The Ultimate Collection at Swem Library

Posted on November 5, 2019

Tracy Melton, member of the William & Mary Libraries Board of Directors, shares his enthusiasm for a new collection he's helping to create. Read on to learn more about the colorful and collaborative history of Ultimate Frisbee at William & Mary and how you can help build a lasting home for this sport in the university archive.

Photograph from the 1980s featuring two Ultimate Frisbee players reaching for a flying disc on the Sunken Garden. Another two players stand with their backs to the camera, watching the contest take place.
Dave Finnegan '84 skies for a disc on the Sunken Garden (gift of David Finnegan)

A conversation with my daughter, a current William & Mary student, jelled some stories into an idea. President Katherine Rowe has a decades-long, life-shaping connection with Ultimate Frisbee. This connection began at Carleton College in the early 1980s. In precisely the same years she was a Carleton undergraduate, I was at W&M, and my college friend and junior-year roommate Michael P. Branch ’85 was deeply involved in Ultimate, as were several other friends.

My daughter mentioned that a W&M friend played Ultimate, and I told her what I knew about the sport’s early days at the school. She mentioned it to the friend, who said that was cool. Yes! It is a cool story, and an important one.

I’m on the W&M Libraries Board and have worked with the Special Collections Research Center at Swem Library. What if we created a Frisbee/Ultimate Collection in Swem Special Collections?

Yellow frisbee with blue text and a blue line illustration of a "hippie" caricature. The disc reads, "Colonial / Fest - 1979 / Spring Fever."
"Ernie" Disc from the 1979 W&M Colonial Frisbee Fest (gift of Bill and Linda Thornton)

I’ve been working on the project for several months, in collaboration with Mike Branch, Jay Gaidmore (Marian and Alan McLeod Director of Special Collections), and many others. The project has been met with great enthusiasm and generosity and support from many in the W&M Ultimate community, and beyond.

In September, I spent a grand evening with the Mary Washington College (MWC) Mothers. Organized Frisbee at W&M had its roots, through transfer student Tom O’Hara, in Frisbee tossing and Frisbee golf on Ball Circle at MWC (now the University of Mary Washington) in the mid-1970s. I heard epic stories that go straight back to Ultimate’s origins. Two Mothers—Bill and Linda (Reynolds) Thornton—donated a 1979 W&M Colonial Frisbee Fest disc.

Gary Domaleski, founder and captain of the first Ultimate team—the Ultimate Wizards—donated his team jersey and a later team disc. Mike Branch donated two Ultimate Wizards discs, and Brad Lawler ‘83 contributed the early 1980s team disc designed by his sister Kelly Lawler Cleary ’85 based on the Grateful Dead’s Blues for Allah album cover. David Finnegan, Penelope Buell Pierce, John J. Sakon, and Daniel Speer have donated team photos.

White frisbee with a purple graphic reminiscent of the album cover of the Grateful Dead's album "Blues for Allah." Dancing bears, mushrooms, and stars line the perimeter of the disc's design.
W&M Grateful Dead Blues for Allah Disc, circa 1983-1984, designed by Kelly Lawler Cleary '85 and sold by W&M students at Grateful Dead shows (gift of Brad Lawler '83)

In October, I had an incredibly helpful meeting with David Hill, Aaron Groves, and Ryan Cooper from the current W&M Men’s Ultimate Team, just rechristened the Merry Men. They are helping with outreach and donated the team’s paper archives, which have been passed down for years in a brilliant, old-school briefcase. Among the many important items was the original application for the William & Mary Ultimate Frisbee Alliance (UFA), with Domaleski as captain, submitted to the Student Activities Council (SAC) in November 1980 and approved January 27, 1981. (Yes, Special Collections is archiving the briefcase, too!)

All members of the W&M Ultimate community are invited to contribute to the collection. Discs, jerseys, tournament programs, rosters, photos, and all other related material are welcome. Also your stories! What was your connection to W&M Ultimate? What are your memories? They are the story of Ultimate, and the story of W&M.

Please contact me at tracmelton1854@gmail.com or Swem Special Collections at spcoll@wm.edu for further information.

Article (page 6) from the November 14, 1978 copy of the William & Mary News. Title of article reads, "Frisbee Throwing Can be Addicting." Article features a photo of Senior Tom O'Hara III throwing a frisbee underneath his raised leg.
Article on Tom O'Hara, William & Mary News, November 14, 1978, p. 6
White Ultimate Frisbee jersey shirt with light green sleeves. In the center of the shirt is a black-and-white graphic of a wizard holding a wand in one hand and a frisbee in another. The shirt reads, "W&M / Ultimate / Wizards."
Team jersey of Gary Domaleski, W&M Ultimate founder and first team captain (gift of Gary E. Domaleski)

Please note that the materials referenced here are unprocessed and not yet readily available to researchers. If you are interested in viewing these materials, please contact the Special Collections Research Center at spcoll@wm.edu.


More to Explore:

Check out the current W&M Men's Ultimate Frisbee and Women's Ultimate Frisbee teams on TribeLink.

Read the entire November 14, 1978 copy of William & Mary News, which includes a feature article on Ultimate Frisbee player Tom O'Hara, on the William & Mary Digital Archive.

Learn more about President Rowe's connection to Ultimate Frisbee from a 2017 interview with Awesome Sports Project, an online journal committed to inspiring women’s voices in sports.