Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

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“Soccer is a communist sport.”

Hard to believe this comment came from an Arlington high school coach in the early 1960s, when that global game was still being overshadowed here by mainstream football, basketball and baseball.

I flashed back to it when the Arlington School Board voted Aug. 18 to spend $92,000 to elevate Ultimate Frisbee, a onetime “hippie sport,” to official intramural status for middle and high school competition.

Beginning mid-September and going through October, boys and girls at nine schools will enjoy two practices a week and six games, I was told by Yorktown High School activities director Mike Krulfeld.

No one is more wowed than H-B Woodlawn program math teacher Dave Soles, executive director of the Youth Ultimate League of Arlington. Because the Frisbee was copyrighted by Wham-O, the sport is called ultimate or flying disc, said Soles, who began playing it in college in the 1990s. “Ultimate is an inherently fun game that has grown outside the media machine. Football has ads that make it look glorious,” he said.

But this game is “self-driven and self-officiated. It appeals as soon as a kid starts playing it—everyone is a quarterback and a wide receiver. And no one kid can run with the disc—even the best athlete can’t win alone. You have to pass and work as a team. The inclusiveness and positivity makes it catch on quickly.”

Because there are no refs, no one flops, cheats or commits intentional fouls, Soles added. “The kids are empowered to make their own decisions. It’s not up to some adult.”

When ultimate was merely a club, lines were blurred as whether school athletic directors would provide practice space, and whether games were announced on the morning P.A. announcements, Soles said. “It was like a soccer association, with a separate group of parents making something happen.”

Now the players will wear their school’s uniforms, which in the past “was a stumbling point because the kids didn’t feel the pride of representing their school.”

Arlington schools sports supervisor Deborah DeFranco said another advantage of the funding is that the program opens the game up to kids from different socioeconomic status, who may have had trouble paying for uniforms and travel. The biggest administrative concern, she said, was the shortage of playing space, which was solved by sharing the diamond fields. “The game helps build 21st-century skills of problem solving and conflict resolution,” she added, “a natural fit for Arlington.”
School board member Barbara Kanninen, who, with colleague Reid Goldstein, is an “ultimate parent,” said the “big selling point is how inclusive it is—traditionally a no-cut sport.” The board was also attracted to how ultimate encourages kids to be “entrepreneurial and spread the word” to recruit from special schools such as New Directions, Langston and Arlington Tech.

Yorktown senior Johnny Malks, who has captained an ultimate team, said, “It means the world to me that people are finally taking this seriously, respecting these men and women athletes. It’s just as competitive and intense as other high school sports, but comes along with as wonderful community as you can imagine.” (Yes, they prepare by lifting weights and running track.)

So far, about 400 students have registered, Soles said, and he’d like another 100. Any resentment from the traditional sports folks? “Not yet, but there will be.”

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Remember Top Value Stamps? Clearing out our basement, I recently uncovered a stash of those red-ink-on-yellow perforated nostalgia items from the 1960s.

They were the second-tier competitor to S&H Green Stamps. My mother would get them at the Giant Food at Virginia Square (used to be on the opposite corner), and we’d paste them in a catalog blank to redeem them for toys or household goods.

According to the ephemera website Papergreat, Top Values were discontinued in the 1980s. Doubt the 10- and 3-point beauties on my desk will make me wealthy.