In San Francisco a new professional sport has come on the scene — Ultimate Frisbee. For aficionados, it’s a dream come true.

The San Francisco Dogfish, named for the dogfish shark, will play its first Major League Ultimate game Saturday at 3:00 p.m. at Boxer Stadium in Balboa Park.

This video shows tryouts for the Dogfish:

“Everybody, I think. that’s ever played at some point has had a vision of Ultimate being on par with other professional sports, be it basketball, football, hockey, whatever,” said Dogfish General Manager Chris Sherwood.

To make that dream a reality, a group of investors is paying to make the experience of watching Ultimate more like other pro sports. “We’re going to be in a stadium, we’re going to have an anthem, we’re going to have a halftime show,” Sherwood said. “We have a mascot, we have an announcer, we have a DJ.”

The mascot, Dougie the Dogfish, will be at the first game.

But all these changes are new for a game that became popular on college campuses and has remained below the radar for many sports fans. It’s more common to see a pick-up Ultimate game in Golden Gate Park than it is to see it played an an elite level in a stadium.

Dogfish coach Justin Safdie leads a "chalk talk" with his team before a late night practice at Gilman Fields in Berkeley. (Katrina Schwartz/KQED)
Dogfish coach Justin Safdie leads a “chalk talk” with his team before a late-night practice at Gilman Fields in Berkeley. Katrina Schwartz/KQED

“I think respect is certainly a big part of what we’re looking for,” said Dogfish Coach Justin Safdie. “We want people to understand if we say we play Ultimate Frisbee, talking to our co-workers over the weekend, we want them to know what that is. You know, we want to bring Ultimate to the mainstream.”

To do that, the MLU has changed some key rules about the game. They will play on a bigger field and there will be referees.

One unique aspect of Ultimate — a quirk that has attracted many people to play — is an ephemeral quality called Spirit of the Game. It basically means respecting the talent and humanity of the other athletes on the field, even when it comes to making on-field calls. Traditionally, Ultimate has been self-refereed, with players calling their own fouls and stopping play to debate the legitimacy of calls. While the players and coaches involved say they will still strive to maintain the Spirit of the Game, players will not longer make their own calls — officials will.

The MLU is trying to make the game more understandable to fans, something some Dogfish players are grateful for, since it means spectating will be easier for friends and family.

“I think it will be interesting to see the sport evolve a bit as it’s professionalized,” said Adam Farren, a Dogfish player. “To play with referees, to play on a bigger field, to play in front of paying spectators — I think that will add an edge to the game that will be fun.”

Lucas Dallmann, another player, agreed.

“It’s a sport I love and it’s a sport I’d like generations after us to love,” he said. “Bringing my grandpa out to the games is really exciting. And it’s something that he’ll get a lot more used to, because he’s accustomed to normal sports with refs and stuff.”

The San Francisco Dogfish team is in the league’s Western Conference, which includes teams from Vancouver, Seattle and Portland. The Eastern Conference includes New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. The best team from each conference will stand off at the end of the 10-week season in the finals.

Dogfish home games will be played at either Boxer Stadium or Kezar Stadium. Away games will be videotaped and either streamed live or made available online.

Organizers expect the first fans to be the robust community of Ultimate players that already exists in the Bay Area. But they hope the sport will appeal to non-Ultimate players as well.

Listen to the radio story:

Major League Ultimate Frisbee Comes to the Bay Area 19 April,2013Katrina Schwartz

  • Graham Poor

    A new pro sport. No concussions and you can use your hands. You can’t score without connecting with a teammate. All players must have skills like a quarterback and pitcher. And the “ball” flys like a glider. Let’s evolve and support a new sport and see what happens!


Katrina Schwartz

Katrina Schwartz is a journalist based in San Francisco. She’s worked at KPCC public radio in LA and has reported on air and online for KQED since 2010. She’s a staff writer for KQED’s education blog MindShift.

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