From The Blog

The Power of a Frisbee

Posted on July 3rd, 2015


By Ben Wong, Communications Coordinator


Camp days go by with remarkable consistency. There is art created, hills walked, and laughter heard every 24 hours. Not a day goes by without prayer, pool, or programming, and each has its own value.

This is my 8th summer at Camp Newman, and there’s one example of camp consistency that really stands out to me. Perhaps it says more about myself than it does about camp, but I consider this to be a crucial part of the entire camp experience.

I don’t remember a day passing by at Newman without seeing a Frisbee in the air. Not once. Every day, at the upper field, the lower field, in front of the Beit Am in the woodchips, morning, midday, or dusk, somebody’s tossing.

Frisbee is a part of camp that’s not very explicit, yet huge. I’d compare it to eating It’s-It’s on Saturday or knowing the claps and table slaps in the Birkat Hamazon. It’s not a universal element of Jewish summer camp, but if it disappeared, everyone here would notice.

You won’t find “tossing the disc” in our motto, and somehow it didn’t quite make it into our CARE philosophy (CAREFrisbee?), but it’s the CIT vs. Staff ultimate Frisbee game that leads us into Shabbat, the holiest part of our week.

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A Frisbee means smiles at URJ Camp Newman

When I arrived at camp as a 10 year old in 2005, I had no idea how to throw a Frisbee. That was the least of my worries. I had never been away from home for any lengthy period of time, and I was very antsy about how much “Jewish stuff” I was going to have to do. At that point in my young life, Judaism was mainly represented by Sunday school, something I disliked because it resulted in me watching less football. I have a vivid memory of my mom, a Camp Swig alumna, guaranteeing that I would like camp. I was not convinced.

Everything about camp was new, and by extension, intimidating. I remember getting off the bus and not going through the CIT tunnel because I thought I needed to go get my luggage myself. I didn’t know the before-meal prayer or the after-meal prayer, and this table pounding during prayer thing pretty much blew my mind.

“They’re allowed to do that? Everyone does that? Look at the counselors, even they’re doing that!”

After much repetition and slowly easing into this wondrous society known as Camp Newman, the oddities became normalcies that would be a part of my life for the next decade.

That did not happen overnight. I would go to the wrong locations, mess up the words to various prayers, get tie-dye all over my upper body, talk at “no-talking” times and sometimes sit at shirah like a tree stump among all the boisterous chaos.

My every mistake, complaint, and discomfort was met with warmth and reassurance. Camp’s culture of positivity began to wear on my shell of discomfort, and I pressured myself less and less about getting things wrong.

That culture manifests itself in many ways, but for me it shone through in Frisbee. Throwing a Frisbee is a very awkward action. Nobody gets it right on his or her first try, and it doesn’t really mimic any other action. Additionally, people here make it look so easy and that only adds to the frustration of not being able to do it correctly.

To learn to throw a Frisbee with skill, you have to fail. A lot. And the field is a crowded place, so often you’ll toss the disc into other people’s game of catch, the gaga pit, a group making friendship bracelets on the side, etc.

Camp is a place where that’s okay. Where as long as you’re polite, somebody will give you back the disc and encourage you to try it again. Especially when it comes to the disc, an unsuccessful effort is met with understanding and a return.

Unless you hit someone in the face.

Eventually, with help from this positive environment, you learn. By the time campers are teens, they run their own games, know the different styles of throws, and the terminology of ultimate Frisbee. At a certain point, you’re no longer on the outside looking in.

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Daniel Kipnes, who now plays for UC Santa Cruz, catching a touchdown at Camp Newman

For some, the camp Frisbee journey extends beyond our gates. There are currently multiple Camp Newman connections playing college ultimate, including:

  • UC Davis: Sam Asin, Kevin Klein
  • University of California, Santa Cruz: Daniel Kipnes, Lior Givol, Ari Goldstein
  • Arizona State University: Aaron Flegenheimer
  • UCLA: Alex Julian
  • Brandeis University: Emma Silver
  • Chico State: Brandon Eiges
  • Northeastern: Dan Hennagin

Asin’s Frisbee journey began, as it does for many, at 4088 Porter Creek Road.

“I learned how to throw a Frisbee at camp, and I also learned how much fun it can be to play a sport that literally involves a child’s toy,” says Sam Asin. “At camp, I found a passion that will stay with me in college and beyond.”

For Eiges, one of the best parts of the Newman-ultimate connection is seeing the attendance when college teams from all over the country meet up.

“It’s cool to see the connection at tournaments,” Eiges says. “I’ll be doing my warm-up lap and see lots of faces from camp that are playing in the same event. “

Newman’s Frisbee influence doesn’t stop at the college ranks.

The recently established American Ultimate Disc League, the first and largest professional ultimate league in the world, has a Newman representative.

Greg Cohen, a graduate of UCSC and an advisor for CIT 2012, plays for the San Jose Spiders. Last year, Cohen and his teammates took home the inaugural AUDL championship.

On July 19th, Greg will be leading a Frisbee clinic here at Newman.

Campers of all ages will be able to learn the game from a professional, and somebody who has influenced the Frisbee ability of several staff members.

At some camps, they pass the torch down from old to new.

At Newman, we pass the disc.