Ultimate Frisbee was relatively new to college campuses when David Nelson ’80 saw a sign for tryouts in fall 1978.
About 200 people showed up, he remembers. And because he had played for Bucknell before transferring to Binghamton, he had an edge. “There were a couple of guys who had no idea what they were doing but wanted to start a team. I told them I could help, and they said, ‘Great. You can run the team.’”
More than 30 years later, the Whippets have become Big Bear Ultimate. Beer is no longer served at games. But Ultimate continues to be a co-ed club sport for players of all (or even no) abilities.
Nelson says the Whippets had a core of 25 students who played every afternoon near the library. “It was really a fun group,” he says. And separating the committed from the casual players was easy.
“You had to show up for practice at least three times a week to qualify to travel to a tournament,” Nelson says. And you had to help out with Special Olympics. On Saturday mornings.
“We went up to Broome Developmental Center to teach the clients how to throw a Frisbee,” he says, to help them compete in events that measured distance and accuracy. Sometimes the clients came to campus to cheer on the Whippets.
Nelson, a.k.a. “Captain Nice,” graduated with a degree in biology and became a financial advisor. “Transferring to Binghamton was one of the best things I ever did,” he says.
His love of sports (“Frisbee for life!”) has been constant.
“About 10 years ago I was no longer spending so much of my time coaching soccer, basketball and baseball for kids, so I called up the Special Olympics on Long Island and now have been coaching basketball for 10 years,” Nelson says.
“It’s a blast and I love it,” he says. “On a lousy day, when the market’s down, as long as I’m going with the Special Olympics, it’s a positive day.”
Two years ago, Nelson funded the construction costs of opening a second branch of HopeFitness, a gym for physically and developmentally disabled people in Suffolk County.
Nelson continues to follow college rankings for Ultimate. He’s in touch with former teammates Grant Schneider ’81 and Edward Kaminski ’82. And yes, he still throws a Frisbee.
“I still play with my son and his friends,” he says. “They think I’m the old gray-haired guy, but I play better than they do. I can’t run as fast as them, but accuracy is what matters.”