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City-sponsored league turns disc-tossing into a more competitive — but chummy — game

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Players compete during last year’s Santa Fe Ultimate Frisbee League at Fort Marcy Park. (Courtesy of Mark Zuliani)

Players compete during last year’s Santa Fe Ultimate Frisbee League at Fort Marcy Park. (Courtesy of Mark Zuliani)

Ultimate Frisbee is often a game played by a group of friends who get together informally to chuck around a disc and have a good time.

But the sport has morphed into so much more.

Santa Fe now has a city-sponsored league that plays Thursdays at Fort Marcy Park. Registration is open through Thursday – the first game – but those interested in playing are encouraged to sign up sooner because team captains will divvy up players Monday based on a questionnaire that includes players’ experience.

The league, in its second season, is being organized by Steve Iliff, who played last year and got in the game in earnest while at Northern Colorado University.

“Our No. 1 goal is for everybody who signs up to have a good experience and come back the next year,” he said. “A big part of the league, too, is education, and introducing new people to the sport and teaching people about the sport. It’s a really fun game that combines the speed and athleticism of soccer with a lot of the throwing skills of football.”

In ultimate Frisbee, there are seven players per side and they work the disc down the field, scoring when a player catches it in the opposing end zone.

“Generally, it’s a fast-paced game with a lot of subbing,” Iliff said.

Last year, each team had 12-14 players per side, generally with five men and two women on field per team at a time.

Pick-up ultimate Frisbee has been around Santa Fe for some time, but a man named Mark Zuliani convinced the city to sponsor a league last year.

“He did a lot of the work to build interest,” Iliff said of Zuliani. “He did a lot of recruiting around town.”

The result was a league with enough players to fill out four squads, Iliff said.

When Zuliani’s work took him out of Santa Fe this summer, Iliff stepped up to continue moving the league forward.

“We’re hoping to grow it,” he said, adding that the optimum number of players is about 15 per team to give everybody ample rest periods while still providing enough playing time.

“We want to continue to keep building it and get the word out,” Iliff said. “Some people have played in leagues in other places that they loved – they’re the die-hards that will seek it out – and others who have done it in the past and haven’t necessarily gone seeking it but would like to play again.”

Although tall, fast players who throw and catch have an advantage, any level of player is welcome, he said.

“It doesn’t have contact, so there’s not as many injures as soccer, football or basketball,” Iliff said. “People can sign up as individuals or with friends, and then we basically do a survey of their past experience and how they would rate themselves, and use that to draft teams, try to make them as a equal as possible.”

While the idea is to provide a fun experience, one player from last year said it was a bit too competitive for her.

“It was way too competitive to my skill level,” Patricia Rosacker said. “The players are experienced and hard-core. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the exercise. I learned a little about the game.

“I think most of those people play on a regular basis. Players were way too experienced and hard-core for someone coming off the street. I will not do it again.”

Still, regardless of a person’s ability or experience, there’s plenty to be gained, Iliff said.

“It’s a great social activity; it’s a very social sport,” he said. “It emphasizes getting to know other people and the spirit of the game. It’s self-refereed. Each player is responsible for calling their own fouls and out of bounds. If there is a dispute, players are encouraged to work it out in the spirit of the game.”

The idea is not necessarily to win, but to have fun and get better, Iliff said.

“It’s a chummy sport. Winning isn’t everything, you just want high-quality play,” he said. “We generally encourage people to hang out afterwards. That happens a lot. It’s a great way to get to know people if you’re new to town.”

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