No matter where he goes, Ultimate player finds new friends through sport

Monday, July 19, 2010 | 9:27 p.m. CDT; updated 10:25 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 19, 2010

COLUMBIA — Dan Murphy has caught a flying disc in more than 18 countries.

Murphy, 53, is a member of the Sticky Buns Ultimate Frisbee team. The team began competing in the Show-Me State Games at Hinkson Field five years ago. But he has been playing Ultimate since 1977, just four years after the sport was invented. 

No matter where he goes, Murphy develops the same relationship with almost every Ultimate player he meets.

"It's like this compact, little bond," Murphy said. "You have that identification because it's not a well known sport."

In 1980, he flew to London with a friend using money he saved up as a bellhop at a hotel in Kansas City, his hometown. They visited 14 countries in Europe on a three month-long tour playing Ultimate with teams they met along the way. Because Ultimate was invented in the United States, the people he encountered thought the American players were superior.

"We were like celebrities over there because they thought we were better," Murphy said.

Shortly after the European tour, Murphy moved Springfield, Mo., and began playing for one of the top Ultimate teams in the Midwest, the Ultamounties. Although there was no official league in the region, the team competed against other teams in the Midwest. 

Murphy continued his travels in 1982, selling rope sandals in Santa Cruz, Calif., for a month while participating in the World Flying Disc Championships. There, he met a woman from Tulsa, Okla., who had purchased a round-trip airline ticket from Tulsa to Pasadena, Calif.  She decided to stay in Santa Cruz and gave Murphy her ticket. After hitchhiking from Santa Cruz to Pasadena, Murphy began his trip back to Springfield.

"I flew to Tulsa, played with an Ultimate team there and practiced with them," Murphy said.  "Then, I got on the highway and started hitchhiking, and it took me 10 hours to get from Tulsa to Springfield."

Murphy moved to Columbia in 1987. He works as an English teacher at Douglass High School and is the education coordinator at the Refugee and Immigration Services center in Columbia. He frequently vacations in Central America with friends, and they always bring flying discs.

"We would walk on the beach and map out an Ultimate field with our feet, and go up to people and explain the rules," Murphy said. "We'd get people who had never played before."

Murphy has returned to countries like Guatemala multiple times, and said he loves to see the progression the Ultimate players have made between visits. He enjoys spreading his love of the game.

"We had a rule down there," Murphy said. "Every time we saw a soccer field, we'd get out a disc and throw it around. A Hacky Sack and a Frisbee ... you pull those out and you start making friends."

Peter Meyer, a teammate of Murphy's on the Sticky Buns, agrees with Murphy's laid-back outlook on Ultimate.

"Ultimate is a lot of fun, and at the same time, it's a great way to exercise," Meyer said. "It's nice to get the family out of the house and throw the disc around."

Meyer, a native of St. Charles, and his family drove to Columbia from their home in Fort Collins, Colo., to visit family and friends and to compete in the Show-Me State Games.

"It's a good way to reconnect with everybody," Meyer said.  "We'll be back out here again next year having fun."

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