- Prior to 1948; The pre-plastic flying disc era
- 1968-1973; The Formative Years of Disc Play
- 1974; The Origin of Early Disc Tournaments and Freestyle Competition
- The 1974 “Jersey Jam” Disc Tournament
- 1975-1976; Frisbee Freestyle Becomes a Sport
- 1977-1982; Huge Growth of Freestyle and Disc Sports
- 1983 -1997; Continued Disc Sports and Freestyle Growth
- 1998 – Current; The Euro Disc Sports and Freestyle Wave
- Appendix 1: The Development of Early Frisbee and Freestyle in Canada
- Appendix 2: The Freestyle Tipping Story
- Appendix 3: The Harlem Globetrotter Tour Story (Jim Palmeri)
- Appendix 4: The Freestyle Delay Story
Prior to 1948; The pre-plastic flying disc era
Plastic 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.
1968-1973; The Formative Years of Disc Play
The 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 at Brookside Park in Pasadena, 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.
The 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.
1974; The Origin of Early Disc Tournaments and Freestyle Competition
Dan Roddick and Flash Kingsley created a big overall event of national scope called the “Octad.” “Eastern Trick Catch” was one of the eight contested events in the tournament. Eastern trick catch was a game Dan had invented back in the 60’s; points were awarded for trick catches as two players exchanged throws as opponents.
Ken Westerfield and Jim Kenner included a new event at the third annual Canadian Open Frisbee Championships. The event was called “Freestyle” as promoted on the poster for the tournament, and was also called “Free Form” as noted on the trophies that were awarded. This event happened on August 18, 1974, and marked the first ever judged competitive freestyle competition to be held anywhere. The Super Pro had been introduced in test markets, but hadn’t reached the general market yet, so the discs being used were the venerable Wham-O Pro model and the CPI All Star.
There is absolutely no question that the freestyle for pairs event at the 1974 Canadian Open represents the origin of freestyle competition as we know it today. It had it all; the current state of the art players in the game; pairs playing to music for a timed routine; and controversy over the best way to judge. The basic format put together by Jim Kenner and Ken Westerfield on that day well over 42 years ago, is still being used today.
There were only eight teams at this inaugural freestyle for pair’s event. Sixth place went to Irv Kalb and Dave “Buddha” Meyers. Irv put on an awesome display of multiple tipping disc control coupled with the smoothest flowing trick throws the planet had yet seen. Buddha introduced the infamous under-the-shirt catch that was destined to become a trademark for the future Dave Johnson-Chuck Schultz type of the “we’re going to have fun even though we can’t freestyle” routines that were an integral part of the early freestyle scene.
Fifth place went to Doug Corea and Jim Palmeri, (Corea’s future partner Dave Marini hadn’t learned anything fancy yet). Because Jim could manage a catch or two behind the back or between the legs, Doug settled for him as his partner. They placed fifth on the strength of Doug’s huge leaping catches and smooth flowing re-throws.
John Kirkland teamed up with Jose Montalvo to bring home 4th place. John’s dynamic style of play and Jose’s use of a device called the “Molina Stick” foreshadowed things to come in freestyle. Incidentally, it should have been called the “Montalvo Stick,” but it was erroneously named “Molina Stick” in a Flying Disc World article, and the mangled name stuck.
Third place went to Tom Cleworth and John Connelly of the Highland Avenue Aces guts powerhouse. They showed the disc world that the game of guts was not their only disc talent. Tom and John displayed mastery of multiple tipping and trick throwing that was indeed Irv Kalbian in nature.
Dan “Stork” Roddick teamed up with Chicagoan Bruce Koger. Their routine introduced and set the stage for co-op moves. They did a fabulous job of working together and settled for second only because the pair ahead of them also did an incredible job. Somebody had to be second.
Jim Kenner and Ken Westerfield were absolutely awesome. They set the early standard for flow, presentation, continuity, and execution with a variety of fast throws, leaping kick-ups and trick catching. Their transitions from catch to flowing re-throw were silky smooth. As good as the second and third place routines turned out, Kenner and Westerfield left no doubt as to who had the overall winning routine. The primordial first ever judging system wasn’t overly stressed because the good, better and best of the top three routines were obvious enough for the simple ranking system that was used that day. Westerfield and Kenner were sandbaggers though. They were no neophytes that had gotten their taste of freestyle moves just two weeks earlier like most of other players in this event. They had been doing shows and freestyle type demos for several years together, and they clearly demonstrated their experience and expertise.
The competitive freestyle art form, which began its gestation at Berkeley, Michigan, and in Toronto, was born at the Canadian Open on Sunday, August 18, 1974, at approximately 3:00 PM Eastern Daylight Savings Time.
The 1974 “Jersey Jam” Disc Tournament
Inspired by the historical first ever Freestyle for Pairs competition that Ken Westerfield and Jim Kenner put on at the Canadian Open, Dan Roddick hosted the first annual Jersey Jam on Columbus Day weekend, October, 12th and 13th, 1974, which featured a singles format judged freestyle event. The event was held in Johnson Park, New Brunswick NJ
The Saturday of that weekend was devoted to disc golf, and Sunday was focused on the singles format freestyle event in which each participant was to receive a given number of throws from a designated thrower. The judging system was the same sort of basic ranking scale that was introduced and used for the Canadian Open Freestyle event that previous August. The Super Pro Frisbee disc had made its debut by then, and was used by the majority of the competitors.
