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With National Championship, D.C. Ultimate Frisbee Grows In Stature

Ultimate Frisbee is a popular pastime in D.C., but the city also boasts two professional teams.
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Ultimate Frisbee is a popular pastime in D.C., but the city also boasts two professional teams.

Not many cities can support two professional teams in the same sport, but that’s exactly what the nation’s capital does with the most unlikely of professional sports — Ultimate Frisbee. The depth of talent in the Greater Washington area is deeper than in many other American communities, say many fans of the sport.

This past month, the D.C. Current, a member of the Major League Ultimate league, won the MLU Championship in Philadelphia. In the competing American Ultimate Disc League, the D.C. Breeze made the playoffs for the first time.

“We ended in a thud [last year] up in Boston in the playoffs,” says D.C. Current player Calvin Oung. “So this year, we achieved our goal of beating them [the Boston Whitecaps] on our way to the championship.”

The leagues are the the first attempt to professionalize and monetize a sport that for decades has been known for its free-wheeling spirit and refusal to accept referees or officials. (Both leagues do use referees to enforce the sport's rules.) Among the biggest draws for Washington players is the culture of the sport, which can be summarized as the “Spirit of the Game.”

“It’s just kind of playing by the rules and respecting each other’s abilities,” says Jacqui Wagner, a handler playing for mixed club team “Ant Madness,” as well as for “(Silver is) Goodenough” in a Washington summer league.

“I play Ultimate for the community and it’s just different than other sports — other team sports — that are out there,” said Wagner who has played Ultimate for about seven years. A free-flowing non-contact game, Ultimate requires little in the way of equipment and doesn’t have the hard edges of open-field sports like soccer or rugby.

Beyond the D.C. Current, Oung also plays for “Truck Stop,” an elite club team in D.C. and “BLT” in a Washington summer league.

At the club level, D.C.-based women’s team “Scandal” won the national club title in 2013 and will compete at the World Ultimate Club Championships in Lecco, Italy from Aug. 2 through Aug. 9.

Feeding into the top tiers of the sport is the Washington Area Frisbee Club, which provides leagues and organization for over 2,500 people of both sexes. Currently, the WAFC’s summer leagues serve “about 1,668 registered players,” said Sandy Gani, secretary for the club.

Gani says that many of the area’s professional players have also played in a WAFC league at some point in their Washington playing careers.

Another sign of the tight-knit overlap in the Ultimate community is Alan Kolick. He was the 2014 MLU Eastern Conference MVP while also serving as the treasurer for the WAFC and playing on the “Truck Stop” team.

D.C. Current General Manager Matt Dewhurst agrees with the notion that the Washington area is filled with talented players. “I feel like it doesn’t get as much credit as it deserves… we have two champions at the highest level of the sport.”

Oung, who has competed since 2001 says, “I’ve never played a sport where the people are as welcoming, as friendly, as encouraging.” There’s a level for every kind of player, Oung says, and the highest skill levels are very competitive and allow top athletes to perform in a meaningful way.

No matter the level, people in the D.C. Ultimate community want their sport to grow. In June, USA Ultimate became a recognized member of the U.S. Olympic Committee; last year the World Flying Disc Federation received provisional recognition from the International Olympic Committee.

“The Olympics would be big,” says Oung.

Calvin Oung and Ultimate Frisbee from Medill Washington on Vimeo.

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