The Coca-Cola International Frisbee Tournament (IFT)

The Healy family event was soon dubbed the International Frisbee Tournament (perhaps borrowing the original Dartmouth name) and grew in size and stature. Located in the Eagle Harbor ball yard, the IFT became famous for good-natured fun and public relations genius.

World leaders were invited to attend, as was the Chinese ping-pong team and others, all from the pen of the mysterious Harvey J. Kukuk, director of the International Frisbee Association, which also sent newsletters to Frisbee flingers around the world.

Wham-O Company, which produced the Frisbee disc, was so impressed with the IFT that they became a sponsor and created the Professional Model Frisbee disc exclusively for the tournament. In fact, Wham-O had intended to discontinue making the Frisbee, but the publicity surrounding the IFT was too great.

That newsworthiness soon included the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Time magazine, and metropolitan papers and media outlets in Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, and elsewhere.

The IFT was quickly outgrowing Eagle Harbor and traveled to other Upper Peninsula locations with more space: Calumet, Atlantic Mine, Marquette, Lake Linden, Hancock, and Chassell have all hosted the tournament between 1970 and today.

The number of five-man (and five-woman) teams continued to grow in the 1970s and early 1980s. A high of 65 men’s and 12 women’s teams was accomplished around this time. Prize money, too began to part of the IFT, with heavy sponsorship from Stroh’s Brewing Company in Detroit, then Miller Brewing of Milwaukee.

The increased intensity of playing for as much as $3,000 first prizes and huge crowds (as many as 8,000 attending over two days) began to take a toll. Arguing among teams became rampant and attendance soon flagged. Fewer younger players were picking up the sport, and by the mid-1990s only four three-man teams would constitute the IFT. Fans were few, too.

A Reunion IFT was organized by the late Dave Bradshaw, who played for the Highland Avenue Aces of Chicago in the 1970s, in 2004. Nine five-man teams returned, including young players, many sons of former players. This and the 50th IFT in 2007 spurred interest among many more young players, and a rebirth was on.

Tournaments were resurrected around the Midwest and in New Mexico, and today the IFT routinely attracts sixteen of the best teams in the world, including teams and players from Japan and China. A major youth movement has begun.