December 30, 2021
Welcome to the Fall 2021 edition of the Aii Newsletter, a periodic review of Aii projects and diversity and inclusion updates from around the league.
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What a difference a year makes! The world took a break in 2020 and we all cautiously planned for a return in 2021. This past year turned out to be a great success for the AUDL with a 31 percent increase in fan attendance in our stadiums, almost a doubling of AUDL.tv subscribers, the kick-off of our Athletic Care Network (ACN), our R.I.S.E. partnership, a new partnership with DraftKings, and the crowning of a first-time champion, the Raleigh Flyers.
We are thankful to the players for packing a 12-game regular season into 12 weeks without major injuries or COVID-related issues. They were supported by the new ACN that was crafted by Dr. Christina Chung, a Philadelphia Phoenix co-owner and our new Chief Medical Officer. The team physicians, athletic trainers and Health + Safety Managers that comprise the ACN were instrumental in working with the players in the pre-, regular and postseason to maximize the health and safety of our league. We endured the same twists and turns as the rest of the nation but were able to stay on course and successfully navigate to the end.
We were very excited to engage the R.I.S.E organization as a strategic partner. They’ve helped us chart a course to thinking about Diversity + Inclusion as a core part of our league. This is the first step along a long path, but action was needed and we were glad to have R.I.S.E. by our side. We are taking a look at how we want to proceed for the 2022 season and expect to continue to be action-oriented. We will always need more introspection but the AUDL plans to be more externally engaged in 2022.
As we look to the 2022 season, we will allocate more resources to engaging youth and new communities. We must broaden the base of ultimate and we see this as a core mission of the league and teams. We’ve set a target of connecting with 50,000 youth by 2025. This takes a coordinated effort by all teams and the league to execute. We are fortunate to have Matt Smith leading this effort and know he will hold teams accountable.
We continue to be thankful for all the support we’ve received from the community and hope to keep pushing our standards higher with each passing year.
CHAMPIONSHIP WEEKEND YOUTH CLINIC
The AUDL hosted its first Championship Weekend youth clinic this past September in partnership with RISE, BestKids DC, and the local DC Parks and Recreation Department. The goal of the clinic was to focus on members of the community who are less familiar with ultimate and provide them with meaningful programming before steering them towards the AUDL Championship Weekend event.
In that regard, the clinic was a great success! There were roughly 25 attendees, ranging from ages 4–17, who came from various avenues. The majority were from the DC Parks and Recreation Department which had made a broad announcement to their youth network. BestKids DC, a local nonprofit that works with youth in the foster care system, brought out a handful of participants and mentors. Finally, several youth who just happened to be at the park that day were able to join in as well. It was a very diverse and excited group of kids.
The first half of youth programming was discussion based and was led by Khalid Bashir, a representative from RISE. Although the organizers were a little concerned that the kids would have trouble focusing, the discussion went off without a hitch and the kids were engaged throughout the activity. Incorporating DEI programming into our youth events was a first for the AUDL and is an aspect of our programming we would like to continue developing at both the league and local levels.
After the discussion, it was finally time for some ultimate! The groups were divided by age and were led by an amazing volunteer staff of AUDL coaches*. The coaches led the groups in age-appropriate skills and drills for about 45 minutes. The older group in particular was eager to run around and, after a few warm up drills, found themselves playing an actual game with a few of our pro coaches. The younger group was masterfully led by Xtehn Titcomb of the Seattle Cascades who had them throwing, catching, and laughing all the way up until the end of the event.
“Teaching kids to play ultimate is among my favorite things to do, and this youth clinic was special because RISE was there too! They led a workshop centered on 'identity and race,' and it was refreshing to participate alongside young athletes who leaned into a subject that can sometimes be uncomfortable for me to talk about,” Titcomb said.
Following the end of the programming, the AUDL provided free tickets for participants and escorted them to Audi Field for the Championship Game, which was only a few blocks away. Including guardians, about 25 people from the clinic attended the game, and from the feedback provided, enjoyed the experience a good deal.
Overall, the event will go down as a win for the AUDL programming team. The kids were relatively new to the game of ultimate and this clinic was an engaging introduction to the sport, especially for those who stayed for the Championship. Additionally, it was a diverse group of participants, which was especially exciting given the league’s intention to reach outside the current ultimate community. On top of it all, the clinic incorporated positive messaging about inclusivity in the real world. The AUDL hopes to continue bringing programming that is impactful both on and off the field in our future events.
