asking me what kind of scholarships are available [in ultimate Frisbee]," says Brin, executive director of YUFO, a group that teaches kids the game. "I go, 'You're really pimping your kid out like that?'"
Anyway, back to ultimate Frisbee, this breezy new sport with that troubling sense of mirth.
Spoke to one of the participants, and it took me a full five minutes to realize she wasn't mocking me or being deeply ironic-sarcastic-droll, the way every middle school girl I've ever spoken with has.
But Zoe Towne, the coach's daughter, is completely genuine. She might be the most completely genuine person in L.A., which is really saying something in this land so thick with integrity and virtue.
What Zoe is saying is how social the game is, how free it is of the usual animus and ill will. It's just ... well, fun.
"There's a real simple explanation," she says of how it's played. "You try to get it to the other end without dropping it."
Another conversation, with a group of the boys, goes like this:
Me: "What makes a great player?"
First boy: "Good attitude."
Second boy: "Focus."
Third boy: "No, dude!"
Fourth boy: "No, no, no, it's hand-eye coordination!"
Second boy: "Yeah."
First boy: "And a good attitude."
Fifth boy: "You really need to be taller."
Not only is this my first game ever, this is also Inglewood's.
On the flip side, Silver Lake is much more experienced, and in the vital area of flinging the disc, which is most effectively flung using the tougher-to-master forehand flick, Silver Lake rules.
In fact, the Silver Lake kids win the first half easily, then trade one of their stars, Lukas Ambrose, to the Inglewood team in the second half.
Compared with most of the players, Lukas is a Frisbee virtuoso. He not only flings the disc far, but accurately. Kid could throw a Verizon bill through a mail slot from 50 yards.
And suddenly Inglewood is ahead.
No one cares, because this is a friendly exhibition, and veteran Silver Lake Coach Cliff Towne is like the cool parent in a Nickelodeon show, encouraging sportsmanship and sharing.
Yeah, I'm skeptical too.
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