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Frisbee: A Practitioner’s Manual and Definitive Treatise
Johnson, Dr. Stancil. Frisbee: A Practitioner’s Manual and Definitive Treatise, New York, NY: Workman Publishing Company, 1975. 221 pp. 0911104534. Paperback. $4.95 (original price).

By Dr. Stancil Johnson

DESCRIPTION: whats inside?

Published in 1975, this is one of the earlier substantial musings in print on the subject of disc sports. It addresses the contemporary origins of the object (Frisbie Pie Company, Fred Morrison, Wham-O), design and flight aspects of the “Frisbee”, throws and catches, games using the disc, organizations of the 1960s and 70s, collecting the precious plastic and shop talk about the proliferation of the hobby. Black and white images, diagrams and data tables appear regularly throughout the text adding greatly to the quality of the entire work. The appendices cover essays about the physics of Frisbee flight and how weather effects Frisbee flight, offers a chronology of Frisbee and describes ways of comparing Frisbee disc quality.

The author, Dr. Stancil Johnson, has contributed to the disc sports community as a competitor and a respected historian. He has competed with world championship Frisbee teams from 1968 – 71 and was a prominent member of the now defunct International Frisbee Association, which was dissolved in 1983. He was inducted into the International Frisbee Hall of Fame (Guts) and the Disc Golf Hall of Fame in 2003.  At the date of this posting, Dr. Johnson continues to practice psychiatry and toss disc.

DISCUSSION: What did/does this offer the disc sport community?

In this section I will briefly discuss a few of the chapters in Johnson’s book. Being one of the first, substantial works addressing all aspects of disc sports it offered a lot to the “Frisbee” community of 1975 and can still offer an interesting perspective for today’s players and disc enthusiasts.

The opening chapter discusses the facts and fictions surrounding the beginning of the Frisbee. For those that don’t know about pie tins or Morrison, this section offers great insight into the contemporary birth of the disc. I use the word “contemporary” because the discus has been around since before Discobolus was carved in the 5th Century BC out of marble. Johnson doesn’t focus on that period too much because he, and most of the readers out there, are more interested in the modern day disc’s origins. Since most books printed after 1975 on the history of disc sports usually reference this book, it still has something to offer.

Chapter 2 covers the material, production and models of discs. There is a substantial focus on Wham-O (the main producer at the time), but there is an interesting section about distinguishing between antiques, serious discs, toys, knock-offs, foreign discs, etc. (table on pg. 60). Sadly, since this section only compares those discs up until 1975, some big production companies of today like Discraft or Daredevil are, of course, left out. However, the diagrams on multiple pages offer great cross sections of the disc, and show the fascinating evolution of the disc from a Pluto Platter “toy” to the Pro Model, which incorporated Lines of Headrick and all of the other improvements.

I found chapter 4, “Flight”, interesting because it describes the flight periods of a disc. The diagram on page 60 visually maps out each period from “Whelm” to “Was” and is described in detail over the pages of this chapter. In fact, a lot of the scientific detail in this and other chapters really puts an eye-opening perspective on just how cool a flying disc is and how much we take the science of it all for granted every time we release a huck down field.

Chapters 6, 7 and 8 are all historical, discussing the games and sports (6), the tournaments (7) and the teams and organizations (8) of the late 60s and 70s. At the time of the printing these would’ve all been very relevant to the players of the day; now, it is more of a look back on the early growth of the sport. I especially like the IFA’s “Proficiency Qualification Requirements” that would certify a competitor as a Novice, Amateur, Expert or Master. At the time of Frisbee‘s publication, “…only the thirty-two players who qualified at the 1974 Rose Bowl World Championships have earned [the] title [of master]” (Johnson, 126). By today’s abilities, there would be a lot of masters out there. Can you throw a straight, high release, inside-out and outside-in back hand; skip the disc off of pavement (I wouldn’t be able to, but that is because I don’t ruin discs on purpose); catch the disc one handed, on one finger and behind the back? Well, I guess you are a master, too.

The last chapter I want to comment on here is “The Dog and Frisbee” (9). Outside of the disc-playing community, one of the top retorts by non-disc-tossers has to usually do with dogs. When someone says, “I play Ultimate (the expression of confusion takes over the other person’s face) …Frisbee”, the more common response or question has to do with playing catch with dogs. Yes, it is getting better. A lot of people know about Ultimate or Disc Golf, but playing catch with a dog on the beach is a more common representation of disc sports. Even with this stigma looming, I still enjoyed the chapter and learning about the exploits of Ashley Whippet. I love Frisbee dogs.

CRITICAL EVALUATION: Does this only contain dated material?

Containing material over 35 years old makes some publications outdated, but here the information is both historical and partially pertinent. Some of the terminology seemed odd or outdated to me, but I am also an Ultimate guy and not a Guts, Freestyle or Disc Golf guy so they could be still used in those circles. There are pieces of information about teams, organizations or tournaments that are outdated, but overall the book is a great addition to any Disc-Sports collection and a fun way to sail through the past of disc sport development and competition.

Where to buy it? Well, it is out of print, so you’ll have to find it used on Abebooks or Amazon. I got my copy on Amazon, but Abebooks is a great website to find rare or out of print titles.

READERS ADVISORY: History of Frisbee.

This book focuses on the origins of the “Frisbee” disc and the evolution of disc sports till 1975, so to complement these topics I would suggest the Complete Book of Frisbee by Malafronte to continue to learn about the evolution of disc sports, Wham-O Super Book by Walsh that celebrates the history of Wham-O products (including the Frisbee) and Ultimate: the First Four Decades by Leonardo and Zagoria, which chronicles one of the fastest growing of disc sports.

Thank you for reading and as always, please, leave comments!