Barb Thorton

On a steamy night in late June, inside Michigan Technological University’s Wadsworth Hall, a banquet is underway. White tablecloths cover tables. Bright orange napkins, folded to resemble flowers, perch beside plates. Platters of cheese, crudités and various speckled dips sweat atop trays packed with ice. Banquet guests–attended to by waiters in starched white shirts–sip wine and beer, clink glasses, mingle.

A few women wear dresses; some men, sport coats. Others wear T-shirts–many stained with grass, dirt or rusty splatters of blood. A man near the crackers lifts his shirt to reveal a raspberry-colored scrape on his belly. The guy next to him has a fat, bloodied lip. A third man limps up. The trio laughs, shakes hands, pats shoulders. Most of their fingertips and knuckles hide under thick white bandages.

The occasion? The 50th annual Guts International Frisbee Tournament (IFT). The players here tonight have survived day one of the competition. Guts, a kind of hybrid between red rover and murder ball, is played like this: two five-man teams line up, facing each other about 15 yards apart. A member of one team whips a Frisbee, at speeds averaging between 50 and 75 miles per hour, at the opposing team members, who must catch it–using only one hand–before it touches the ground. If they fail, the throwing team gets a point. If they succeed, they get to throw. Whichever team scores 21 points first, wins.

At tonight’s banquet, decades of players from around the United States, Canada and Japan will honor and induct into the Guts Hall of Fame some of the game’s most storied competitors. Tomorrow, the teams will resume the weekend’s objective: to win, and in so doing, to fight to the death. Or, judging from the walking wounded hobbling around the banquet hall tonight, something darn close to it.

Photo(s) by Barb Thorton