Included in the field were John Kirkland from Boston, and Victor Malafronte from the Berkeley BFG. From Chicago came John Connelly, Tom Cleworth and Jose Montalvo. John Sappington and Scott Dickson came from Ann Arbor Michigan. Kerry Kollmar and Mark Danna swooped in from New York City. Peter Bloeme, making his Frisbee competition debut, came along with Mark and Kerry. Irv Kalb, Jimmy Scala, Stork, Bob “Flash” Kingsley, Gary Seubert, and Dave “Buddha” Meyers comprised the local New Jersey contingent. Jim Palmeri and Doug Corea drove down from Rochester, NY.
As Jim Palmeri recalls, the participants of the Jam woke up that Sunday morning to the most perfect October weather you could imagine; blue sky, 70 degrees, and just a whisper of a steady breeze. The fall leaves were turning color and gently wafting down around us from the trees of Johnson Park. If only there was a video of the setting to show everyone how ideal the conditions were. They were truly perfect for the memorable event that unfolded that day.
The refinements in multiple tipping control and smoothness of catch and re-throw that developed since the epic jamming that took place at the American Flying Disc Open two months earlier were phenomenal. As each of the competitors took their turn, it seemed that the crowd had to be thinking “Wow, how can anyone top this!” Some of the competitors did indeed come up with something extra. When John Kirkland got up there and displayed his stuff with all the bravado he is noted for, it seemed that it was all over as far as who the winner was going to be. But then Scott Dickson followed with a drop-less routine as clean as you could be for the times. He peaked with a beautifully executed finger-tip that sent the disc over his head and straight down behind him, then flicked his foot backwards just at the right moment and popped the disc straight back up with his heel, executed a leaping half turn into the air and caught the disc between his legs. From the throw to final catch the disc did not wobble a millimeter. From today’s standards that may not sound like much. But on October 13th, 1974, especially when his Frisbee of preference was the smaller, faster “Pro Model” guts disc, it was absolutely phenomenal. It seemed unlikely that anyone would top Scott’s routine.
But then Stork took the field, his designated thrower was Irv Kalb, perhaps the best thrower on the planet at that time, delivering Stork exactly what he needed for a very well planned out and choreographed set of throws. His first couple of throws went as expected. They consisted of a tip or two of control, closed by a basic behind the head or behind the back catch. Well executed and very clean, but no Scott Dickson beaters. Dan then gave Irv a signal, and Irv delivered a mighty air bounce with as much spin as humanly possible. Stork reached up with a thimble-covered finger, made contact with the spinning disc on the underside of its rim, changed its attitude upward a bit, and then flicked it away from him into the wind. He chased after it, striking the disc on the rim with his hand when he got to it, causing the disc to glide away from him. Stork sprinted after the disc, and again propelled the disc away. He repeated this sequence of rim strikes a couple more times, and then after the final whack, he did a high graceful hurdler style leap, catching the disc between his legs at peak height. No one had ever seen such a sequence of moves! He had kept it a secret because he wanted to showcase it at the Jersey Jam for effect, and boy did it have effect! Everyone was just blown away! Stork continued his routine by treating us to a couple more sets of the rim striking sequence before closing with an introduction to the constorktion type of catches for which he was to become known for during the early freestyle era. The competitors make the judgment that Stork’s routine was the best, and declared him the winner of the first-ever freestyle event to be held in the USA.
In historical perspective, Stork was the first person to ever use a thimble on his finger during a routine, using it effectively to set the disc up for his particular moves. However, he got the idea from observing Jose Montalvo at the ’74 Canadian open using a “Molina stick” to set up an incoming disc for just the right attitude to do neat behind the back and between the legs catches. Dan figured that he would take it a step further and incorporate a new move that he had seen Kerry Kollmar do earlier in the year at Rochester. The use of the thimble was key because at that time no one could consistently get the disc positioned for propelling it forward with repeated strikes to its outer rim as Dan demonstrated in his Jersey Jam routine. Kerry, who initially had invented the move, had called it “side tapping,” but Stork was unaware of that name when he first learned the move from Kerry, and had dubbed it “air brushing” when describing Kerry’s invention in subsequent discussions about freestyle. The term “Air Brushing” was first seen in print in a Flying Disc World newsletter article, and that name stuck ever after.
The impact that the Jersey Jam competition had on the players was a significant catalyst to the already rapidly growing interest in freestyle competition, and set the stage for what was to come.
During this fall 1974 period of time, John Kirkland and Victor Malafronte getting hired to do the pregame entertainment program for the 1974-1975 Harlem Globetrotter nationwide basketball game exhibition series further set the stage for the development of freestyle. Ed Headrick invited the core group of competitors at the Jersey Jam to a reception for John and Victor at Radio City Music Hall in New York City that Saturday evening of the Jersey Jam weekend to announce the big news about the guys getting hired for the gig. Throughout the entire 1974-1975 basketball season, thousands of people from coast to coast were exposed to an exciting freestyle exhibition for the very first time, and who knows how many of the spectators went home and tried fancy Frisbee throwing for themselves after seeing John and Victor do their magnificent exhibition.
1975-1976; Frisbee Freestyle Becomes a Sport
The Eastern Trick Catch event of the first Octad in 1974 gave way to a judged singles format at the 1975 Octad, due much to the success of the Jersey Jam. The venerable 60 mold Super Pro was the state of the art freestyle disc at the time, and was the disc of choice for freestyle competition. Stork won the contest, followed in order by Victor Malafronte, Ken Westerfield, Irv Kalb, and Kerry Kollmar.
Influenced by the Canadian Open Freestyle for Pairs format, the 1975 AFDO included Freestyle for Pairs as an event in conjunction with a Disc Golf tournament. For the very first time, a freestyle event used the three-category judging system; difficulty, execution, and presentation. Freddie Haft became the first person ever to do a delay in a freestyle competition. Ken Westerfield introduced the body roll. With their airbrushing co-op moves, Dan Roddick and Irv Kalb won the event, Ken Westerfield and John Kirkland took second, and Doug Corea and Mark Danna got the third-place trophy.
