FLYING FREESTYLE: Vassar's Little-known Frisbee Star
In the late ’70s, Frisbees were just finding their way onto college campuses. The popularity of the Wham-O trademarked flying discs may have been due to the fact that they were inexpensive to buy and the game easy to learn. While most people were content to toss their Frisbees back and forth (occasionally slipping in a little under-the-leg action), three Vassar students took the game to new heights, performing in front of thousands—and one earned world championships.
It all started the first week of school in front of Noyes Circle in 1978, when Judy Horowitz Simon ’82, pictured above, saw Billy Bloom ’80 playing Frisbee with another freshman girl. Sure, she had a bit of a crush on Bloom, she admits. She joined in.
“I came to Vassar thinking I was going to be on the tennis team,” Simon says, but it wasn’t long before Frisbee—which she’d never played before—became a new passion.
That school year, Simon, Bloom, and Tom Krajna ’80 formed a group called the Disc-Hoverers (later it was renamed Frisbee Magic), practicing for hours each day, indoors and out. They sent promotional packages to agents and venues such as camps and county fairs in the hopes they would be paid to play.
“We decided that the way we would be able to afford spending our summers competing and going to tournaments all over the country was by doing Frisbee shows,” Simon says.
The trio’s crowning achievement was its 1979 performance during a halftime show at Madison Square Garden in New York City, an event that was noted in the January 5, 1980, edition of the Miscellany News. A second performance at the Garden also took place in 1980.
The Misc reported that the following year, each member of Frisbee Magic qualified for the World Championships held at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, on September 11, 1981. Krajna placed 6th and Bloom 43rd in the men’s competition. Simon, however, won the women’s championship, participating in several events and accumulating a score high enough to beat out her female competitors.
She earned $1,200 in prize money and $6,000 in endorsements—from Nike, Nautilus, and others—but Simon says the most exciting aspect of winning was having her name engraved on all Wham-O Frisbees made that year. The win also made her the first world-champion athlete from Vassar, the Misc wrote.
“I used to practice as much as five hours a day in preparation for the competition over the summer. My goal was to become the best that I could,” Simon told the student newspaper.
She repeated her world-championship win the following year, 1982, and when the Wham-O competition was renamed the U.S. Open Championships in 1983, Simon dominated, winning first place each year through 1985. The prize money and other endorsements she earned kept her afloat through her first two years of law school. She also became an author when she and Bloom wrote the book Frisbee: More Than a Game of Catch together in 1984.
Simon attributes her prowess to the fact that she regularly played against men. “It was mostly a male-dominated sport, so when I came out, throwing with guys all the time, it just changed the level,” she explains.
“I sort of took off,” Simon says. “It’s bizarre when I think about it now. It certainly defined me for six or seven years of my life.”