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In the social hierarchy of sports, ultimate frisbee fans fall somewhere between hacky sack players and their cousins, the frisbee golfers. But when Washington’s ultimate frisbee players started being pushed out of fields around the Ellipse, they called in someone much more prestigious: first lady Michelle Obama.

The trouble started last year when the National Park Service started planting more trees around the Ellipse, according to ultimate frisbee player Armand Lione. With fewer fields to play on, competition for the remaining space became fierce, and the ultimate frisbee players couldn’t stand up to the softball leagues.

Lione thinks that the tree-planting is a scheme to make it harder to play sports on the Ellipse, which neighbors the White House. “I suspect that their intention was to get these fields not be played on,” he says of the National Park Service.

Still, Lione hopes that Obama can help the ultimate frisbee players. In a letter to her, Lione and other players ask the first lady to have the trees moved off the Ellipse. The first lady was a natural pick for their concerns, according to Lione, because of her work promoting fitness. “Ironically, her backyard is no longer a place where we can get exercise,” he says.

The ultimate frisbee players’  letter to Michelle Obama:

Michelle Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mrs. Obama,

In recent months, most of the open fields around the Ellipse, The President’s Park, have been planted with trees. These trees will stop hundreds of people from playing sports on those fields.  We are writing to ask your help in regaining access to these playing fields and the exercise space they provide.

There is a long history of sports being played on the Ellipse. In the 1951 movie, “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” the alien spacecraft lands on the Ellipse and interrupts a baseball game. For more than 10 years, when the weather was good, our one group (of ultimate frisbee players) has used the Ellipse fields every Wednesday night.

On a typical midsummer Wednesday night, when we play pickup Ultimate Frisbee, there may be 25 of us waiting to play on one small field.  We are not alone. There are other Ultimate groups, Soccer, Touch-Football and Kickball groups that all vie for space to play. The growth of softball and kickball leagues over the last several years has made field space harder and harder to find. Once the summer season starts, league softball games fill the central Ellipse field, leaving only the outer ring of green space for groups like us.

Starting about a year ago, trees were planted on the west edge of the fields outside the central area (see illustration, T1-T4). In the Fall, more trees were planted on the east and the southeast spaces, along Constitution Ave (T5-T13). Over the winter a tree was planted on the last field we had available, which runs in front of the Flaming Sword Memorial on the Southwest edge of the Ellipse (T-14).

We are grateful to have a person of your stature championing the importance of exercise and sport in programs like Let’s Move! Our players range in age from their 20s to their 60s (see photos)*. Taking away this opportunity for a mid-week game will probably cut back their chance to play and exercise by half.  We will be grateful if you could dissuade the Park Service from depriving hundreds of citizens from accessing these ‘ad hoc’ spaces for recreation in The President’s Park. The new young trees should be relocated.

Photo by Flickr user tinatinatinatinatina used under a Creative Commons license