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In Ultimate Frisbee Showcase, recognition is the trophy

With Team Cambridge's Josh Mullen (dark jersey) defending, Team Boston's Sam Rosenthal whipped a pass to teammate Kelvin Schleif (3) during last year's showcase in South Boston.
With Team Cambridge's Josh Mullen (dark jersey) defending, Team Boston's Sam Rosenthal whipped a pass to teammate Kelvin Schleif (3) during last year's showcase in South Boston. (Keegan Uhl)

When Catherine Greenwald first coached an Ultimate Frisbee team at Concord Middle School, all kinds of people showed up to play -- even some barefoot, in tie-dyed shirts.

For Greenwald, now coach of the second-year program at Concord-Carlisle High, it was just another example of the hippie stereotype associated with the sport. But Greenwald, who has played high-level competitive Ultimate since 1982, turned the prospective barefoot players away.

Tomorrow night, when C-C hosts the first game of the second annual Ultimate Showcase -- an event featuring some of the Boston area's best adult players -- Greenwald hopes to show the whole community that Ultimate isn't about the 1960s counterculture.

"Anyone who sees this event," Greenwald said, chuckling, "certainly won't be associating hippies with it anymore."

"We're trying to get people to say, 'Ultimate Frisbee -- that's a real sport,' " said event organizer Erik Sebesta.

If you're to believe those who will be playing tomorrow, a hard-working group that carries impressive resumes from national and world championships, Ultimate will certainly prove its worth under the lights at C-C (7:30 p.m.).

Perhaps the most notable player is Jim Parinella, a 42-year-old Sudbury resident and self-proclaimed "wily vet" who recently retired from his club team, Death or Glory, after winning six national titles and three world championships with the team.

Parinella, along with his wife, Jackie Bourgeois, will play for Team Cambridge, which faces Team Boston tomorrow in Concord. Both teams comprise players from various elite men's and women's club teams in the area.

The third team in the mixed division, in which men and women play together, is a club team called Slow White, which finished third at the world championships in Australia last year. After two more games in June, two of the teams will play for the mixed division title in South Boston on July 1.

"The mixed teams that do the best are the ones that are able to utilize the strengths of all of their players, meaning the women," said Peri Kurshan, Parinella's teammate on Cambridge and captain of the nationally elite women's team Brute Squad. "The individual players are arguably better on [Boston and Cambridge], but I think Slow White might have the huge advantage in that they're used to playing together."

The rules are quite simple -- there are seven on-field players per team, and they attempt to advance the 175-gram disc to a football-style end zone by passing it. Players can't run while they have the disc, and if a pass hits the ground or is intercepted, the other team takes over. The first to reach the end zone 15 times wins.

But this event isn't really about who wins, as Parinella said he expects it to take on the pace and atmosphere of an all-star game. He said fans can expect to see players taking chances on length-of-the-field passes, diving catches, and flashy ESPN-type highlights. Organizers boast that it combines the constant motion of soccer with the aerial excitement of football.

"The basic idea is you try to create open space and try to isolate one-on-one coverage downfield. You end up having a lot of long passes, because defenders are so anxious," Parinella said. "Our team's signature style has always been a conservative one, but I think people will open it up a little more" tomorrow.

As a result, the players hope those in attendance will open their minds a little more to the game of Ultimate.

The sport's potential for growth is evident in its history. After a group of high schoolers in New Jersey invented the sport in the late 1960s, the original players taught their friends from college, who then taught their friends from home, causing the sport to grow "virally," Greenwald said.

Now, with more than 500 college teams nationwide, the sport is experiencing a revival at the high school level, having grown tenfold in the past five years, according to Sebesta. In Massachusetts, where Greenwald also is the director of interscholastic competition, there are about 60 boys' and girls' club teams combined, including representatives from at least 15 local schools from Belmont to Londonderry, N.H.

"The goal I would have is to be treated as a mainstream [varsity] sport, to be accepted by schools and colleges," Parinella said. "I think that's a pretty realistic goal for Ultimate in the next 10 years or so."

Greenwald also travels around to schools, giving clinics and teaching the game in gym classes.

"That's really fun, because they're always really well-received. You see the kids just kind of falling in love with it," she said. "It's just different. It's a lot of fun just to chase a Frisbee down. It floats, it hangs, it does all kinds of things. There's just something about it that people really enjoy."

Mike Lipka can be reached at