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Ultimate Frisbee: New sport catches on in Bemidji

Bill Stafford, right, scores a point in a game of Ultimate Frisbee Saturday. The 23-year-old celebrated his birthday by playing the game with about a dozen Frisbee fanatics. Justin Glawe | Bemidji Pioneer1 / 2
Tom Sullivan, 23, of Duluth chases a Frisbee out-of-bounds Saturday. A group of Ultimate Frisbee players meets twice a week at the Bemidji State recreation center to play the sport. Justin Glawe | Bemijidi Pioneer2 / 2

By Justin Glawe

   Frisbee, meet football.

Minus brutal collisions between men with the combined weight of a small car, Ultimate Frisbee shares at least the two-toes-inbounds end zone grabs and man-on-man catches in the sky that glue millions to their televisions each Sunday.

And you don’t even have to pay hundreds and be packed among the tens of thousands to watch.

“There’s a lot of similarities to football,” Bemidji State senior Bill Stafford said. “Except you can’t run with the Frisbee.”

Wait, what?

After catching the disc, the player has 10 seconds to get rid of it – a fact they are dutifully reminded of by a defender in knees-bent basketball stance counting the ten-spot.

This is no game of catch at the beach either. There were no awkward, slicing throws that end with the disc rolling away from its intended target Saturday at the college’ recreation center. Instead, through-the-legs, over-the-shoulder and hooking-toward-a-receiver prowess was on display.

“It’s a baby sport,” Stafford said. “But it’s one of the fastest growing sports in the country.”

Perhaps one day the game will reach the level of popularity Stafford thinks it deserves.

“It’s a hotbed,” the 23-year-old said of Minnesota. “It’s just waiting to be tapped.”

But the New England Patriots Stafford and his gang are not.

Then again, Tom Brady and Rod Gronkowski would be hard pressed to keep up with Lauren Cains and Erik Bergsven on the Frisbee field.

“She’s fast,” Bergsven said.

Time and again Saturday, Bergsven hit Cains in the end zone for point after nail-in-the-coffin point.

Wide open, contested by a defender, leaning out of bounds with the tips of her running shoes just inside the line, it didn’t matter.

“Bergsven finds Cains in the back of the end zone,” would have been the call had there been an announcer present.

But there was no Al Michaels in the announcer’s booth, nor was there an Ed Hochuli in pinstripes officiating the game.

“It’s non-contact, but there is contact,” Bergsven said, channeling his inner Yogi Berra. “It’s a lot of self-judgment and honesty. Sometimes it gets heated and sometimes it’s clean. It’s self-refereed.”

Easy to play clean when you’re Tom Brady with a Frisbee.