World Champion Erwin Velasquez performing freestyle at the NASM Frisbee Festival, 1983. Accession 11-009, Smithsonian Institution Archives. Image no. 83-13347-25A.

You Spin Me Round - Frisbee Festivals on the Mall

Starting in 1977, the National Air and Space Museum, with assistance from the International Frisbee Association, Wham-O Manufacturing Company, volunteer instructors from several states, and the Washington Area Frisbee Club, held their first Frisbee Festival on the National Mall.

These days you'll sometimes find kids tossing around a frisbee on the National Mall or you'll see the lunchtime Ultimate Frisbee players engaged in friendly competitions. In the late 1970s until the early 1980s, over Labor Day weekend, this play happened at a much larger scale when the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) welcomed frisbee champions, frisbee fans, frisbee catching dogs, and the curious public to its Frisbee Festival.

NASM first held it's Frisbee Festival,the brainchild of Bill Good in NASM's Art Department, on September 4, 1977. NASM Director, Michael Collins liked the idea and planning began in the spring of 1977. Sponsored by NASM, with assistance from the International Frisbee Association, Wham-O Manufacturing Company, volunteer instructors from several states, and the Washington Area Frisbee Club, the Festival consisted of demonstrations by world class frisbee disc champions and disc catching dogs, as well as workshops.

The first meeting to plan the festival was held in April 1977. Good enlisted the help of two fellow Frisbee enthusiasts from NASM, planetarium officer Jerry Barbely and public affairs officer Lynne Murphy. Also included in the planning was Larry Schindel, an ultimate Frisbee player from Maplewood, New Jersey who had recently moved to the area and was beginning to form the Washington Area Frisbee Club. The Festival was originally conceived to include competitions, workshops, and exhibitions, but was pared down to include just exhibitions and workshops as a result of the increased logistical complexities having competitions would entail. The decision was to make the event about having fun and for the purpose of public enlightenment and participation. The Festival was billed as the world's best attended, non-competitive disc festival, and the 1980 Festival attracted more than 10,000 people.

Special thanks to photographer, Nathan Benn, for permission to use his images of the 1977 NASM Frisbee Festival. And on a personal note, the Smithsonian staff t-shirts are spectacular! 

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