When Joe Gara started playing ultimate Frisbee in high school, he had no inkling that the game would lead him on a mission of peace to the Middle East. This summer, as he has done the past two years, Gara spent his vacation voluteering with a camp for Ultimate Peace in Israel.
"Ultimate Peace builds bridges of friendship and understanding for young people from different social and cultural backgrounds," says Gara. "We focus on fun and education, not politics." The weeklong sports camp brings together youth and leaders from Arab and Jewish communities in the region.
Gara says that the game of ultimate (Frisbee was dropped from the name as it is a trademark) is the perfect vehicle for teaching collaboration and cooperation. "There are rules," he says, "But no referee." Players referee themselves, even at the world championship level, using a code of conduct called "the Spirit of the Game." Surprisingly, the system of self-refereeing works and the Ultimate Peace campers learn valuable lessons in collaboration and negotiation as they play together.
Ultimate is played with two teams of seven players. The aim is to score by getting the disc into an endzone, like football, but players must come to a stop to throw. If the disc falls to the ground or is intercepted, the other team takes possession.
Ultimate is a family sport in the Gara household. Joe's wife, Becca Tucker is a professional player. The two met one summer while playing Westchester Summer League at SUNY Purchase. "Becca was one of the captains," Gara says. After picking Joe for her team, she decided to trade him but wasn't able to. "She was stuck with me," Joe says, cheerfully.
Gara's dream is to work full time for Ultimate Peace and take his sport and its lessons in collaboration to other troubled areas in the world. "Just recently we heard from someone in Russia," he says. "He wanted to know when we were coming to his part of the world.
To learn more or make a donation, please visit Ultimate Peace.