Kevin Caroon tries to toss a Frisbee past Mike Furman during a pickup game Thursday at Caserma Ederle in Vicenza, Italy. Enthusiasts on base are trying to form a recreational league.

Kevin Caroon tries to toss a Frisbee past Mike Furman during a pickup game Thursday at Caserma Ederle in Vicenza, Italy. Enthusiasts on base are trying to form a recreational league. (Kent Harris / S&S)

VICENZA, Italy — There’s no beach in sight. No dogs leaping high in the air to snag their master’s tosses.

Forget all you thought you knew about “playing” Frisbee.

Ultimate Frisbee, the sport, is alive and well at Caserma Ederle. Or at least it will be if a dozen or so enthusiasts find some more people to sign up.

“Most people don’t understand what you’re talking about,” says Nadia Pontif, one of those hoping to start a recreational league on base. “When we say ‘Frisbee,’ they think we’re standing in a circle, throwing it to each other.”

A pickup game demonstrates that’s not the case.

The object of the game is to throw the Frisbee from teammate to teammate until one of them is past the goal line. Players are allowed one step after they make a catch. And defenders count to 10 while waving arms and trying to deflect a throw. If the Frisbee is deflected or drops to the ground or is intercepted by the other team, there’s a change in possession.

Mike Furman, an Air Force technical sergeant, might be as close to a “pro” Frisbee player as there is in Vicenza. He’s been playing for years, and one team he was on at Fort Bragg, N.C., actually competed in a national tournament a few years back.

“It’s by far the most friendliest and inviting sport there is,” he says.

Unless, of course, you’re the Frisbee.

In that case, you’re endlessly spinning through the air, with opposing teams trying to abruptly end your flight. When mistakes are made, you crash to the ground — only to be rudely snatched up and sent flying again.

Pontif’s team — the Pink Panthers — sport pink T-shirts. The team is largely made up of women whose husbands are deployed to Afghanistan.

“Right now, it’s just us and the Air Force guys,” she says. “The brigade has talked about having a team and so have some other groups.”

Of course, most of the 173rd Airborne Brigade is in Afghanistan, serving what is expected to be a one-year mission. Capt. Aaron Cummings, a member of the 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry Regiment, is back home on rest and recuperation. His wife, Lori, is one of the Panthers. And an opponent in the game.

“I think a lot of couples would actually love to play,” he says.

Ultimate Frisbee, at least the way it’s being played in Vicenza, isn’t a contact sport, so men and women can play together. Speed and hand-eye coordination are important. Probably the most important ability is being able to toss a Frisbee with distance and/or accuracy.

Furman says that just takes practice. He’s developed a handful of different throwing motions to send the disc sailing away. Several of those he learned while playing in the States. He says that although Frisbee wouldn’t be listed by many people at the top of a sports list, it’s a fairly common game for servicemembers.

“It’s played on every Army and Air Force base I’ve been at, at least once a week,” he says. The formal rules usually aren’t followed that closely, though. He also said he’s sure that nearby bases at Ghedi and Aviano could come up with teams if they wanted to.

Staff Sgt. Israel Del Toro says it’s a good change of pace for him.

“It gives you good exercise,” he says. “Competition. Running. Hand-eye coordination. You get tired of doing push-ups, sit-ups, running all the time.”

author picture
Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.

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