An anecdotal tour of a sport that has only been around for a few decades but that claims legions of adherents.
To play Ultimate Frisbee, you need a disc and a dog, right? Well, no. The neohippie penchant for throwing a Frisbee at a willing golden retriever has nothing to do with an athletically demanding sport that Gessner (English/Univ. of North Carolina, Wilmington; All the Wild that Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner, and the American West, 2014, etc.) describes as “a hybrid of hockey, soccer, basketball, and football.” Yet, as he notes, there’s an old-hippie element to the proceedings: the game was invented at a suburban New Jersey high school in that heady year of 1969, it’s definitively coeducational, and somewhere around the pitch there’s likely to be a cloud of marijuana smoke wafting. Gessner’s definition takes scarcely a page, and some of the rest of the book is padded. The “wild youth” part of the subtitle is the least interesting aspect of the narrative (“I see myself for what I was: a scared little boy playing at life”), while the origin story, as with all origin stories, is foundational in more ways than one and is the best part of the yarn—and how could it not be, with a geek Hercules who stood 6 feet 7 inches tall and managed to go to high school “without getting kicked out once”? Parts of the narrative are overwritten, parts undercooked. Readers will want to know more circumstantial detail about how the game was transmitted beyond the East Coast and where it might be going as it becomes better known. Still, Gessner’s enthusiasm is unmistakable, and there’s much to commend the story as a case in point of how a kid, once finding his or her métier, can make of a pastime a life-transforming experience.
Not quite deserving of a spot alongside Plimpton and Angell but a pleasing glimpse into one corner of countercultural jockdom.