*Coaches included Ryan Purcell (ATX Sol), Kaela Helton (SD Growlers), Melissa Dunn (Arizona Sidewinders), Jackson Stearns (SJ Spiders), Keenan Laurence (SJ Spiders), Max Sheppard (PIT Thunderbirds), Joe Merrill (DC Breeze), Xtehn Titcomb Frame (SEA Cascades).
COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT AWARD
Despite the challenges of COVID-19, members of the AUDL continue to find ways to give back to their communities. To recognize the individuals that are going above and beyond and spotlight the ways they are giving back off the field, the AUDL has launched a new “Community Engagement Award”.
Members of the league who frequently engage with their local communities can often be unsung heroes. They help in providing and developing opportunities to members of the community that may not have the means, often in interesting and creative ways. The more that we as the ultimate community can recognize and hear what these members have accomplished, the more we can learn from each other and grow our local and global communities.
Aii member Ryan Purcell played a large role in starting the Community Engagement Award and also served on the selection committee. Purcell was inspired to push for this award, given many of the positive personal experiences he’s had when engaging in youth camps and, “seeing kids’ eyes light up as they chase the disc,” and ultimately fall in love with sport. Experiences like these are what sparked the new award.
For the inaugural year, a selection committee gathered a list of potential recipients based on referrals from teammates, members of their community, and overall programs and ways that nominees engaged with their community. Many players were nominated and considered in this process, but one stood out from the others.
This year’s Community Engagement Award winner is Dylan DeClerck of the Minnesota Wind Chill. DeClerck has a long history of giving back to the youth athletic community with organizations like Courage League, which offers year-round programming for children and adults who aren’t able to go full-speed due to a physical, cognitive, or emotional disability.
Purcell and the Aii state that they hope to expand this award in the future to further spotlight members of AUDL who are giving back, and hope to receive nominations for players from every team in the league.
Read more about Community Engagement Award winner Dylan Declerck and the runners up here.
TAMPA BAY CELEBRATES HISPANIC HERITAGE
The Tampa Bay Cannons celebrated cultural pride during Hispanic Heritage Month, which is September 15–October 15. The time of year is particularly meaningful for The Cannons, as Hispanic or Latino players represented 18 percent of their 2021 roster, closely mirroring the Tampa Bay metro area’s Hispanic population of 21 percent.
To celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, the Tampa Bay Cannons dedicated their social media to spotlighting players and sharing their backgrounds. Additionally, they created a special “Cañones” jersey commemorating Hispanic Heritage that is currently being sold by VII Apparel.
These efforts have been well received among Tampa Bay’s wide-ranging fanbase, including a large social media following for their players from South America, and are helping to grow Ultimate’s exposure in new communities around the world. Way to go, Cannons (or should we say Cañones)!
GET TO KNOW
Highlighting different perspectives and experiences from players and personnel around the AUDL.
This issue’s GET TO KNOW segment spotlights John Gunnell, the Indianapolis AlleyCats’ new general manager. In his inaugural season, 2021 was an exciting introduction to the AUDL and an opportunity to begin laying the groundwork for future success. We caught up with John to gain insight into his experience in the league and his perspective as a person of color.
General Manager - Indianapolis AlleyCats
When was your first experience with ultimate?
My first experience with ultimate was in high school when I was on the cross country team. It was a VERY watered-down version that seemed more like a game of ‘keep away’ with a Frisbee. Some people on the team seemed to like playing, while some didn’t seem to want to play, so it wasn’t played often. When I came across normal ultimate years later, I was a bit lost and it took some adjusting, to say the least.
How were you introduced to the sport?
I was introduced to REAL ultimate in the summer of 2012. My roommate’s best friend invited my roommate and I out to the park to play ‘Frisbee’. I thought we were just going to throw the disc around and enjoy the summer weather. He picked us up and asked if we had ever played ultimate before. I explained to him how we played on the cross country team and how we played. He chuckled and said this was different. I didn’t think anything of it until we got there. We pulled up and I saw people wearing cleats, gloves, backwards and forwards hats, Frisbee event shirts with various years on them, and people yelling things I didn’t understand, like “UP!!” and, “HAMMER!!”. To say that I had been introduced to a new level of the sport would have been an understatement. Everyone was nice and explained the rules to my friend and I. They gave us numerous amounts of grace and advice. I have been involved in the sport ever since.
What about the sport drew you in?