In August, the 1975 Canadian Open hosted a huge Freestyle for Pairs competition. It seemed like everyone who was doing any Frisbee activity wanted to get in on the burgeoning art of freestyle. Dan Roddick and Irv Kalb repeated their AFDO Freestyle for Pairs win with their exquisite air brushing co-op moves that were still ahead of the curve for the freestyle game at the time. Second place went to John Kirkland and Victor Malafronte. Ken Westerfield and Jim Kenner took third place.
The 1975 WFC included two freestyle events, a singles format and a pairs format. Kerry Kollmar won the singles, and Dan Roddick and Irv Kalb made it a three in a row sweep of all of the 1975 Freestyle for Pairs events to be contested.
The 1975 Jersey Jam brought Erwin Velasquez and Krae Van Sickle to the scene for the first time, two of the young and soon-to-be stalwarts of the freestyle movement.
By 1976, freestyle exploded into becoming an Integral component of almost any flying disc competitive event being contested. Even some guts tournaments held a freestyle event, particularly the Ann Arbor Frisbee Indoor Open tournament.
Dan Roddick had now become the new director of the International Frisbee Association, sponsored by the Wham-O MFG Company. Under his direction, the IFA instituted the North American Series (NAS), a series of World Frisbee Championship (WFC) qualifying tournaments held in the biggest Frisbee markets in the USA and Canada. Each one of these tournaments showcased a freestyle event, effectively introducing the concept of freestyle to thousands of new Frisbee players. The new Wham-O World Class “G” series discs, with its smooth underside, started an evolutionary move away from the Super Pro as the standard freestyle disc.
Controlled tipping had become the foundation of most freestyle routines by the end of 1975 and into the 1976 season. But at the Ann Arbor Indoor tournament in March of 1976, Richie Smits astounded the gathering with his mastery of long, controlled delays, giving a glimpse of what was to be coming in the future of freestyle.
Although the use of controlled delay moves didn’t become a staple for other freestylers until the 1977 season, Richie and his regular partner, Joey Hudoklin, displayed a unique brand of delay freestyle that made them contenders throughout the 1976 Freestyle season. They introduced the concept of “slicking” up the disc and the use of fake fingernails that enabled controlled delay moves.
Also of note were the State Championship tournaments that burgeoned in 1976. They played a big role in the development of Freestyle (and Overall Formats as well). Some of the State Championships that sprang onto the scene in 1976 were Wisconsin, Minnesota, California, and of course the hallowed Virginia State Championships.
The teams of Doug Corea/Dave Marini and Jens and Erwin Velasquez were the leading pairs for the season. Some of the other freestylers that helped to build the foundation of the sport during this 1976 formative year were Jeff Jorgenson, Tom Kennedy, John Weyand, Victor Malafronte, Tom Shepard, Steve Gottlieb, Johnny Jewell, John Mortimer, Gary Perlberg, Jeff Soto, Tom McRann, Danny McGinnis, Dan Roddick, Irv Kalb, Don Vaughn, Don “Rocket” Hoskins, Michael “Muck” Young, John Bird, Cyndi Birch, Michelle Pezzoli, Monika Lou, Bill King, Jim Brown, John Anthony, Tom Wingo, Krae Van Sickle, Mark Danna, Kerry Kollmar, Peter Bloeme, Freddie Haft, John Kirkland, Ken Westerfield, Gail McColl, John Connelly, Tom Cleworth, Bruce Koger, Jose Montalvo, Chou Rottman, Alan Blake, Marie Murphy, John Sappington, Scott Dickson, Vaughn Frick, Jo Cahow, “Igor” Harper, Don Cain, Ronnie Dorn, Jamie Moldt, Bill O’Dell, Gary Lynas and Tom Monroe.
1977-1982; Huge Growth of Freestyle and Disc Sports
In 1977, more State Champions tournaments got their start, specifically Arizona and Tennessee. The delay move rapidly replaced controlled tipping as the foundation of a freestyle routine. (It was either adopt the delay, or never catch up to Joey and Richie.)
The NAS Tournaments expanded and continued to fuel the growth of freestyle. The WFC Freestyle championship became the de facto world championship of freestyle; no other competition could match its prestige. Joey and Richie’s adroit use of the “lid,” as the Wham-O 80 mold 165 gram disc was affectionately called, began the transition that eventually led to the 80-mold becoming the new standard for freestyle. The 80-mold lent itself to longer delay moves due to its larger flight plate and weight, and this shifted the focus of play away from the direct catch and throw game.
Dave Marini started up the Freestyle Players Association in 1978, and freestyle became a sport of its own. The sport of Freestyle attracted a new generation of players such as Rob Fried, Doug Simon, Roger Meier, Peter Laubert, Krae Van Sickle, Jeff Felberbaum, John Dwork, Brad Keller, and Donnie Rhodes from New York City; and John Jewell, Brian and Matt Roberts from Los Angeles. Also new to the scene was Kevin “Skippy Jammer” Givens who would become highly influential mentoring numerous future champions. The sport also saw the emergence of the “Coloradicals” featuring Bill Wright, Doug Brannigan and Rick Castiglia. On the women’s side of things, New York’s Sue Strait and Jane Englehart set the standard and were closely rivaled by G Rose and Laura Engle. Seattle’s Mary Lowry also began playing around this time and would eventually become one of the most influential women’s players of all time. Seattle’s Randy Silvey got his start during this era. Discraft’s introduction of the Sky Styler disc in 1980 presented an option for Freestylers and became extremely popular as a freestyle disc, eventually replacing the 80 mold as the de facto disc of choice. The Sky Styler weighed in at 160 grams, slightly less than the 80 mold. While it had a smaller flight plate and delay surface area, it had a deeper rim which allowed for superior brushing, rolling, rim work and wind play. It was also easier to catch than the Wham-O 80 mold. Tom Schot’s World Disc Games in Santa Cruz got its start during this period and further fueled the growth of freestyle.
