Best New Sport

Arena Ultimate

D.C. has a lot to make up for with the pastime gods, being the epicenter of adult kickball and all.

But the Washington Area Frisbee Club (WAFC) restored some luster to our recreational landscape by concocting an indoor version of ultimate frisbee (or, as purveyors prefer, plain-old “ultimate”). In February, WAFC’s winter league opened its first season indoors at the D.C. Armory. That’s a cavernous room, capacity 10,000, adjacent to RFK Stadium that’s best known for hosting circuses and inaugural balls.

“I’ve been trying to bring the game indoors to the Armory for 10 years,” says John Capozzi, a longtime activist on the city’s political and Frisbee scenes.

Capozzi’s knowledge of how the city works helped procure the big old building for WAFC, a 2,500-member club founded in 1977 that now ranks among the oldest and largest frisbee cliques in the country. The club worked out a deal to lease the building from the Washington Convention and Sports Authority, the agency that runs the Armory, for about $800 a night.

So on a typical Tuesday or Thursday evening this winter, WAFC members could show up at the Armory to throw discs over four hours in five-on-five games, played simultaneously on four makeshift ultimate fields spread across the venue’s massive wooden floor. (WAFC is not using the artificial turf field that the D.C. Armor, an indoor football squad, played on before folding after just one season.)

The Armory version of ultimate is not the same game as the one played on the Mall grass when the sun shines warmer.

“The indoor ultimate is nonstop,” says Bryan Steffen, WAFC’s president. “Outside, there’s a break when you score. Here, you score and turn around and go right back at it, so you substitute on the fly, and it’s done very quickly, like hockey shifts, just in and out with a tag of a hand. Since there aren’t the timeouts that we have [outdoors], that means you have to have a whole strategy on when to substitute. It’s a great game.”

The change of surface, from soft grass to hardwood, hasn’t changed the style of play too much. “If they think they can come up with a catch,” Capozzi says, “people are still going to dive for it.”

Steffen says that the response to the inaugural indoor season at the Armory has been overwhelmingly positive from his constituents. And although the rental fee and related costs make the game “a little pricey,” Steffen says that if the Convention and Sports Authority will have them, they’ll be back next year.

“It’s been great to have that building,” he says. “That gives a chance for everybody who wants to play to show up at one big place at the same time, get the game in and socialize together.”

“Socialize”? Uh oh. Is WAFC creeping in on adult kickball turf?

“I’d love to kill adult kickball,” Steffen says. “I’m really put off by that.”