Posts Tagged Jeff Felberbaum

Part 2—Frisbee Pioneer Ken Westerfield’s Competitive Achievements

Ken in a calmer moment—1977

I’ve posted earlier a number of stories, pictures and videos about the flying disc and some of the first expert players who also promoted the sport. Now here is the final part of another story sent to me by Audra Gonsalves, the wife of one of those pioneers, Ken Westerfield. It’s amazing how much of a difference just a few people can make in changing our culture and bringing the pleasures of a sport to millions of people. I posted Part 1 yesterday.

Competitive Years 1974-78

Frisbee (Disc) tournaments were beginning to attract excellent disc competitors from everywhere. What was once a top selling pastime with a toy from Wham-O was becoming a serious competitive sport. In 1975, at the Canadian Open Frisbee Championships in Toronto, Westerfield set the MTA (maximum time aloft) world record with a sidearm throw of 15 seconds, using a Super Pro Model Frisbee, crushing the old record of 11 seconds. Also in 1975 Westerfield invented a freestyle move called body rolls, (rolling the disc across out stretched arms and chest, or back), then introduced the move at a national tournament in Rochester, NY called the AFDO, (American Flying Disc Open). The hottest move of the day was called the Canadian Mind Blower: Westerfield would roll the Frisbee across outstretched arms and chest, to outstretched arms across the back (front to back roll). Today body rolls are an integral part of every freestyle routine.

Ken made Frisbee history—1977

In 1976, Wham-O sponsored the North American Series (NAS) Frisbee Championships across the US and Canada, to qualify players for the world championships held annually at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. Winning numerous freestyle and individual events, Westerfield was voted, Best Men’s Player 1970-1975 Decade Awards

At a North American Series (NAS) Frisbee tournament in Dallas Texas, Westerfield became a member of the “400 club” with a prelim distance sidearm throw, and won the event with a throw of 378 feet, using a 119-gram World Class Model Frisbee. Only two competitors have officially ever thrown over 400 feet in competition with a 119-gram Frisbee (Lightweight disc by today’s standard).

1978, in Boulder, Colorado, while doing a distance throwing demonstration at a North American Series (NAS) Event, Westerfield threw a sidearm 119-gram World Class Model Frisbee, 552 feet, shattering the official world distance record of 412 feet.

This is how Kevin (Skippy) Givens, five time World Freestyle Champion, remembers it:

“Someone paced off the distance to a building at 500 feet. Dave Johnson (former distance world record holder) and others we’re trying to hit it. Finally Dave hits the building and the crowd goes wild. Ken Westerfield was sitting and watching. After Dave hit the building the crowd started to yell for Ken to throw. At first Ken was dismissive, not interested. Finally Ken stood up, went to the line, sized up the task then let it fly. It landed in the parking lot past the building on his first throw with no warm up. The crowd went crazy. It was the most incredible throw I’d ever seen”.

Tournament officials marked and measured the throw at 552 feet. Since the introduction of heavy weight, sharp edge disc, the world record is now over 800 feet. However Westerfield still holds the record for the sidearm throw. Read the rest of this entry »

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Part 1—Ken Westerfield’s Pioneering Contributions To Frisbee Sports

Ken was one of the best—1977

I’ve posted earlier a number of stories, pictures and videos about the flying disc and some of the first expert players who also promoted the sport. Now here is another story sent to me by Audra Gonsalves, the wife of one of those pioneers, Ken Westerfield. It’s amazing how much of a difference just a few people can make in changing our culture and bringing the pleasures of a sport to millions of people.

In fact I just learned that nearly 300 million Frisbees have been sold since their introduction, and according to Mattel, which now owns the manufacturing rights, 90% of Americans have played with this flying toy at one time or another. And Frisbee is just one brand of many flying discs!

The frisbee’s origins actually go back to a bakery called the Frisbie Pie Company of New Haven, Connecticut, established by William Russell Frisbie after the Civil War. The bakery stayed in operation until 1958, and during this period, the tossing of the company’s pie tins, first by company drivers and later by Ivy League college students (some say it was cookie tin lids), led to frisbie becoming a well known term describing flying disc play in the Northeast…Now here is Audra’s intro and Ken’s story in two parts:

I wrote this story with Ken’s referencing help. With the advancement and popularity of disc sports, Ken thought it important to make an accurate account of his history.

From the early Frisbee days in New York, Ken knew everyone from the time of Gerry Lynas, Kerry, Krae and his father Ken, Peter Bloeme, Mark Danna, Jeff Felberbaum, Mountain, and many more. Ken played in Washington Square, Sheeps Meadow and at the Band Shell, back in the late 70’s while visiting with Krae and his father.

Ken retired in the mid 80’s, but is just starting to re-connect with some of the old players at west coast tournaments. He and I have been together for 15 years and now live in Bisbee AZ, where he restores old motorcycles and builds engines for muscle cars…

Ken Westerfield (born 1947) and childhood friend Jim Kenner began playing Frisbee in High School, impressing the other students with a variety of controlled throws and trick catches. Graduating in 1965 from Franklin High School (Livonia, Michigan), and leaning towards the counterculture, they spent their days on the beach and at music festivals honing their skills. One day in 1969, spotting a little ad in a local alternative newspaper, they took their Frisbees and a VW Bug and went to a concert near Bethel, NY, called Woodstock, which later became the music event of the century. While at the concert, they would throw the Frisbee over the crowd. Westerfield later stated “it was an interesting crowd to play for.”