1983 -1997; Continued Disc Sport and Freestyle Growth
This was known as the era of mastering play. The veteran players had advanced their play to previously unforeseen levels. New techniques and moves were introduced such as Skids, Connecting the Neurons, Turbo Rolls and Vacations.
Freestyle continued to grow in the United States and Canada. The Virginia States, the US Open Overall, the Seniors Overall, the WFDF World Overall Championships, World Disc, World Indoor and the FPA World Freestyle Championships helped maintain and spur the growth of Freestyle during this period of time. The start of this period was also known for the many great teams that were competing at a high level in the sport. The “Coloradicals” were in full bloom, “Bud Light” featuring Joey Hudoklin, Chipper “Bro” Bell and Crazy John Brooks were rivaled by “Team Sideout” featuring Skippy Jammer, Larry Imperiale, John Jewell and a young player would become key for the future growth of the sport and its expansion to Europe, Tommy “Lightning” Leitner. Other great teams were the “Bayou Blasters” with Jim Benson (formally Schmall), Deaton Mitchell and Daryll Allen as well as “Art of Disc” with Rick Castiglia, Dave Schiller and Joel Rogers. Dave Schiller’s original partner Bob Coleman would introduce a series of one hand turnovers called “Connecting the Neurons” in the early 1980’s. Schiller would eventually become one of the greatest jammers of all time as his career progressed. A couple of other strong players from this era were Dave Murphy and Ted Oberhaus. The women’s scene was blossoming with top players Carolyn Yabe and Stacey Anderson dominating play. Other great players of the era were Kate Dow, Connie Bond, Margaret Curtis, Mary Lowry, Judy Robbins, Gina Sample, Amy Bekken and Mandy Carreiro. Also, the jamming scene around Green Lake park in Seattle, WA, led by Randy Silvey would see advancements in the style of play. Young freestylers such as Lisa Hunrichs, Cindy St Mary and Brenda Savage were notable women players who emerged from that scene. Of special note, in 1994, Gina Sample became the first woman to win a Major Open Freestyle partner, winning the FPA World Pairs Championship (with Rodney Sanchez) in Santa Cruz.
The US Open replaced the Rose Bowl World Championship as the premier event for Freestyle and Overall play. That event ran from 1982-1990. The WFDF Overall became a high profile event with those events running in 1987 (Fort Collins, CO), 1988 (San Francisco, CA), 1989 (Essex, ENG), 1991 (Santa Cruz, CA), 1993 (San Diego, CA), 1997 (Helsinki, FIN). There were also huge freestyle events happening all across the County such as Minneapolis’ “Sky of 10,000 Frisbees” and Austin, TX Auditorium Shores tournaments.
The Paganello freestyle event fueled an interest, growth and development of Freestyle in the European community.
1998 – Current; The Euro Disc Sports and Freestyle Wave
In 1997, a beach ultimate event in Italy added freestyle to the event drawing players from the USA as well as from throughout Europe. The Americans in attendance at the 1998 Paganello event were Larry Imperiale, Paul Kenney, Rodney Sanchez, Alan Caplain, John and Rohre Titcomb, as well as Bethany Porter Sanchez. The veteran Europeans were Thomas Finborud, Sune Wentzel, Clay Collera and Reto Zimmerman. From that point forward, freestyle would be profoundly changed. The numerous young Europeans attending the event were now ‘turned-on’ to the exciting sport of freestyle. In 2000, Tom Leitner attended his first Paganello tournament. By 2002, he had moved to Rome, Italy and taken on the role of mentor to the 100’s of new freestylers from virtually every country in Europe. Freestyle interest in the US was waning with only a handful of new players emerging from what was once a hotbed of activity. Even with this low level of growth in the USA, a crop of new players emerged just as talented as their compatriot predecessors. Those new players were Arthur Coddington, Dave Lewis, Paul Kenny and Matt and Jake Gauthier. All of these individuals were active in the previous era, but their peak years were in the decades to follow.
In 2002, Nike launched a large European-based promotional campaign that featured freestyle as a central component. This assisted in gaining new players from throughout Europe. The new players merged with the remaining European Freestylers eclipsing the number of players in the USA. The old guard of Euro Jammers featured the aforementioned Clay Collera, Sune Wentzel and Reto Zimmerman along with Joakim Arvskar. The new crop of Euro Jammers featured Fabio Sanna, Claudio Cigna, Matteo Gaddoni as well as a new wave of great Women’s players such as Sylvia Caruso, Judith Haas, Eleonora Imazio and Bianca Strunz.
The Hosting of the FPA World Freestyle Championships in Europe sparked a rapid growth and development of freestyle worldwide. 2003 was an important year for freestyle; it became a worldwide culture and a model for all disc sports to emulate. The explosion of talent from Europe over this time also gave reference to the foundations of play that were laid by such notables as Jan Ekman, Mikael Hjartso and Valentino De Chiara.
Freestyle continues worldwide growth and development as a sport. And with the recent acceptance of the World Flying Disc Federation (WFDF) by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) it may even be headed for Olympic competition in the future.
This document has been produced in an attempt to capture the history of freestyle before memories have faded even more than they have already. It is an evolving document that will be added to as we go on and edited as we are able to provide more detail and clarification. If you have suggestions, additions or corrections, contact the FPA Hall of Fame at: firstname.lastname@example.org
We thank Jim Palmeri and Skippy Jammer for getting us started and Ken Westerfield and Stork for their additional formatting and editing. We also appreciate the input from Tom Leitner, Bethany Porter Sanchez and Lui Tasini.
