Alan Jolley’s Ultimate Adventure

In his 49 years as a Staples math teacher, Alan Jolley has earned tremendous respect and admiration. Future engineers and mathphobes alike look forward to his “Jolley calls” — phone messages to parents saying their kids have done well.

At last, he’s been inducted into a Hall of Fame.

For Frisbee.

Ultimate Frisbee is Jolley’s 2nd love. He founded Staples’ team — the 2nd in the nation — and coached it to national renown. Now he, and 1974 graduates Ed Davis, Ron Kaufman and Dan Buckley, have been recognized for their contributions, as members of the Ultimate Frisbee Hall of Fame. They’re honored as “Johnny Appleseeds,” for helping grow the sport following its founding at Columbia High School in Maplewood, New Jersey.

Dan Buckley, Alan Jolley and Ed Davis, at a Staples Ultimate Frisbee reunion several years ago.

Dan Buckley, Alan Jolley and Ed Davis, at a Staples Ultimate Frisbee reunion in 2009.

Columbia High was Jolley’s alma mater, in 1960. Six years later, he arrived at Staples. In 1970 his sister sent him rules for a new sport being played at Columbia.

Some of Jolley’s students — and other teenagers he knew from his work with Boy Scouts and a church youth group — loved tossing Frisbees. He told them about this new “Ultimate Frisbee.”

The group played on an unkempt field behind the old 9 Building, at the east end of Staples. (Field hockey players chased them away, with sticks.) With no other teams in the area, they scrimmaged themselves.

Back then, he was Jon Steinberg. Today this same guy is State Representative Jonathan Steinberg.

Back then, he was Jon Steinberg. Today this same guy is State Representative Jonathan Steinberg.

They created a “uniform” of blue jeans and a light blue turtleneck, with a Staples monogram on the front and “FriSbee” on the back (get it?). Many guys — and girls — wore red bandannas.

They encouraged Weston High to form a team, and played them on April 5, 1973. Staples won 24-9, in the 1st interscholastic Frisbee game in Connecticut. It was also the 1st known coed interscholastic sports event.

On April 14, Staples hosted Columbia High, in the 1st known interstate coed match. Staples beat the sport’s inventors, 18-8. (To be fair, the guests were missing several players.)

But Staples — in fun — declared themselves “National Champions.” The National Observer sent a reporter from Washington to write about the team. His article appeared on May 12, 1973.

Ron Kaufman today.

Ron Kaufman today.

After graduation, the 3 players inducted recently with Jolley continued to evangelize for the sport.

Kaufman has been particularly active. He founded the Ultimate team at Brown University, then sold “flying disc” equipment by mail, through a California store and online.

Kaufman organized a national series of Frisbee festivals (with Wham-O sponsorship), and created World Peace Tours to China and the Soviet Union featuring Frisbee demonstrations, festivals and tournaments.

He asked, “How can you drop a bomb on somebody you’ve played Frisbee with in Red Square?”

By that time, though, Staples’ Ultimate Frisbee team was just a memory. Jolley disbanded it in the late 1970s, after issues with school administrators over issues like insurance.

What a buzzkill.

1973 frisbee team

Staples’ 1973 Ultimate Frisbee team. Alan Jolley is at far left.


10 responses to “Alan Jolley’s Ultimate Adventure

  1. Thank goodness for the goodness of Al Jolley. His passion for fair play and “the spirit of the game” gave all of us a chance to play, to contribute, to try and fail, try again and succeed. Thank you, Mr. Jolley, for life skills taught by your own example and by your encouragement of the best in all of us.

  2. I’ve heard legends about this team (mostly from Jon Steinberg). Great story, Dan!

  3. Never knew the entire story before about the founding and history of the Staples team. And it’s very cool that Mr. Jolley and the Staples grads received this honor. Thanks for posting.

  4. Dan, thanks for your post on Al Jolley here. Ultimate, and his Staples Ultimate team, have Al to thank for it’s success. A number of us went on to start college teams (Ron Kaufman at Brown, Bob Lacey at Wesleyan, Dan Buckley and myself at UConn, among others) during the infancy of Ultimate. Many more went on to play for or start other college and club teams, and later on, to coach. Some of Ron’s many contributions to Ultimate are mentioned above. One person, in fact, Duncan Heath, now officiates Professional Ultimate out here in California. Jon Steinberg organized the Staples Ultimate reunion a few years back. Some of the kids of Al’s original team members are now playing Ultimate, as the second and third generation of players are now active in the sport. In fact, an estimated 5.2 million people play Ultimate around the world – when Al started the Staples team, there were probably around 100 or so.

    It was an honor to be included in this group for the Ultimate Hall of Fame, and we (and the sport) have Al to thank for it’s growth and popularity.

    Oh, and we graduated Staples in 1974, not 1973 – let’s not age ourselves more than we have to!

    Thanks again, Dan!

  5. So nice to see all these names and faces. My daughters are both playing club ultimate at their colleges. Weakly ‘hesive forever!

  6. Thanks for this post Dan. I had no idea Mr.Jolley and Staples itself had such a connection to Ultimate. I found Ultimate after graduating from Staples and played throughout the 80’s and 90’s. I love the sport and am glad that my hometown played a part in its development. Connecticut and Fribie have long been connected. My father (who taught at Staples in the early 60s)remembers playing toss with pie pans from Mrs. Frisbie’s pies when he was at Wesleyan in Middletown. He always threw in the old fashioned underhand style that older Ultimate players will remember well.

  7. aryeh Friedman

    One of my favorite 06880 posts although it’s a bit selfish of me. I played for a State Championship Ultimate team while at Columbia HS which, I dare say, has something on Staples’ frisbee history. Also, there are few things I enjoyed more than getting one of those famous Jolley calls about my daughter. Last, but likely least, I count Jonathan as a friend.

  8. Catherine Burnett

    Ultimate is alive and well every Sunday am on the fields off Cross Hwy. A personal note to share, after playing for Westport and early years of the Staples Girls Soccer teams ( 2nd, 3rd and 4th years), I went on to play Ultimate in NYC 1992-2008 and even served as the Commisioner of NYCPUL Summer League for 3 years. Much thanks always to Mr Jolley and his buddies in Maplewood NJ and the Staples’ squad. Fun article, Dan!

    Catherine Burnett, Staples ’84

  9. Catherine Burnett

    And special thanks to these guys for having no offsides rule!!