Mark Elbogen does not sleep in on Saturdays. At 11 a.m. every week, you can find him and 25 of his nearest and dearest diving, running and throwing brightly colored discs through the sand of East Beach, Santa Barbra.
But the 23-year-old engineer and Cal High grad isn't alone in his love of early morning pick-up games; Elbogen plays Ultimate Frisbee, a form of Frisbee-football originating in New Jersey in 1968. Popularized on college campuses, Ultimate has since spread to our schools.
"I think we brought it here 12 or 13 years ago, it was just something that I had played in college," says Scott Matek, a physical education teacher at Iron Horse Middle School. "At Iron Horse, it's our goal to throw in nontraditional games."
According to USA Ultimate, the national governing body for Ultimate Frisbee teams, each point begins with both teams lining up at their goal lines and the defense throws the disc to the offense. The disc can be advanced in either direction by throwing it to another player within 10 seconds; players are not allowed to run with the disc.
"People laugh about it because they think we're a bunch of pot smoking hippies," says Elbogen, who is captain of the Santa Barbra Condors, a club-level Ultimate team. "The actual game itself is much more high level than anyone knows."
In order to be in top shape for the April - October season, Elbogen does conditioning workouts every Tuesday and attends weekend practices beginning in June. He's working on his "arsenal" of throws and currently knows 10 different ways.
Such intense competition often leads to injury, says Elbogen. "Most of the time it's injuries with the ground -- a lot of torn ACLs and dislocated shoulders. I have a really bad knee that's from continued playing; I've seen three different doctors and had three MRIs."
But you don't have to be a tough-as-nails Ultimate player at San Ramon Valley middle schools. In fact, several P.E. teachers chose the game for its even playing field.
"When you get a kid that has played a sport for five years and they excel at it, then you get a kid that hasn't, there's a big discrepancy and kids at the low end of that get discouraged," Matek says. "With Ultimate, every kid is on the same playing field. We teach them how to throw the Frisbee and the rules are simple."
John Vespi, a Pine Valley Middle School P.E. teacher, says he likes Ultimate because it's fast moving and a great aerobic workout.
"I put it up there as one of the top units I like to teach because it gets a lot of activity going on," he says. "It's one of those games that you can pick up recreationally in college or after college -- a lifelong activity."
Six years ago, after realizing Ultimate's popularity, district middle schools created after school teams that now draw 20-25 sixth to eighth graders.
"Teams are non-competitive, we keep score but no one keeps standings," Matek says. "It gives the kid who doesn't play the mainstream sports the opportunity to be on a team and get exercise."
Elbogen didn't get the Ultimate bug right away. After playing Ultimate at Iron Horse, he picked up the disc during his sophomore year at UCLA and has played ever since.
"The best thing you can do is if you're interested now is to throw – find a buddy and throw a disc as much as you can," he says of middle school enthusiasts.
He also suggests finding a pick-up game -- many are listed on www.pickupultimate.com and there are usually games in Pleasanton.
"Everyone's into promoting the sport and people at pickup games will be really welcoming. Now 95 percent of people that come out to Ultimate have never played before," he says.
For more information on Ultimate Frisbee, visit www.usaultimate.com.