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Rutgers ultimate frisbee celebrates 50 years since 1st college game

On November 6, 1869, Rutgers beat Princeton University in the first American college football game on a field behind the College Avenue Gym. 103 years later, Princeton was defeated again by the Scarlet Knights in the first ultimate frisbee match between universities.

This past Sunday, current and former Rutgers ultimate frisbee club players gathered at the Scarlet Knights Sports Club Field House on the Busch campus to celebrate these twin anniversaries.

The University’s ultimate frisbee men’s sports club, or Rutgers Machine, was founded by then-University students Irv Kalb, Geoff West and others. Kalb said the ultimate frisbee was first started in New Jersey and its early players would attend different universities to start teams.

After graduating high school, Kalb and West attended Rutgers and formed its ultimate frisbee team, which has lasted for the past 50 years.

Dan Roddick, another founding member of the team, said he chose to attend Rutgers on a coin flip but remains grateful for all the experience he has had there. 

He said he was first introduced to the University team when he saw a poster asking for students interested in ultimate frisbee to contact Kalb. After meeting Kalb and the other team members, Roddick was expected to play in the aforementioned first collegiate ultimate frisbee match against Princeton, he said.

Initially, Roddick thought few spectators would attend the game but was surprised to find a large crowd of students across campuses cheering the team on. The match’s crowd continued to grow as student and media outlets including the New York Times and Sports Illustrated covered the event, he said.

“(The game) was an unbelievable once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Roddick said. “I'm glad the coin flipped and I knocked on that door.”

The coordinator of Sunday’s event, Geoffrey Irving, a University alum and former ultimate team captain, said the team has waxed and waned over the years because it is a student-funded club.

He said his time on the team was the focal point of his time at the University, crowned by a trip to a national tournament in 2013. He said he planned this anniversary event months in advance and aimed to commemorate the history of the program.

“(The ultimate frisbee team) was the centerpiece of my time at Rutgers, and so I thought it would be beneficial to come back and organize an alumni event to celebrate 50 years of the program,” Irving said.

He also announced the creation of a New Jersey non-profit called 1972 Ultimate Alumni Club Inc., which aims to support ultimate frisbee at Rutgers and the greater New Jersey ultimate community.

Tyler Mackey, a School Of Engineering sophomore and current Rutgers Machine player, said he has enjoyed his season on the team so far, attending competitions such as Lobster Pot in Maine.

Mackey, who has been playing ultimate frisbee for seven years, said the history of ultimate frisbee should be discussed more, seeing how much the game has developed.

“It started in a parking lot 50 years ago,” he said. “So the fact that we have access to all these fields now is really cool. We've come a long way.”

Oscar Sucre, another current player and a senior in the School of Arts and Sciences, said he was excited to be at the anniversary celebration to meet Rutgers ultimate frisbee alumni, many of whom were crucial in the sport’s development in general.

The first collegiate ultimate frisbee game also featured a female player: Peggy Delahanty, a first-year student at the time who played in the Rutgers team.

Eighteen years after this game, women would form their own ultimate frisbee team, which was originally called Shakti but has since renamed to Nightshade, under the leadership of Barbara Porter. She said the team's creation was challenging due to the lack of experience with new players, but she eventually found 16 other female athletes to form the club team.

Seven years after Porter formed Shakti, the team went to its first national tournament, and she said she was glad the team continued after her team's inception.

"It's not something that I ever imagined that I'd be involved with and involved in such a way where it's the start of a new legacy … it just makes me happy," Porter said. "I’m just a proud mama since I’m the women's team founder."

She said the team now competes alongside other colleges in tournaments and matches, carrying the legacy of Porter and the many female players before them.

West said while the first collegiate ultimate frisbee game was a special experience, he appreciates the continued legacy of the Rutgers team.

"The really wonderful thing about it is that (the game of ultimate frisbee) has lasted," he said. "Frankly, I guess it's as close as we'll ever come to immortality that the game lives on."

Editor's Note: This article has been updated to further clarify information surrounding the original name of the women's frisbee team.

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