Ultimate Owners

Rohre Titcomb is many things—a world champion ultimate player, athletic apparel entrepreneur and co-owner of the Seattle Cascades—but more importantly, she likes to ask a lot of questions, especially before diving into a new venture. It’s a trait she shares with sister Qxhna, and something that may have annoyed her brother Xtehn when he first broached the possibility of the siblings purchasing a professional ultimate team.

“I was asking a lot of tough questions, and being really demanding in terms of the research I was asking Xtehn to make,” Rohre said, reflecting on the process. There were concerns about officiation, gender and community outreach plans that had to be addressed before the whole family—all five Titcomb siblings—would buy in.

For an entire season, the five siblings fired emails back and forth, and had upwards of 20 hours of meetings last October before they reached a consensus.

“There was a lot of debate about what it would mean to be an owner,” Rohre added. “We came to the conclusion that we are excited about being involved and having a really positive impact on the league and on the community in Seattle.”

“When we decided to own the [Seattle Cascades], we looked at things from many different perspectives,” added Xtehn Titcomb, now an owner in the franchise and former player for the Chicago Wildfire. Xtehn, who bought the Seattle franchise alongside brothers Zahlen and Vehro and sisters Rohre and Qxhna, wanted to continue the sibling’s goal of implementing progressive ideas in their business ventures.

The quintet’s dedication to the sport and its concentration of world-class talent have given them a leadership position in the community. So when they decided to purchase the Cascades, ultimate observers took note. The Titcombs reflect the strong trend within the AUDL for ultimate players—both past and present, elite and recreational—to take ownership stakes in professional teams and help shape the league’s identity.

In all, 20 AUDL teams, including Chicago, Madison, Charlotte, Jacksonville and Washington, D.C., have at least one owner who has played ultimate competitively or is a seasoned veteran of the local ultimate scene.

“That’s a benefit, to inspire kids to play ultimate, to move and play and get outside,” said Montreal Royal owner and player Jean-Levy Champagne. “That’s one of the things that drives us.”

Part of these players’ commitment to spearheading growth on the professional level is rooted in their desire to see ultimate’s inclusive, progressive culture preserved.

Ultimate players can (and often will) wax poetic about the sport and what makes it special, but there’s something to be said about the way the game’s fundamental rules have prioritized respect between players and community inclusiveness. Before any action on the field can start—and before the disc can move downfield, before any goal can be scored—a player has to pass.

For the Titcombs, that sharing philosophy is at the core of their team management strategy, which reflects a commitment to women’s ultimate, as well as building the youth ultimate community in Seattle. They developed a “value in kind” measure in their team charter that gave Cascade players the option of taking home a personal salary, or donating twice that amount to a local girls youth ultimate movement.

“We know that by spending a lot of resources on men’s ultimate, we are disproportionately influencing the gender balance,” Qxhna said. “We spent a lot of time talking about what as owners we had power over, and how we would be supported by the league.”

“That was important for me. It demonstrated that if we were to change things and do things slightly differently, we could,” Rohre echoed. “[The AUDL] is a good community of owners who are looking to help each other rather than compete.”

The theme of inclusiveness extends to other franchises as well. Teams such as the LA Aviators and San Diego Growlers are establishing a more unified vision of the sport in their respective cities by connecting disparate ultimate communities. Historically, ultimate in any given area has been comprised of an amalgam of many different parts - recreational leagues, college, club, pickup games, goaltimate, you name it. Even within the same community, there can be many individualized tribes.

“There are a lot of different factions of players in San Diego,” said Growlers owner Will Griffin, a veteran of the San Diego high school, college, club and rec scene. By using the professional model and its resources as a galvanizing force, people like Griffin and co-owners Justin Goodman and Ryan Slaughter are trying to synthesize efforts and organize talents under a common banner.

“We are trying to make [the San Diego community] aware that they are all together by putting together clinics, by coming up with ways to bring all the groups together,” Griffin said.

“We want to stand for something good in the community,” Slaughter added, mentioning Growlers Kurt Gibson and Jimmy Mickle’s support and work with the cancer prevention charity E.R.I.C. as examples of the message they want to send. “We want to be a people organization, and we want to do things the right way.”

Meanwhile in Raleigh, the Flyers have taken it upon themselves to embolden an already thriving youth ultimate scene. Behind the efforts of former players-turned-owners Casey Degnan and Mike DeNardis, the franchise has already established numerous outreach events, including a CUT Camp session in July as well as building a strong alliance with the local Triangle Flying Disc Association. Both Degnan and DeNardis have extensive histories coaching and instructing in youth organizations, and make a point of emphasizing how important it is to do it in and for their Raleigh community.

“My goal is to bring my five-year tenure at four-star summer camps to the Raleigh area,” Degnan said when the team was announced. “To build off of the growing youth scene in Raleigh and provide top notch instruction from players, coaches and owners—this facet is what drives me to bring the AUDL franchise to Raleigh.”

With the sudden outpouring of involvement, many have mentioned the timing of events as a key to their efforts. The Titcombs expressly mentioned proof of concept as an important factor, and that through talking about their mission with other owners, and seeing what worked at a professional level, they were able to establish the relationships they wanted in the league.

“We wanted to make sure that the AUDL could do a good job,” Rohre said. “We believed in the people, and that the ultimate community was ready for it.”

And with the outpouring of response in now 25 different cities, especially among younger populations, there is a lot of opportunity for ultimate to make use of its new platform.

But increased exposure for the sport cuts more than one way—just ask Champagne and his kids trying to watch hockey.

“I have to let them know that daddy is playing ultimate, and I’m not out on the ice,” Champagne said laughing, noting that his young kids took special delight in watching him during the Royal’s two games on ESPN last season.

“Every time there’s a sports team on, they think I’m on TV. But… I’m not.” He paused.

“Typically.”

-- Adam Ruffner and Caitlin Cieslik-Miskimen