For Columbia collector, disc sports full of history

Tuesday, August 10, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 4:10 p.m. CDT, Thursday, October 21, 2010
The Empire Plastic Corporation advertises its 1958 "unbreakable" Frisbee, saying it's "the new college campus craze."

COLUMBIA – Peter McCarthy cannot get disc sports off his mind.

The love of the sport inspired McCarthy to begin a collection of Ultimate Frisbee and disc golf memorabilia. In 1996, after he discovered there was no public archive, he started his collection and has worked on it ever since.

Ultimate officiating

Ultimate Frisbee players referee themselves. The sport has never had sanctioned refs since the it's origins in the late 1960s.

Ultimate is known for its "Spirit of the Game." The Ultimate Players Association, the governing body of the sport, states in its official rulebook that highly competitive play is encouraged, but players must referee themselves.

There has been a debate in recent years to implement "observers" at matches, members of the audience that teams can turn to for a third-party ruling on a debated call. They are more common in high-level tournaments.

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His job as an office support employee at MU's Ellis Library is a good fit for the project. He assists coworkers in archiving documents for the Western Historical Manuscript Collection at the library, and David Moore, the associate director of the archive, lets McCarthy keep his collection there.

The main room of the archive has two stories of shelves containing boxes filled with pieces of of the history of Missouri. In the midst of that collection, McCarthy has created his own unique history of disc sports. Like the larger collection, McCarthy’s aim is to preserve the material he has found.

"All I wanted to do was put in people's heads that the stuff sitting in their old uncle's basement getting moldy is the history of the sport. It's disappearing," McCarthy said.

McCarthy has collected newspaper clippings of Ultimate tournaments, teams and athletes from as far back as 1967, the year the sport was invented. Posters too large to fit in the boxes, including Roger Giles’ mid-1970s flier advertising the original Frisbee club in Columbia, are in a separate drawer away from the shelves full of boxes.

Books like “Ultimate: The First Four Decades” and “The Complete Book of Frisbee” contain insights to the history that McCarthy wants to preserve.

The collection also has more than 100 films, including items such as Wham-O disc sports commercials and important Ultimate games like the 1968 Masters Tournament at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., one of the first Ultimate tournaments ever held. McCarthy had the Home Movie Depot in Ashland convert 30 of the films into DVDs.  

In 2006, after drawing attention from his purchases he was making on eBay, McCarthy received 1,200 pounds of newspaper clippings and films from Wham-O, the original manufacturer of the Frisbee, to add to the collection. This addition brought the amount of box space up to 25 square feet.

“I called it a half ton of fun,” McCarthy said.

A co-worker at the manuscript collection agrees.

“I think it’s awesome,” John Konzal, a manuscript specialist at the archive, said. “I remember playing with some of those Wham-O products as a kid. It’s a little nostalgic.”

McCarthy teamed up with another disc sports enthusiast, Walker Claridge, co-owner of Broadway Brewery, to expand the already public archive to a more accessible location this past June.

More than 15 posters and newspaper articles from the archives now hang on the old, rock wall of the Broadway Brewery as a way to bring recognition to disc sports. A copy of Giles’ flier and Wham-O’s first catalog produced in 1957 can be found there. The documents are located across from the windows that allow visitors to see the brewery makes its beer.

Dan Murphy, a bartender at the brewery who met McCarthy playing Ultimate in 1989 said that though Ultimate and other disc sports are relatively new to mainstream American sports, keeping records their past is still important to the disc sports community.

“It (McCarthy's collection) is history,” he said

McCarthy said he will continue to build his collection.

"You can't just collect the old stuff. You have to collect the new stuff, too ... the stuff that's being created," McCarthy said.

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