After Fred Perivier graduated from college in 1979, he bought a motorcycle and headed to Atlanta to visit some friends and look for a job. He was sleeping on a couch in a house in Sandy Springs, he said, when he decided to put a personal ad in the daily paper seeking others who played a Frisbee-based game he’d learned at school.
It didn’t take long for someone to tell him about a group that regularly got together to play the sport then known as Ultimate Frisbee and now simply as Ultimate. They gathered at Piedmont Park or at Emory. There weren’t many of them. The game, having sprung up at a New Jersey high school only about a decade earlier, was just too new.
“When I first moved to Atlanta, there were about 40 players in town,” the 61-year-old Perivier said recently. “Back then, the community was very tight because there were so few people. For me, at least, some of my oldest friends are guys are I played with, guys from the ’80s. We still have that bond.”
Perivier became a fixture in metro Atlanta’s Ulimate world, which proponents of the sport say has grown to about 3,000 players on a dozen club teams, 30 high school teams and a dozen college teams. In the early ’80s, he played on Chain Lightning, an Ultimate club team that represented Atlanta in tournaments across the Southeast and the country.
They traveled to matches in communities spread from Florida to Wisconsin and Boston to San Francisco. One year, they played in 15 tournaments, he said. “I remember one year, Delta [Air Lines] had a big sale and you could go anywhere in the country for 150 bucks,” he said. “We all bought tickets to go to tournaments.”
Perivier played an important role in Ultimate’s growth off the field, too. He helped create the Atlanta Flying Disc Club and coached teams at Georgia Tech and in local public schools. He no longer plays the game, but still coaches Lakeside High’s team.
His entire family has grown roots deep into the Ultimate world, as well. He met his wife playing the game. His three children – Jacques, 22, Laurence, 20, and Marie, 18 – all play on Georgia college teams, and Marie recently was named a runner-up for the national Rookie of the Year title.
Jacques, who plays for Georgia College and on the semi-pro team the Atlanta Hustle, said he’s been playing the sport since he was in sixth grade. His dad was his coach then. “I’ve been around it my entire life,” he said over a lunch with his dad recently. He grew up in north DeKalb County. His family regularly tossed a Frisbee around the cul-de-sac. He kept playing through high school, college and plans to keep going on post-college teams. “I love the camaraderie, just having a team,” Jacques said. “I enjoy the community aspect.”
When Jacques was younger, he had to choose between soccer and Ultimate. He chose to stay with Ultimate because he thought he’d could play the game longer before he aged out, he said. After all, his dad played on senior teams into his fifties. “I can keep going in Ultimate,” Jacques said. “With soccer, as an adult, unless you’re really good, it’s all in casual pick-up play. I like the competitive aspects. I like to compete. You can still compete in Ultimate at a high level.”
The Periviers also argue that unlike many other American team sports, Ultimate has built into its very fabric a sense of what can only be called honor. There are no refs. Players call any fouls themselves. They call it “Spirit of the Game,” and it’s written into the rules. Perhaps it’s a holdover from the sports early, tie-dyed days, but players are charged with being honest and telling the truth. “It really works well,” Fred said, although Jacques said he’d just as soon have refs to help keep things under control.
They seem to agree that even though their young sport is growing, the idea of tossing a Frisbee up and down a field for points still seems strange to a lot of fans of other, more familiar games. Those folks, they say, don’t show Ultimate any respect. “You don’t get teased for playing soccer,” Jacques said.
Ultimate, it appears, may still something of a PR problem. In June, Jacques and Marie were to play in an exhibition at St. Pius X High School intended to promote the game and to attract more minority players.
“You ask nine out of 10 people what Ultimate Frisbee is, they’ll say, ‘That’s what the dogs do, isn’t it?’ Fred said.
“Some people … say, ‘That’s not a sport,” Jacques chimed in, “It’s just a bunch of hippies out there.”
“That changes when once they see it,” Fred said.
“I’m going to say, once they get out there and try it,” Jacques said, the desire for competition showing in his smile.
Joe Earle is editor-at-large at Reporter Newspapers and has lived in metro Atlanta for over 30 years. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org