Gracyn Bancroft of the Nashville Hairy Otters, from left, Melinda Snover of the New Orleans Party Posse, Will Hannon of the Nashville Hairy Otters and Jesse Weber of the New Orleans Party Posse face off at last year’s Shawn Adams Memorial Flying Disc Tournament.Photo by Maura Friedman.
Steve Cobble was 23 years old when a friend told him he ought to play Ultimate Frisbee. When he checked it out, a guy named Shawn Adams got his phone number and kept calling to encourage him to play.
For 17 or 18 years now, Cobble -- now 47 -- has run the Chattanooga Flying Disc Club's annual tournament in memory of Adams, whom the club's website refers to as "our founding father." Adams was killed when lightning struck the field where he was playing Ultimate in Nashville in 1994.
"Our first tournament was held in his honor later that year," said Cobble, who is preparing the 21st annual Shawn Adams Memorial Spirit of the Game Ultimate Tournament for kickoff at 9 a.m. Saturday at Camp Jordan Park.
"I'm on a team in the tournament, but I don't plan to play much," Cobble said. "I'll have things to do in running the tournament, plus at my age I can't go like I used to."
Teams generally have 13 to 15 players, but the "very competitive" teams have more than 20 on their rosters, Cobble said, although only seven are on the field at a time. Substitutions happen only after points and in injury timeouts, and action is nonstop in between.
The 2014 tournament has 12 open teams, comprised almost entirely of men, plus 10 women's teams and eight mixed teams. Each game Saturday will be played to 13 points, with halftime occurring when one team reaches seven. The semifinals and finals in each division Sunday will go until a team scores 15 points, with eight deciding when the first half ends.
"We do have hour-and-a-half rounds," Cobble clarified about low-scoring games. "So we can cap a game by adding a point to the higher scorer at the time and giving teams about 15 minutes to get there."
Cobble describes the fast-paced game of grace and skill as a "combination of soccer, basketball and football. We call our kickoff a 'pull,' and once that occurs, play is nonstop. We have an end zone like on a football field, and one player has to throw it to a teammate to get across it."
And why should people be interested in watching?
"It is the most dynamic team sport there is," Cobble said. "The athleticism people will see is unbelievable -- spectacular at times. What separates Frisbee from basketball, football or soccer is how dramatically you can bend throws and the fact you can float a Frisbee from one end of a field to another and let the receiver run to it.
"When you're on offense, everybody is a quarterback and everybody is a receiver, and when a turnover occurs, the defense becomes the offense and the offense becomes the defense. And everybody on the field is stuck there as long as a point takes, so it's very demanding on the body."
Cobble noted that last year's 20th anniversary tournament brought in a lot of players who had played with Adams.
"People who lived outside this region made an extra effort to get here. Some of them flew in," the longtime tournament director said. "This year we're going to have less folks who actually knew Shawn, but it still shows how much he meant to the sport here."
Play will begin at 9 a.m. both days and end about 4:30 p.m. Saturday and about 4 on Sunday. A tournament party will be held downtown Saturday night on the river in conjunction with Riverfront Nights.
The local club has a winter league starting in early December, and Cobble encouraged anyone who wants to know about the sport to come to Camp Jordan this weekend.
Contact Ron Bush at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6291.