Spirit of the Game

Decades later, an era of Ultimate Frisbee players remain a team.

Frisbee Reunion 2021 photo

The 2021 Ultimate Reunion roster; top row, left to right: Mark Silverschotz ’78; Christopher Betts ’84; Robert Kennelly SEAS’81, BUS’84; Jerry McManus ’89, GSAS’97; Christopher Schmidt ’81, GSAS’83, BUS’85; Noemi Cicconi; Stephen Kane ’80, LAW’83; Joseph Strothman ’84; Michael Forlenza ’78; Leslie Fritzemeier SEAS’84; Stephen O’Keefe ’81 and Mauricio Matiz SEAS’84.

Bottom row left to right: Hyung Lee ’84; James Drennan ’84; Paul Tvetenstrand SEAS’82, SIPA’82, LAW’83; Philip Hirschhorn ’84; Ernest Cicconi ’81 and Jeffrey Coffin SEAS’83.


Every September for the last 35 years, alumni from the early days of Columbia’s Ultimate Frisbee team reunite to eat V&T and play the game that brought them together. Or at least a version of it. As Stephen Kane ’80, LAW’83, who was on the team from 1976 to 1983, tells it with a laugh, “Two or three years ago, we decided that Ultimate is not the best for 60-something-year-old people.”

Dave Meyer 1977

David “Buddha” Meyer ’77

The former teammates play Frisbee golf now — using Alma Mater and the bust in Van Am Quad as “holes” to toss at — but what keeps the reunions going is their fond memories of the ragtag group they were in the late 1970s, and their dedication to the team’s founder, the late David “Buddha” Meyer ’77.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Meyer’s contribution: The men’s Ultimate Frisbee team (now called Uptown Local) was born in fall 1973. The sport had been invented by students at Columbia High School (no relation) in Maplewood, N.J., five years earlier in 1968. Ultimate is played similarly to soccer or football, but with a Frisbee instead of a ball and with limited physical contact; points are scored by flinging the disc to a teammate in the opposing end zone.

Critically, the game was created with a loose, hippie ethos — as “an anti-sport,” one Columbia H.S. alumnus told The New York Times in 2008. To that end, Ultimate is played without referees; instead, it is guided by “Spirit of the Game,” a principle that places responsibility for fair play on the player. Competitiveness is encouraged, but never at the expense of respect, adherence to the rules or the joy of playing.

SMK Ultimate 9-2014

Stephen Kane ’80, LAW’83 at the 2014 Reunion game, with Robert Kennelly SEAS’81, BUS’84 (in white) on defense.

Ultimate became an intercollegiate sport in the early ’70s, as Columbia H.S. graduates went on to found teams at their new schools. Meyer was one of them, bringing the game to the College as a club sport in his first semester. It took a while to catch on — Columbia’s team didn’t notch a win until September 1976, when they defeated Yale. (That happened to be Kane’s first game. “A coincidence? I think not,” he jokes.)

The recordkeeping of that era is as shaggy as you might expect for late-1970s Frisbee, but Kane has made an effort to keep track. In spring 1977, Meyer recruited players from other Columbia sports teams, including Jerry McManus ’89, GSAS’97 (baseball) and Michael Forlenza ’78 (football), along with Mark Silverschotz ’78, who had picked up some disc skills at Rutgers before transferring to the College. With an improved 8–4 record that season, the team qualified to play in the Eastern Ultimate Frisbee Championships in Amherst; they lost to Penn State, who eventually took the crown.


Mark Silverschotz ’78 in 1978.


The team kept the momentum going and started to gain traction. “What we realized was, we had achieved a degree of athleticism that was consistent with our collective abilities,” Silverschotz says. Kane agrees: “Columbia was a more athletic team than most teams were, that was our strength.”

Co-captains Kane and McManus provided solid leadership. “Every time we would score, Jerry would huddle the team and say, ‘Let’s just get one more,’” Silverschotz recalls. “And that’s how we built each game — point by point, being consistent, working together.”

By spring 1978, it was the best of times: Columbia Ultimate was undefeated in the regular season. A major victory was the 22–15 defeat of Rutgers, who were then top ranked nationally; Kane smiles thinking back on that David and Goliath moment. “For us to go in there and blow them out, that was a huge, huge upset,” he says.

Befitting that moment of glory, photos of the team practicing on South Field appeared in the sports section of The New York Times. Then suddenly, in September 1978, it was the worst of times: Their beloved founder Meyer suffered a cerebral aneurysm and fell into a coma. He passed away in 1983.

“Buddha was an incredible guy. He was a great player,” Kane says. “Everybody knew him. They did these Frisbee tournaments at the Rose Bowl in the ’70s, the top players in the country — everyone knew him. He had an unusual throw, no one else could do it: an air-bounce wrist flip. He had perhaps the finest of those ever.”

“He was one of a kind,” Silverschotz echoes.

The team honored Meyer with a terrific fall 1978 15–3 season. The highlight was the season finale victory against archrival Princeton; the team pranked their nemesis by arriving to the game 90 minutes late, in a hearse they had purchased for the occasion for less than $1,000.

And now, decades later, players from that era — the “Old Blue” — faithfully come back to Morningside Heights every September to keep Buddha’s memory and their team spirit alive. Silverschotz’s voice catches when he talks about the reunions: “When you’re on a team and you have common experiences with your teammates, your ability to relive them — to break into peals of hysterical laughter recollecting who did what to whom when — it allows you to travel back to those years,” he says.

“When you’re with your friends that you’ve been friends with for 40-plus years, it’s easy to feel young again.”

1978 team pic

Team photo from the 1978 yearbook.