Some of you may know that I am participating in a U.S. History teachers cohort program through the Minnesota Historical Society and as a part of the program each participant had to write a blog post relating to pop culture and education and I thought I would re-post what I submitted for that blog on my own personal one. Enjoy. Here is also a link to that blog.
Disc Golf & Reflection Questions-Does Society define pop culture or vice versa?
At what point does something move from the realm of folk culture to pop culture? As I have been teaching I have been slowly sharing my seemingly “nerdy” passion for the little known sport of disc golf. You may know it as “frisbee golf” or “frolf”. I fell in love with this sport as a young, carefree sophomore in high school and didn’t know that it would soon become an amazing pastime and somewhat of an “obsession” in my life according to my wife.
If you are curious about the brief history of the sport of disc golf you can follow this link. The basic idea of disc golf derives from its original counterpart golf. The idea is to get the disc in the basket in the least amount of throws as possible. Last week in the professional disc golf world there was a rather large tournament called the Memorial Championship that is played just outside the Scottsdale, AZ area and is considered the official start of the professional disc golf touring season. The Memorial Championship tournament this year was broadcast live on YouTube from a newly founded crew known as smashboxx.tv.
Well last week, just as all major league baseball teams were hosting their official full team workouts in their respective spring training camps, I took the opportunity to introduce organized disc golf to the students of my classroom. I began to explain to them the basic rules of the sport as well as the brief backgrounds of some of the players that were on the screen. ( I should also mention these conversations and viewings of the tournament took place in my classes after we had completed our work for the day).
I started the conversation based around the topic of what makes a sport or event or piece of music folk culture and what the basic definition pop culture includes. After my students, specifically my eighth grade and seniors, understood the definitions from Tim Delaney’s “Pop Culture: An Overview” we began to explore where on the pop/folk culture spectrum disc golf might fall.
I first began by asking students which sports they considered to be pop culture sports and I received the usual answers: baseball, basketball, football, golf, hockey, soccer, and tennis. Then I asked the question.. “well what makes them pop culture?” The responses included, “everyone plays those sports, they are always on television, or you can sign up to play on teams in your local area.” All good responses in my opinion but I wanted to dig a little deeper on this issue. “So I asked what does disc golf need to do to become one of those pop culture sports?” That got them brainstorming. I had them write down some ideas on sticky notes and post them on the whiteboard as they left for their next class. The feedback I got included, “Be on ESPN, have places to play disc golf everywhere, see it advertised in magazines or on commercials on t.v.”
So by this point you are probably thinking, this teacher has rambled on for almost four hundred and fifty words about the fact that he so desperately wishes for the sport that he has an obsession about to become part of pop culture. What does this post really have to do with American History and Pop Culture? I have been trying to kick around the last reflection question we were given for our cohort which states: Does society define pop culture or does pop culture define our society? As stated previously I have been playing disc golf for awhile (since around 2002) and have seen the sport of disc golf grow from something that people may have once heard of from a brothers’ cousins’ friend who played it in college to not having to explain myself when I talk about it. Now a days when I tell people I enjoy disc golf I don’t get the deer in a headlight look. People generally know what I am talking about. I don’t have to explain the fact that I go city parks and play on a course that was designed for discs to be thrown in them.
Disc golf has grown by leaps and bounds. There are as many as 3000 courses now in the ground all over the United States and many more throughout the world according to the Disc Golf Association's History of Disc Golf page. Every year it seems there are brand new disc golf manufacturers and apparel companies forming. When I first began to play there were two maybe three big disc golf companies. Innova, Discraft, and Millenium Discs. Today we have those three and then Prodigy, Dynamic Discs, Legacy Discs, Gateway Disc Golf Discs, Latitude 64, Lightning, MVP Disc, Westside Disc, Vibram and I am sure I have missed a handful of others. Those are just companies that make the discs. I won’t mention the countless of other companies that make apparel and gadgets to help improve your disc golf experience. Also you would be interested to know that disc golf made SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays last week. You can even play fantasy disc golf.
Back to the question now...in this instance I think the appropriate question is does society define disc golf as a pop culture sport?..No hands down. However, I may make a statement saying that disc golf is closer than you think to becoming a pop culture sport on the most basic level.
The emergence of social media has tremendously helped spread the good news of disc golf all over the globe. Many of the top disc golf athletes have embraced the fact that social media is going to be the avenue that will be used to propel disc golf out of the folk culture realm and into the pop culture circles. It is exciting to see and reflect on just how much the sport has grown since I started playing. I also like to reference the scene from Back to the Future where Marty McFly plays “Johnny B Goode” at his parents high school dance and at the end he says “I guess you guys aren’t ready for that yet...but your kids are going to love it.” I think disc golf is on that similar journey.
So again I brought the question of popular culture and society to my students and asked “what’s the answer?” They stated that it was almost so hard to define in the moment. If you were to have the advantage of going into the future and looking back at how things turned out then maybe a person can answer that specific question. I think that is almost the same answer I came up with as I was contemplating the question myself. It motivates me to try and find those little niche events in history when I am planning my lessons to mention to students to help enrich the lesson.
If you are wondering how that tournament ended up use this link to watch the final round...or skip to 3:29:00 to watch how the last hole plays out. It’s pretty amazing.
You can also read more disc golf related blog posts on a blog that myself and a friend have been writing on since 2006 or so. Again it’s pretty nerdy and in depth about the issues related to our lack of athletic ability in trying to master the game of disc golf.
"Disc Golf History - DGA | Disc Golf Association." DGA Disc Golf Association Disc Golf History Comments. Web. 01 Mar. 2015.
"Pop Culture: An Overview." Pop Culture: An Overview. Web. 23 Feb. 2015.