Appendix 1: The Development of Early Frisbee and Freestyle in Canada
In 1970, Ken Westerfield and Jim Kenner moved from Michigan to Toronto, setting up their Frisbee playing headquarters in Queens Park. Playing Frisbee freestyle and object disc golf became a daily event at the park. n 1971, with a hundred dollars each, bedrolls and a Frisbee, they set out to hitchhike across Canada, stopping to do improv Frisbee street performances at popular annual events, the Klondike Days in Edmonton and the Calgary Stampede in Alberta. Concluding their cross-country hitchhiking tour in Vancouver, they made their summer home in the Yippie (Youth International Party) founded “All Seasons Park” (tent city). This park was a protest against the Four Seasons company plans to build a complex on two blocks adjacent to Stanley Park, which was inspired and modeled after People’s Park in Berkeley, CA, formed two years prior. Westerfield and Kenner, although not politically affiliated with the Yippies, still made the protested park their home while performing nightly Frisbee shows in the historic Gastown area, in front of a railroad car turn restaurant, oddly enough called Frisby’s. Because of the urban settings, free-styling with a Frisbee at night in front of crowds in the streets was very surreal. They would bounce the disc off the buildings, throw around statues, skip the Frisbee through traffic and throw over mobs of interested spectators. In the fall of 1971, wanting to return to Toronto they needed travel money. Continuing to perform at Frisby’s, they decided they would try to collect money like street musicians, it was a success. Returning to Toronto they lived in the notorious counter-cultural Rochdale College while performing Frisbee shows on the Yonge Street Mall. Nightly, thousands of tourists and Torontonians would enjoy displays of their Frisbee expertise, while friends would use a Frisbee to collect donations. Wanting to add professional legitimacy to their Frisbee show, they approached Irwin Toy, the distributor of Frisbee’s in Canada and proposed their show to promote the Frisbee. Their first professional performance was a basketball half-time show at Jarvis Collegiate Institute in Toronto. The students loved it; Westerfield and Kenner were only paid twenty dollars each for the show, but more importantly, they had proven that their show would be beneficial in helping the company to promote the Frisbee. In 1972, they were retained by Irwin Toy to perform at special community and sporting events across Canada. Each year beginning in 1974 their Canadian tour would end in Vancouver where they would conduct their Vancouver Open Frisbee Championships (1974-1977) on Kitsilano Beach and Stanley Park. These Irwin tours also included teaching and conducting contests for the Jr. Frisbee Program assisted by the Canadian Parks and Recreation. This program was adopted from the successful Wham-O, Jr Frisbee Program in the United States.
Ken Westerfield and Kenner teamed up with Andrew Davidson, early Canadian disc sport promoter and Jeff Otis, event coordinator for the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE), to produce the Canadian Open Frisbee Championships in conjunction with the Canadian National Exhibition. The event began in 1972 with Guts and Distance, and later added Freestyle and Accuracy. In 1975, the Canadian Open Frisbee Championships moved to Toronto Islands where disc golf, ultimate and the individual field events were added to the original events that began at the CNE.
Actually, in 1973, Westerfield and Kenner, wanting to see if there were other Frisbee freestylers, had decided to add their idea of a Frisbee Freestyle competition to the 2nd Canadian Open Frisbee Championships, but due to a lack of competitors, the freestyle event was canceled. The only two other freestylers that showed up in 1973 were Victor Malafronte and Jo Cahow, who performed a Freestyle demonstration that wowed the crowd. This was the first-time Ken and Jim would see other highly skilled freestylers. Unknown to Ken and Jim at the time, there had been the beginning of a growing Frisbee freestyle swell in the United States centered in Berkeley, New York, Ann Arbor, New Jersey and Chicago. In 1974, at the 3rd annual Canadian Open Frisbee Championships, Westerfield and Kenner introduced the first ever freestyle competitive event called Freestyle which was attended by players from each of the above-mentioned areas.
Later in 1974 Kenner and Westerfield organized the Vancouver Open Frisbee Championships at Kitsilano Beach in Vancouver, BC. They included their second big freestyle competition where Bill King, Jim Brown and John Anthony made their first competitive appearance.
Also in 1974, Westerfield and Kenner approached Molson Breweries with the idea of performing Frisbee shows at basketball halftimes in Canadian universities as the Molson Frisbee Team. Always looking for unique ways to get into the university market, they accepted their proposal and were more than impressed with the results. The next year, Molson’s used their show exclusively to introduce a new brand of beer called Molson Diamond. In 1975, with Molson’s sponsorship, Westerfield and Kenner moved the Canadian Open Frisbee Championships, from the Canadian National Exhibition to the Toronto Islands. Molson’s would continue to sponsor their Frisbee shows and events for several years. Along with promoting Molson products, this would help Westerfield and Kenner to promote their new sport everywhere.
After 1974, interest in Frisbee and disc sports exploded across Canada. Jim Kenner and Gail McColl moved to London, Ontario and founded their disc manufacturing company Discraft. Ken Westerfield and Mary Kathron began a Professional Frisbee show called GoodTimes, performing in Canada and the United States at universities and sporting events. Also, there were several sponsored Frisbee touring shows coordinated by Bob Blakely as IFA Director at Irwin Toy with Orange Crush, Air Canada and Labatt’s Breweries. Orange Crush even provided logo painted motorhomes with several touring Frisbee teams to do shows at fairs, sporting events, shopping malls and schools across Canada. Bob Blakely, Ken Westerfield, Mary Kathron, Ron Leithwood, Mike Sullivan, Brian McElwain, Kevin Sparkman, Stuart Godfrey, Pat Chartrand, Peter Turcaj, Gary Auerbach, Jim Brown, Bill King and John Anthony were the touring freestyle performers in the series and became the foundation upon which Freestyle and disc sports grew in Canada.
