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Thoughts on Spirit of the Game with Dan “Stork” Roddick

Dan “Stork” Roddick is a friend and mentor and is widely considered the Godfather of Frisbee. Stork is in all of the frisbee hall of fames (UltimateDisc GolfFreestyle, and Frisbee), has been playing and growing the sport for more than 50 years, and is still actively involved in playing, growing, and guiding the direction of the future of frisbee.

Stork was tasked with writing the section on Spirit of the Game which became part of the rules of ultimate in the 1970’s. I reached out to Stork to ask him more about how the idea of Spirit first came about about below is his response to that question, and a video I filmed of Stork in 2011 talking about the Origins of Spirit. Enjoy!

Video featuring Stork on Spirit of the Game

Stork’s Thoughts on the Spirit of Sport

I grew up with my dad as the college football coach in a small Pennsylvania town. In many ways, our life revolved around the game. Can’t tell you how many football banquets, rallies, games and practices I experienced. One thread that was repeated over and over was that the game built character and prepared young men for life. That was gospel to me.

Then, with that as context, I so clearly recall hearing a high school coach say the following to his lineman:

“Boys, it’s your job to win today. That means do every single thing you can to win. Don’t worry about the rules out there. That’s what the officials are for. If you have to hold, then do it. You’ll know if you’ve gone too far if you hear that whistle. Until you do, take every advantage that you can and believe me, the other team will be doing the same. It’s the refs job to let you know where the limit is. Until you come up against that whistle, do everything you can to get us that W.”

So, as a teenager, I was struck by this statement and wondered exactly what kind of character was being built on that field and I specifically remember thinking that it truly was preparation for life…if we intended to live under martial law.

So, ultimate (and our other disc sports that we got the chance to invent) seemed to me to be a wonderful opportunity to see if sports really could fulfill those lofty goals of actually building admirable character and preparing for life.

As many have long discussed…no system is ever perfect. Humans are involved. I for one, however, prefer the challenge and benefits of the player-driven agreement over the reliance on a third party. That said, I have always felt that there can be a place for observers to assist if called upon. Some issues are not a matter of integrity, but rather simple assessment of information. If no players were in place to see if feet were in or out of bounds, I see no problem in asking for the input of an observer. We just want the right call. As long as the initial obligation to make the calls is ours, I’m satisfied. Likewise, if players/teams simply cannot agree for some reason, binding arbitration seems like a reasonable solution. We can’t debate forever and I’d rather have a knowledgeable resolution than a disc flip.

I’m guessing that stance doesn’t fully satisfy any camp in this discussion, but that’s my take. I’m not fully up-to-date on what has been tried or is currently being used, but this feels right to me. However, my bottom line is that players should play the game the way they want to play. What works for me may not work for others, and that’s fine too.

To sum it up…I just keep hoping that we can, as we dreamed, be playing the ultimate game.

Sidebar note:
Ultimate has morphed in many ways over the years. It’s not like we knew where we were going. The early rules CHS (Columbia High School) noted that referees could officiate and their decision “must be final.”

But…those rules also noted that “as proficiency with Ultimate Frisbee increases, a one-hand only form of the game can be tried.”

Never got much traction on that one.

Here is the first ultimate game between Rutgers and Princeton. Note our “referee” (Dave Lewaint).

In thinking back on that game, I think that Rutgers won by two, exactly the same result margin as when the two colleges had played the first intercollegiate football game on the same spot, 103 years earlier.

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