What keeps my interest in ultimate is that it plays and flows like other sports I have played or been involved in, mainly soccer. I played soccer in high school, so I loved the fact it had a lot of similarities and crossover play style. I really like how quickly offense and defense can change and how you always have to be paying attention.
How did you get involved in the AUDL?
One day I was on Facebook and saw a co-worker friend of mine was active on the Indy AlleyCats Facebook page. I just thought he was a huge fan of the team until a mutual friend of ours told me he was part owner. I thought that was cool so I reached out to him about how the team was doing, what the AUDL was (haha), how the team’s future looked, etc. We talked for a while about all of that before catching up on other topics, and then later came back to the AlleyCats. To make a long story short, I was in the middle of a career shift, and I offered the AlleyCats my services of helping the team in certain ways. I had a background in sports and received positive feedback about that. A few meetings amongst ownership were held, a few meetings with me talking to management were held, and then after a few days of management deliberation I was hired onto the team as General Manager. Last year was my first year and it has been fun.
Was there any hesitation before taking on the GM role?
There was zero hesitation. I just jumped right in. I figured since I was comfortable with sports, I have seen a lot, and I know people who have been to the highest levels in other sports, that I would be fine adjusting to whatever was thrown my way. Last year was my first year, so many responsibilities that were given to me were already being done by someone else, so I did have some guidance starting out.
What were your expectations and did things go as expected?
I can’t say that I had many real expectations because I didn’t really know what I was getting into as far as how our team and the AUDL were structured and operated. I knew I had to learn that before I could have any expectations, so I just had some basic ideas and hoped they were accurate. With that said, I didn’t expect our record to turn out as it did. We were 3-9 and I didn’t expect that.
Were there any surprises?
Yes, there were many surprises but the biggest one is the culture of higher-level ultimate. It’s unlike other sports I have been involved in. I say that as both a positive and a negative, if I’m going to be honest.
What were some of the challenges?
Personally, the biggest challenge was just learning the structure and the culture of the AlleyCats and the AUDL simultaneously. As far as our team goes, the challenge is taking us from where we are now and making things better. I guess you could say that we are currently in the overcoming phase
Were there any achievements?
Yes, the biggest thing I think we have done well is the front office has addressed a lot of things that we could have done better last year and have made concrete plans to get those things addressed. Our Coaching staff has done the same, so a lot of new things are being set in motion. We’ll see what works and what doesn’t.
What have been some of your favorite experiences in the AUDL?
My favorite experiences in the AUDL are probably going to be odd to most people but I actually have two. I really love watching families coming to ultimate games as a sport at the professional level. Seeing everyone wear player jerseys, kids running around acting like they are professional players, watching the reactions of players’ parents when their child makes a big play, it’s all very heartwarming to me. A second favorite is watching a team down by one or two points trying to gain the lead in the final quarter while also watching the leading team trying to maintain the lead. Both teams know that a couple of small errors can flip the situation very quickly so watching them double or triple down on their playing strategies is really entertaining.
How do you racially identify? What does that mean to you?
Black American, but I don’t get upset at being called African American. There is a new acronym, ADOS (American Descendants of Slavery), that I would say applies to me but I reserve that label for when I am discussing racial issues at higher levels outside of the Frisbee world. My racial identity, to me, is just an identifier of my social status in this country and world.
Who’s your favorite POC player/athlete? Why?
Michael Jordan. I was definitely not a fan of basketball, despite growing up in the 1990s, but I could watch him play all day every day. His level of dedication to winning, his understanding of the sport, his response to being in a losing situation, and how he made his playing an art form instead of mechanically going through the motions—it was all just awesome to watch.
As a POC, have you ever felt like you have to “be” a certain way?
Yes, but I have learned that I have felt that way in the past as a result of living in this country, with this culture, with a specific negative history with people who look like me, and the social status I was born into. There is A LOT to unpack in that statement and with these questions but that’s how I view it.
Thank you to everyone for helping make 2021 such a successful season. This year brought significant achievements across the league and we have a lot of momentum to build on as we look ahead at 2022. The Aii will continue working to promote inclusivity with initiatives throughout the year and the Aii Newsletter will continue to highlight all of the work happening behind the scenes.
To have any actions that you or your team are taking towards diversity and inclusion within your community featured in an upcoming newsletter, please send your information to Matt Smith at: email@example.com.
The Aii is a committee that strives to increase racial and cultural diversity and inclusion throughout the sport of ultimate by providing underserved communities access to an affordable sport whose culture emphasizes healthy living, integrity in athletics, and potential to compete at the junior, collegiate and professional levels.