Appendix 2: The Freestyle Tipping Story
Prior to the beginning of the IFA Newsletter in 1968, very little information about the nature of disc play was available to anyone. There is next to nothing about tipping documented before 1968, but no doubt that there were some people doing some tipping somewhere. After all, an integral component of the guts game was tipping and bobbling in an attempt to catch the disc before it hit the ground. After 1968, outside of the guts game, we hear about people tipping, smacking, or slapping the disc up in some manner before making a catch or trick catch.
Alan Blake of the Chicago area Highland Avenue Aces guts team is often mentioned as the earliest of the guys at the IFT to do multiple tips; two, maybe three before sealing the disc. Scott Dickson said that he, Vaughn Frick, and John Sappington were doing some of that kind of tipping as part of their Frisbee play in the early seventies at the University of Michigan; maybe in response to seeing Alan Blake at the IFT, or maybe just as part of their creative way of playing with a Frisbee.
In 1974, some of the very top leaders in Frisbee gathered at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ, for at the first Octad. Berkeley Frisbee Group guys Victor Malafronte and Roger Barrett were in attendance, and so were John Kirkland and Dave Johnson from the Boston area. Jim Palmeri was there from Rochester NY, and of course Gary Seubert, Dan “Stork” Roddick and Bob “Flash” Kingsley, the originators and promoters of the Octad, were there. Another notable Frisbee name in attendance was Jon “JC” Cohn, a Cornell Ultimate star from nearby Maplewood NJ, the birthplace of Ultimate. Rounding out the field was a guy from Philadelphia, a guy from North Carolina, and a whole slew of Frisbee players from the Rutgers Ultimate team, most notably, Irv Kalb. Basically, the forefront of Frisbee play from the entire country was there, and their styles of play accurately represented a good cross section of the state-of-the-art of Frisbee at that point in time. The jamming that these guys were doing in-between the events indicated clearly just what was going down in the various regions of the country. Notably absent from the play was fancy controlled tipping. Despite the fact that the Eastern Trick Catch event to be contested awarded a bonus point for each tip a person completed before doing a trick catch, no one was doing any multiple tipping at all. Occasionally you saw one, maybe two tips at most when the guys were warming up for their Eastern Trick Catch match, but even then, not very often. Because of the strong guts like throws being used as a strategy in the Eastern Trick Catch event, it wasn’t conducive to try for tipping bonus points.
The Eastern Trick Catch event had been conceived by Dan Roddick as a way to showcase fancy trick catching skills along with accurate throwing skills. It was the primordial ancestor of the competitive freestyle that subsequently came onto the Frisbee scene. The ETC format consisted of two players standing in twelve-foot diameter circles set 30 yards from each other. Each player in turn would throw the Frisbee to their opponent, such that it would pass through the circle. If the throw was short or outside the 12-foot diameter marking, the thrower would lose a point to his or her opponent. If the throw successfully passed through the circle, the receiver would score one point for a trick catch, and get a bonus point for each time the disc was tipped before making the trick catch. Well, it didn’t take long for the strong accurate throwers like Victor Malafronte, Dave Johnson and John Kirkland to figure out that a blazing hard throw would be difficult to catch, and even more difficult to tip for the bonus points. This strategy went completely against the concept of what Dan Roddick intended for the event, which he duly noticed before that inaugural ETC competition commenced. Guts already existed, and Dan was looking for a kinder-gentler type of game to showcase fancy catching skills, sort of a counterpoint to the guts game. The attempted solution was to lengthen the distance between the circles to 40 yards, figuring that would take the steam out of the fast throws and allow the fancy stuff to commence. It helped somewhat, but it didn’t deter the strategy of throwing hard and fast. The bottom line was that the tipping part of the game was almost nonexistent, and the game failed to be an incentive to learn multiple tipping type moves. So, the fact of the matter was that as of the first weekend of May 1974, controlled consecutive tipping was definitively not part of overall Frisbee play in general. Apparently, no one had seen it being done, and no one was trying to do it. Everyone who knows Victor Malafronte and John Kirkland know that if these two guys had ever seen anything like controlled multiple tipping, they would have immediately sucked it up into their repertoire of Frisbee moves faster than a dry sponge could suck up warm water. If John and Victor weren’t doing a particular Frisbee move, there was a good chance that no one else was doing it either.
At the first American Flying Disc Open event three months later, August, 1974, the same general group of players from the Octad gathered to try to win the brand new car that was being offered as first prize. Other Frisbee notables that hadn’t attended the Octad also showed up. There was a contingent from NYC that included Kerry Kollmar and Mark Dana. From the Chicago area were John Connelly, Tom Cleworth, and Bruce Koger. The University of Michigan guys, Scott Dickson and John Sappington showed up along with some of their Humbly Magnificent Champions of the Universe (aka Humblies) guts team members, including John and Jo Cahow. There were also many new faces to the Frisbee scene; it was Dave Marini’s and Doug Corea’s first Frisbee competition. Kerry Kollmar and Mark Dana sort of set the scene for the incessant jamming that took place all weekend. They induced many of the other players to partake in such jamming. It was a cool scene that included attempts at multiple tipping as a matter of course throughout the play, quite unlike the dearth of tipping at the Octad three months earlier. By the end of the Saturday of that weekend, some of the guys were smitten with trying to outdo each other in seeing how many times they could tip the disc before catching it. Some of the guys were even doing 4 and 5 tips before attempting to catch the disc.
