For years, the game was mostly played in backyards around the city.
But now, it's a sport, known as KanJam, and is played at tailgates and parties all over the country. It's also a company, based in Buffalo, where the KanJam world championships also take place.
KanJam matches are simple (read CanJam rules here): players toss a Frisbee or disc at a knee-high can 50 feet away. At either end stands a teammate who tries to deflect the disc into the can. Two teams take turns, playing to 21 points. The scoring system is: teams get one point for a “dinger” - hitting the side of the can—two points for a direct hit of the can, three points for a “dunk” – getting the disk into the top of the can—and an instant win if the disc goes through the small opening in the front of the can.
For player Jack Whalon, teamwork is the key: “Sometimes he might throw a rocket, and I just have to touch it. Other times I just, why not slam it in? It’s called KanJam, not can touch."
Whalon and hundreds of other players square off at the 23rd annual KanJam world championships. The championships see a lot of homemade uniforms and a lot of creative team names, like Dorkus Malorkus, and Spider Pigs (both Simpsons references). The players referee their own games, but there are referees present, to sort out any conflicts. The games are competitive, and referee Scott Silverman says he’s seen fights break out: "we keep the peace."
Glen Colton won the first world championship in the early nineties and has his name forever etched on the coveted Hammer Trophy. Colton says the game has come a long way, it used to be just two garbage cans, and now “there’s about ten times as many teams competing…today we have over 128 teams, it's just a sea of players.” Colton’s new partner is his 12-year-old son, Adam, and they have been practicing for months.
KanJam co-inventor Paul Swisher is a teacher, and in the last decade, he convinced his school to allow the game in gym class. KanJam meets curriculum standards, because it requires hand-eye coordination, teamwork, and math skills to keep score.
More than 2,500 school in the United States offer KanJam. Swisher says he's "currently reaping the benefits of royalties from game sales.” The KanJam company sold more than 100,000 kits last year. Part of the appeal of KanJam, Swisher says, is that because the game doesn't require a lot of physical activity, anyone can play it—including his father, who's in his 90s, and whose assisted living facility just had a KanJam tournament (he won the gold.)
Swisher no longer works for with company that makes KanJam, but he runs various tournaments—including the World Championship. Organizers say they believe KanJam will one day be an Olympic sport, but whether or not that happens, the KanJam company has pledged to keep manufacturing of KanJam sets in Buffalo, where the company got its start.