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That time a disc was thrown across the country

In the early-to-mid-seventies, two young men hitchhiked across Canada and through the Sault with a novel way of earning their travel funds
Splits-over-the-shoulder Frisbee throw is demonstrated in 1976.

From the archives of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library:

In the glare of the summer sun, an apparition appears across the horizon.

A fellow beach-goer seems to be in hot pursuit of the mysterious object as it coasts over the refreshing waters. As sand flies from between the pursuer’s toes, they dive and make a SPLASH, providing some reprieve from the hot summer’s day.

Breaching the surface of the water, the beach-goer holds the mysterious object above their head in victory. The object held to the sky, is, of course, the Frisbee.

The humble Frisbee is a favourite pastime for many when trying to beat the summer heat or for those who want to stay fit in an enjoyable way.

In 1972, two gentlemen from Toronto who were hitchhiking across Canada were inspired to make something of the activity they used to break up the monotony between destinations and have a little fun along the way. As it turns out, as reported in the Sault Star on April 24, 1976, “while in Vancouver, they started doing tricks and people threw money into a hat beside them,” their source of entertainment provided the opportunity “to earn their living throwing Frisbees”.

The two gentlemen, Jim Kenner and Ken Westerfield saw an opportunity to utilize the skills they developed flinging a Frisbee into a means to earn a living.

As stated in the August 17, 1976, Sault Star article, “Kenner and Westerfield perform at exhibitions, sports events, carnivals and television programs. [In addition to] promotional work for breweries and Frisbee companies.”

To earn these opportunities, the pair put in the time to train and perfect their craft.

For performances and exhibitions, those who took to the hobby of Frisbee flinging developed a plethora of tricks, including the “splits-over-the-shoulder backhand return,” as witnessed in the accompanying photo. 

Kenner and Westerfield similarly worked and developed tricks into their repertoire, including “the cross-body throw, the corkscrew, sidearm twist, airbrushing, and the nail delay” (Sault Star, 08/17/1978). In addition to these moves, Westerfield mastered his trademark move, the Canadian mind blower, which “involves spinning the Frisbee from the tip of one hand across the chest and to the tip of the other hand” (Sault Star, 08/17/1976).

The trick developed and mastered by the Torontonian was impressive to see and must have been a difficult one to master, as he mentioned that he was the only athlete to implement it into their repertoire.

The sport of Frisbee developed both in the ways in which it can be played, but also in popularity. It can be played for recreation or competitions, which Kenner described as “freestyle pair tournaments where judges award points on the basis of skill and finesse” (Sault Star, 08/17/1976). Furthermore, the sport evolved into a team sport called Ultimate Frisbee, which is similar to football.

In the late 1970s, the popularity of Ultimate Frisbee took off and was “adopted into the intramural sports program” locally, and “held more interest than any other intramural sport” (Sault Star, 09/21/1977).

Similar to Kenner and Westerfield, the students of St. Mary’s College that participated in the sport, developed their skills to be able to utilize tricks to compete in the intramural activity. However, Steve Fronzi stated that “the game is played solely in the interest of fun” (Sault Star, 09/21/1977) when he described the success of the program.

The humble Frisbee has proven its versatility as it has evolved through the years, including a variation of golf that involve discs, fields and targets that catch a successful shot.

If you wanted to try Frisbee golf, visit your Sault Ste. Marie Public Library to borrow a set of discs and play a round at one of the local courses.

Round of Frisbee golf anyone?

Each week, the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and its Archives provides SooToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past.

Find out more of what the Public Library has to offer at and look for more Remember This? columns here

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