The start of the final round the next day got postponed by a heavy rain storm. Everyone crowded into the St. John Fisher College gymnasium to wait out the rain, and of course jammed to their hearts content. You could barely find a spot in the small gym to throw. John Kirkland introduced an amazing air-bounce throw, which when done well would set the disc to hovering slowly right above the recipient, just begging to be tipped. Virtually everyone was trying their hand at this newfangled throw, and virtually every time one a person received an air-bounce throw, the recipient took advantage of it and tried for a record number of multiple tips. Each new record lasted only minutes as the total number of tips climbed from 5 to 6; then 7, 8, 9 and 10 in short order. The only thing that kept the record from going over ten consecutive tips in a row was that the rain stopped and the disc golfing and DDC commenced. With golf and DDC occupying the players for the rest of the day, no time was left for jamming, and that was the end of the informal tipping contests.
Then two weeks later, at Jim Kenner’s and Ken Westerfield’s Canadian Open Freestyle for Pairs event in Toronto, it became crystal clear that some of the guys had taken multiple tipping to the next level.
In their respective routines, Irv Kalb and Tom Cleworth both showed absolute mastery and control over multiple tipping. They both went from struggling two weeks earlier to get 9 or 10 consecutive tips at the AFDO, to having the number of tips not even being a factor. They could tip the disc until the spin ran out if they wanted to. They limited themselves to maybe 20 or so tips per reception, opting for form and control quality over raw quantity. They both demonstrated that they could pop in an elbow tip or two in the middle of a consecutive string of finger tips. They used their total control to set the disc just in the right position to seal the sequence with a flowing trick catch. It was mind-blowing at the time and a foreshadowing of things to come. Significant to note, that at this time John Kirkland had still had not developed this kind of control in his tipping. But that condition was soon to be rectified, John never settled for second fiddle to anyone for long.
Based on these observations, it seems clear that unlike most facets of disc play, which were often created and developed by two or more people independently of one another and slowly evolved into moves we know of today, the art of multiple controlled tipping had a finite seed of beginning, which can be historically pinpointed in history. Then with the catalyst of Cleworth and Kalb demonstrating the worth of multiple tipping in a freestyle routine, tipping burst onto the scene in one fell swoop of a revolution, needing no evolutionary process or development for it to catch on. Virtually overnight every Frisbee player who played on a regular basis incorporated tipping into their mode of play. Contrast that with DDC, which started in 1970, but did not get adopted into regular play until 1978. Or disc golf; with the first historically known record of the game being played in was in 1926, but it was not adopted into regular play by the whole Frisbee community until 1974, some 48 years later!
Even tipping’s closest counterpart, the delay, did not catch on immediately. The delay was first publicly demonstrated in August of 1975, (St. John Fisher College again), but did not become widely used until the 1977 competitive freestyle season. Case in point, neither of the number one and two place finishing teams in the 1976 WFC freestyle finals used the delay as part of their routines, they both still used controlled multiple tipping as the connector between moves, a full year after Freddie Haft first displayed the delay move in competition.
Appendix 3: The Harlem Globetrotter Tour Story (Jim Palmeri)
At the 1974 Jersey Jam, John Kirkland and Victor Malafronte announced that they had been hired to do a Frisbee exhibition as part of the entertainment show the Harlem Globetrotters presented during each game of their nationwide basketball series.
I had the particularly good fortune to attend the Harlem Globe Trotter game held in Rochester NY, circa February 1975. There is no way I can describe how exhilarating or fabulous their performance was. I’ll start by saying that it made the basketball game itself sort of ho-hum. Don’t forget, in 1974, few if anyone one in the crowd had ever seen a Frisbee performance of any kind. The substance of John and Victor’s show was all new to the vast majority of the spectators; they were ripe for a brand new experience. They went absolutely wild with everything that those guys did. On that particular night, John and Victory did an amazingly flawless show. But it wasn’t your normal competition routine in any sense of the word. It was designed to entertain, and it was choreographed to the hilt to do just that. They had a professional announcer narrating along with a pre-made tape of appropriate music and sound effects for the specific moves being done, and everything was perfectly timed.
The opening consisted of Kirkland standing unseen behind the baskets at one end of the court, stepping into view upon cue from the loudly playing tape being used for the occasion. He launched a huge anhyzer throw way up and out over the crowd, skimming high over the uppermost level of arena seats. It floated gracefully down on a perfect line toward the other basket. A hidden Malafronte magically appeared from behind the basket at the last second and successfully snagged the throw with a leaping trap catch between the knees. Just the accuracy and trajectory of the throw alone, along with the announcer’s hype, got the crowd going, but when Victor jumped out and closed with the perfect leaping trap catch between the knees, the crowd went absolutely wild. It set them up to anticipate more, and they weren’t disappointed. The guys continued with a few more high curving flights terminated with behind the head and behind the back trick catches, each one delighting the crowd as well as the first one did. The guys then settled in to a smooth and flawless quick catch and trick throw sequence that would have been competitive in any modern-day competition. They followed that sequence up with a short skit mimicking a gunslinger dual in which they used Frisbees as bullets and guts type throws as their guns, wowing the crowd with their ability to catch each other’s blazingly fast throws. After the skit, they did multiple disc throwing, juggling three discs between them.
From the very first introductory anhyzer throw to the end of the three-disc juggling sequence, John and Victor did not drop or bobble the disc at any time during the show!
