Lynn Cheikh Moussa
Heartbeats accelerating and palms sweating, individuals from all over Lebanon and abroad gather on the American Community School’s (ACS) field to toss, chase, and dive at a disc. Joined together by nothing more than the love of the game, both foreigners and local individuals begin practicing a sport that will soon emerge at the American University of Beirut (AUB).
Ryan Johnson, current coach of the AUB Frisbee Team, recounts the story of how frisbee first began to emerge in Beirut and later, in AUB. Johnson himself is a huge fan of ultimate – short for “Ultimate Frisbee” – as he discovered his passion for the game during his university years, prior to moving to Lebanon.
“It was around three years ago, when my friend Colin Campbell used to live in Lebanon. He had just started calling around and asking about interest in frisbee. Most of those who responded were ‘ajeneb’ (foreigners), like me, because nobody in Lebanon really knew about the game. Maybe a few isolated individuals, no one else. We started playing at the ACS field, mostly foreigners, and a lot of inexperienced players, then a few more experienced players. At the beginning there were just a handful of Lebanese people, but as time went on, more became involved,” Johnson recounted.
As word got out of the new sport, university students from AUB and ALBA found themselves attending these friendly games. With more and more players, the sport gained momentum, which later helped form the newly instated AUB Frisbee Team.
“Last year was our first year as a team. It kind of just happened by word of mouth, and friends got involved and I think they ended up really loving the game, but what really solidified it is that now we have a MENA tournament that we run every year,” said Johnson.
The team consists of AUB students who mostly joined after either hearing about it from friends or out of sheer curiosity for a new athletic experience. Currently, the team competes in two tournaments: The MENA tournament in the Fall semester, and the European tournament in the Spring semester.
These tournaments provide, according to Johnson, a learning opportunity for the players, as the majority are inexperienced in the game, and have to start learning from “the bare minimum”.
“They certainly didn’t join because frisbee has this great reputation built up. I mean, a lot of people maybe stumble in, but then they realize that this is a really brilliant game, and it’s super competitive and pretty demanding, physically. This is one of the things that you sometimes get the feeling that people are laughing at you, but I don’t really care. People don’t get it; anything that’s new, people tend to either fear or scoff at. Unfortunately, Frisbee is one thing that people will scoff at,” explained Johnson.
While the game and its players are at the end of lots of mockery, Johnson clarified that, contrary to popular belief, the game is quite agile and requires specific skills that enable its players to engage in it.
“You can play 90 minutes of football and not sub-out, but that’s absolutely impossible in ultimate. At the professional level, they’ll have a defensive line and an offensive line, and they’ll get a break after each point because the intensity of the game is just that high,” he elaborated.
“There’s no time to rest, and it’s seven against seven using the full length of the football pitch, but not the full width which is 40 meters across. The end zones are the penalty boxes.”
A huge added benefit of playing ultimate is the ability to play alongside players from both sexes. While other sports, such as football, segregate players into men’s and women’s teams, ultimate allows men and women to play besides one another on the pitch.
“Women can throw the disc just as well as men. They can catch the disc, and they can be the handler, which is kind of like the quarterback in American football, who really controls where the disc goes. A lot of my scoring opportunities come from my female teammates. I think that’s a really unique aspect of the game where there’s this equal division of labor between men and women,” said Johnson.
While not many students have heard of the AUB Frisbee Team, or have even considered ultimate to be a full-fledged sport, it seems as though that might soon change.