Buffalo Innovation: Dingers, Deuces and Buckets

Who would have guessed that a game first played with garbage cans and a Frisbee in Buffalo, N.Y. would grow to become one of the most popular lawn games in the United States? Probably not very many people. But the game’s founders were confident in their idea and knew it would be a hit.

In the early 1990’s in a suburb of Buffalo called North Tonawanda, two local college students, Charles Sciandra and Paul Swisher, created what was originally called “Trash Can Frisbee.” The idea was simple. A player would throw a Frisbee to his teammate, who would then try to deflect it into a garbage can. Sciandra and Swisher knew they were onto something but encountered a few design and distribution challenges when applying for a patent so they set about to work through those challenges.

It took a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck to patent KanJam and start selling it. Sciandra, in a stroke of luck, literally stumbled across the idea for new goals when he tripped over a piece of linoleum in his basement. These linoleum goals, instead of garbage cans, featured an ‘Instant Win’ slot, which allows for an opponent to win the game at any point in time. The scoring format changed as well. If the deflector (see picture to right) redirects the Frisbee into the can (bucket), a “slam dunk” of sorts, it’s worth three points; a direct hit of the can (deuce), two points; and a redirected hit (dinger), one point. Two teams of two play and the first team to 21 points wins.

With a product in hand, the duo set out to begin selling. They started by going through local retailers and selling out of their house, but soon had a revelation. In an interview with WBFO, Swisher, an elementary school teacher, said he realized KanJam met the standards of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance. He convinced his school district to allow the game in gym class, which caught the attention of other districts, and pretty soon, schools all over the country adopted KanJam. “Once you break that door, once the ice is broken, then it makes it easier to get into the next place,” said Swisher.

The pair ended up breaking down a lot of doors and today, more than 2,500 schools in the U.S. offer KanJam and more than 8 countries sell it, including Australia, Spain, United Kingdom, and Venezuela. There is even a KanJam World Championship held every August.

So whether you’re 9, 99 or somewhere in between, get out there, set up your goals and let the Frisbee fly. You may even find the 43North team playing at Canalside on a lunch break!