Upon completion of their multiple disc routine, the guys gathered at mid-court as if to they were ready to take a bow in complete of their program, but the announcer stalled them by asking if they could throw the Frisbee into the basket from the foul line. They made a show of cockiness mimicking a “Sure, no sweat” attitude. As Malafronte lined up at the foul line and aimed at the basket with an overhead hammer throw stance, Kirkland tapped him on the shoulder and pointed to the other basket way across the full court. Malafronte mimed a “What, are you crazy” type of response, and then with a shrug of his shoulders took aim at the far basket anyway. The crowd got into it and Malafronte milked the situation with perfect timing. He threw the prettiest hammer throw you ever wanted to see. The disc swished smack dab right through the center of the hoop as clean as it could be done. Kirkland and Malafronte wisely chose that moment to take their bows and walked off the court to a wild standing ovation crowd. The rest of the night was truly boring by comparison.
Previously at the October Jersey Jam, neither Kirkland nor Malafronte had showed anywhere near the type of pizzazz that they displayed at that Globetrotter game halftime performance. The Globetrotter tour certainly showed what practice, hard work and choreography can produce. I have been told by John Kirkland that the flawless success I saw that night was typical of every exhibition they performed with the Globetrotters that year, and that they had only three for four drops or bobbles during the whole series! Regardless of how accurate that statistic might be, the performance that I saw that night was absolutely flawless. The 1974-75 Kirkland-Malafronte Globetrotter tour strongly foreshadowed the freestyle development that was to come about in subsequent years.
Appendix 4: The Freestyle Delay Story
Although tipping the disc got started relatively early in the history of Frisbee play, and preceded the origin of freestyle competition, there is no known historical evidence of the delay move being done in any period of pre or post plastic disc play before mid-1975. The delay came into being only after freestyle competition was born and on its way to becoming a sport. The move came out of the creative crucible of the New York City freestyle scene in the mid 70’s that included Kerry Kollmar, Freddie Haft, Peter Bloeme, Mark Danna, and several other New York players of that era. None of these players were at the very first competitive freestyle event at the1974 Canadian open. Kerry and Mark Danna were at the 1974 AFDO and were jamming up a storm, but were not seen doing anything remotely like a delay move. Kerry and Mark were also at the 1974 Jersey Jam, and neither one of them hinted at a delay move there either. They also attended the 1975 Octad, and competed in the freestyle event there, but still did not demonstrate any type of delay move.
Kerry and Mark attended the 1975 AFDO tournament as well, and this time Freddie Haft was along with them. It is notable that amidst the constant jamming during the whole weekend of that 1975 AFDO event, no one was observed doing or attempting a delay move, even Freddie Haft or Kerry Kollmar.
However, Freddie Haft did attempt to hold a delay a few times during his routine and succeeding to hold at least one delay attempt for a tad over 3 seconds. Since a delay type move had never been seen before, the response from the spectators was enormous. It was apparent that something new was being seen for the very first time, and all were eager to get out there and try this new thing.
Although the delay move sparked great interest in the other players, it didn’t really catch on with most of the freestylers until the beginning of the 1977 season. In the beginning, it appeared that holding delay over 3 or 4 seconds in duration was nearly impossible, and perhaps this discouraged the veteran freestylers and newcomers alike from spending too much time trying to develop the move. Most everyone except for Richie Smits however. Richie was determined to master the delay, and master it he did.
Richie wasn’t at the 1975 Jersey Jam freestyle event, and no one who was there did any delay work. Everyone seemed to be working hard on multiple tipping instead. The freestylers appeared to be in awe of a new young kid named Erwin Velasquez who had total and complete control of multiple tipping, not only from the usual over the head position, but he was doing something new that we had not seen: multiple underhand tipping below the waist line, all with complete control. That appeared to be the direction that freestyle was headed in at that time. The delay move as displayed by Freddie Haft seemed almost forgotten.
But Richie Smits did attend the 1976 Ann Arbor indoor NAS event, and he brought along with him two new wrinkles, a container of some sort of slippery stuff with which he coated the underside of his disc, and a thimble on his finger. Between the reduction in friction from the slick on the disc, and the further friction reducing thimble, everyone got a renewed look at the delay, which Richie, and Richie alone, was able to do with complete control. He seemed able to delay the disc for as long as it had spin. His move was to receive a throw with heavy zzzzs, let it float down onto his thimble finger, and then hold the delay it for 10 to 15 seconds. Everyone was amazed at this new development in freestyle, and ogled Richie’s display. In retrospective irony, an obscure ultimate player showed up at the 1976 Ann Arbor tournament. Being somewhat of a newcomer to the Frisbee scene and not knowing too many players, he needed to find a freestyle partner and hooked up with Richie Smits. This newcomer turned out to have considerable Frisbee skills. With some of Richie’s slippery slick stuff and a little coaching, he soon got the hang of the delay and was also doing it pretty well himself. But it was his superb throwing, catching and multiple tipping skills that caught the eyes of the crowd, many of who were exclaiming “Who is this guy?” Little did we know what was going to be coming from this new guy, who was competing in his first ever freestyle event. The new guy? None other than Jens Velasquez!
Because of Richie’s example and his friction reducing methods, players started to take a more serious look at the delay move.
As the 1976 Freestyle season progressed, the delay began to be used by an increasing number of players here and there, but no one displayed the skills and expertise with the move as did Richie and his regular partner freestyle partner Joey Hudoklin. Their mastery of the delay and how it could be used in a freestyle routine was way ahead of the curve.
Despite this growth of the delay move, it still was not universally used by freestylers, and the top two teams of the 1976 WFC Freestyle event were evidence of this. Jen’s and Erwin took first place, nosing out Doug Corea and Dave Marini, the top team throughout the 1976 NAS series. Neither of these top two teams used the delay move as part of their freestyle routines all season long, opting instead for the tried and true multiple tipping.
But as the 1977 season rolled around, the delay had become a widely popular part of jamming, and soon became an integral part of freestyle competition in general.