Early Years in Canada

In 1970 Westerfield and Kenner moved to Toronto, setting up their disc playing headquarters in Queen’s Park (Toronto). Playing Frisbee freestyle and Object Disc Golf, became a daily event at the park. In 1971 with a hundred dollars each, they started hitch hiking across Canada, stopping to do Frisbee street performance at popular annual events: the Klondike Days in Edmonton, Calgary Stampede in Alberta and in Vancouver’s historic Gastown area in front of a railroad car-turned-restaurant, oddly enough called Frisby’s. One night, while performing at Frisby’s, they decided they would try to collect money like street musicians. It was a success, and they embarked on a new career.

Returning to Toronto they lived in Rochdale College while performing nightly in the Yonge Street Mall. Night after night, thousands of tourists and Torontonians would enjoy nightly displays of their Frisbee expertise. Wanting to advance their professional legitimacy, they approached Irwin Toy, the distributor of Frisbee’s in Canada, and proposed their show to promote the Frisbee. Their first professional performance was a Basketball half-time show at Jarvis Collegiate Institute in Toronto. The students loved it; Westerfield and Kenner were paid twenty dollars each for the show, but more importantly they had proven that their show would be beneficial to help promote the Frisbee. In 1972 they were retained by Irwin Toy to perform at Special Community and Sporting Events across Canada, making Westerfield and Kenner full-time Professional Frisbee Players. Read the rest of this entry »

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Part 2—Gerry Lynas Organizes Early Flying Disc Tournaments, Creates New Disc Games, Makes A Disc Video

Frisbee freestyle by Claudio Cigna—the variety of catches is unbelievable

I met Gerry Lynas 35 years ago, and have always respected his creativity. But I never appreciated until now how much he contributed to the sport, games, tournaments and graphics involving the flying disc…which most of us call a Frisbee. So here is the second of a three part series (in Gerry’s own words) about his significant influence to this sport and recreation for millions of us. You can also see his video and two by others at this earlier post .

In my twenties I was more enthusiastic about competition, and thanks to a few loyal friends and a few willing players, I organized and ran three major disc tournaments in the 70’s and 80’s in New York City starting with the Big Apple Jam in June, 1976, in conjunction with the IFA. It was held at the World’s Fair Grounds in Queens and featured five events: Distance, Accuracy, MTA (Maximum Time Aloft), Freestyle Pairs and TRC. (Throw-Run-and-Catch is one of the hardest disciplines in the disc world. If you drop the disc, no score. If you catch (with one hand) your own throw farther than any other player, you win. It’s amazing. I think the record is more than 100 meters, but I’m not sure.) Kerry Kollmar was the reigning World Individual Freestyle Champion. The event was moderately successful, attracting 96 players from Canada and the US. Irv Kalb (Dr. I) took the overall NYFDI trophy, possibly the very first flying disc statuary.

Gerry (standing/right) with friends at Madison Square Garden disc demonstration—1976

Soon thereafter, a group of us did a halftime demonstration at a basketball game at Madison Square Garden. I wanted to do a radical element with charged (glowing) Moonlighters in a darkened arena, but we were not permitted to turn off the lights. I opened the routine with a lucky, full court basket. The rest was pretty lame with a few drops. We weren’t ready for prime time.

The second tournament I organized with the IFA was the Eastern National Frisbee Festival we called “Discover New York” in 1977.

As tournaments became more sophisticated, judging (especially Freestyle) became more complicated. Finding willing and qualified judges who were not competing was difficult and judging was still far too subjective.

dogs easily get into the flying disc act

Word spread after The Circular was passed around that I was an artist and graphic designer, so some of the players who had disc interests of their own began to ask me to design their logos and promotional materials.

Within a few years I had designed logos for Krae Van Sickle’s Disc Dance. Krae was the most balletic and creative jammer I had ever seen. He and Jeff Felberbaum rehearsed and polished complex routines to music for events at schools, clubs, resorts, parties, etc.

I created the first logo for the World Flying Disc Federation and was encouraged by the growing use of the generic term “flying disc,” which I had been using in the interest of fairness to other potential disc suppliers since my first Pluto Platter sailed through the air.

As freestyle (probably my favorite discipline) grew more popular, it was inevitable that there would be an association. Freestyling was getting hotter and judging was slowly improving, but needed a manual for competitors to grasp the subtleties.

When I was running tournaments I created freestyle judging score sheets with required tricks and such, but freestyle was so new that it was pretty subjective in those days. Players were required to do certain tricks, use both clockwise and counter spins, etc. They were also judged on grace, creativity, and good use of music. Mistakes and drops were recorded as deductions…just like freestyle floor gymnastics with a disc. Much of what we did in the early years contributed to the manual in a more general sense. Read the rest of this entry »

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