Redondo Beach Man Makes Frisbee's Future His Crusade

John Giza of Redondo Beach has his own vision of the great sports events of the future. The auditoriums and stadiums will be packed with wildly cheering fans. Millions more will be watching on their big-screen televisions at home.

But what game are they playing out there on the floors and fields? Football? Basketball? Soccer? Tennis, perhaps?

No, Frisbee! Or--to use what Giza says is the correct generic term--flying discs. (It's disc with a "c" and not a "k," he says.)

Various versions of the game have already been invented--Disc Golf, Ultimate, Freestyle, Guts, Discathon and MTA (maximum time aloft)--and more will be devised by a relatively small--but rapidly growing--band of flying disc enthusiasts, Giza says.

True, the public generally isn't aware yet that Frisbee is destined to become one of the most popular sports of the future, Giza concedes. When most people think about Frisbee, if they think about it at all, they conjure up images of an idle beach pastime in which youngsters toss a plastic plate back and forth, oftentimes to the consternation of passers-by who must be prepared to duck to spare their heads from a painful klonk.

Certainly not a big-time professional sport to stir the passion of millions.

But, at 30, Giza is prepared to dedicate the rest of his life to making his Frisbee dreams come true.

How did Giza, a well-educated, mature and obviously intelligent man, come by such a commitment to flying discs? The event that changed his life, he says, occurred about eight years ago on the shores of Hermosa Beach. He was a student then at California State University, Dominguez Hills, planning a career as a history teacher.

There on the beach he happened to see Irv Kalb, then the reigning Frisbee freestyle champion, demonstrating his skills with an array of flying discs made for professional sportsmen.

"It's hard to explain, but maybe it has to do with man's eternal fascination with a thing that flies through the air," Giza said. "Suddenly, I realized the incredible potential for developing this thing into a major sport, and I knew without any doubt that I had to be a part of that future."

Frisbee sports, he argues earnestly, challenge the physical endurance and skills of athletes as much as, or more than, any other game. "The players have to train and really work hard to develop the kind of Olympic skills that are needed to win in today's Frisbee competitions," Giza said. "They take great pride in the medals they win, and for the spectators, the sport is just as exciting as a championship football match or any other game."

It's not just a man's sports, either, he says. Some of the best women athletes are competing in tournaments all over the world.

Among the most popular competitive games, Giza says, are Ultimate (like soccer, only the seven-member teams use a flying disc instead of a ball), Disc Golf (a pole-mounted basket replaces the holes used in regular golf) and Freestyle (which requires long fingernails and acrobatic dance skills to spin the disc while gyrating and jumping with dazzling grace).

Playing with flying discs began to emerge as a legitimate, serious sport in 1974, he says, when enthusiasts--backed by Wham-O, the San Diego-based toy manufacturer that makes Frisbees--held the first World Frisbee Championship games in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Since then, he says, a number of associations have sprung up to promote Frisbee matches.

The next leg on the road to Frisbee heaven, Giza says, is to bring together world-class athletes in international competition. The groundwork for the first such event will be laid later this month when Giza and 24 other American Frisbee players journey to China to introduce the sport to the folks there.

Is Giza himself a champion? Well, he was among the best in his younger years, but now he rates himself as just an average player when matched with the new crop of boys and girls "who are developing incredible new skills."

Not that Frisbee is strictly a game for the young--say, under 30. Older players will be able to play in master's events when they reach 35 and then keep competing as grandmasters when they really start getting old--like 40 or more.

But advancing years will not affect Giza's primary mission. "Basically, I'm a communicator, a promoter, a teacher," he says.

He believes that education is the key to Frisbee's future. A whole new generation of potential players and spectators must be taught to love the game.

To further that goal, Giza boards his motor home with another player and heads off each year on a nine-month tour of elementary and high schools as far east as Arkansas. Fees paid by a company that schedules the tours, along with prize money occasionally won at Frisbee tournaments, are the main source of Giza's livelihood.

Giza and his teammate work the school assemblies under the guise of entertainers, but the appearances also give them a chance to get kids and coaches excited about the Frisbee dream.

"We play a lot of small towns and for them it's like the biggest event of the year," Giza says. "The kids swarm around asking for autographs and people generally treat us like visiting celebrities.

"We don't deserve that, but when we play the game and talk about it and I see the eyes of the kids light up with interest and excitement, then I know we're getting closer."

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