The FlameThrowers Cup: Pro Ultimate For Everyone

In anticipation of the first ever FlameThrowers Cup this coming Saturday, here is a brief history of the Cascades Cup, a recap of that game and its impact, some background on the FlameThrowers’ mission and recent work in the Bay Area, and a preview of this year’s matchup!

The Making of the Cascades Cup

Both the FlameThrowers and the Seattle Cascades have been longtime proponents of mixed professional ultimate. Seattle and the Bay Area have thriving ultimate communities that include people of all gender identities and races, and we believe that our professional teams should reflect that. Frustrated at the lack of gender equity in professional ultimate, the Cascades ownership reached out to San Francisco during the 2016 off-season and the teams decided to create their own showcase game in Seattle in 2017 – the Cascades Cup. The game was not sanctioned by the AUDL and did not count towards our teams’ standings, but we decided that it would still have the same media production, streaming, social media promotion, stadium location, athlete payment, and professionalism of a standard AUDL game – down to custom-produced uniforms from Five Ultimate! The gender ratio would alternate every quarter to ensure all athletes had equal possible playing time.

The FlameThrowers ownership then reached out to our contacts in the women’s ultimate community with whom we had worked in the past to put on events like the Bay Area Women’s All-Star Game. Anna Nazarov and Marika Austin of Fury were invaluable with their assistance in the recruitment and tryout process, and ultimately 23 female-identified athletes applied and were invited to compete for a spot on the roster. From there, we selected ten of them to play alongside ten of our male-identified athletes for a chance to win the first ever Cascades Cup!

The Cascades Cup – FlameThrowers Win 17-16!

The team arrived in Seattle full of excitement. Many of the athletes had competed together in the past on teams like Polar Bears, but this was a new level of mixed play and the energy level was high. Co-captains Meeri Chang and Lucas Dallmann discussed strategy in-depth throughout the trip and made sure everyone was on the same page as the clock wound down towards game time. Both teams took the field and we were delighted to see that a huge crowd – almost 900 people – had turned out to watch the first ever professional ultimate mixed showcase! The teams were evenly matched at first, and they traded holds throughout the first quarter until the FlameThrowers finally earned a critical break with only eight seconds left on the clock thanks to a beautiful throw to Michela Meister from Magon Liu. The Flames expanded their lead to two points by the end of the first half using patient handler movement and tight defensive pressure from athletes like Marisa Mead on the Cascades’ deep looks and reset attempts.

In the second half, that lead opened up to four points thanks to a point block from Magon Liu (among other excellent plays) but the Cascades refused to go down easy. They fought back to keep the game close and by the end of the third quarter they were back within two points of San Francisco. But the Flames had tasted victory and they dug deep, refusing to let it go. Thanks to an immense team effort in the final quarter, they kept the Cascades at bay despite a few break opportunities by the home team and maintained a single point margin for the final minutes. After a last-second block on a Hail Mary attempt by Antoine Davis, the buzzer sounded with the FlameThrowers still up by one point and they headed home with a 17-16 win.

Post-Game Reflections

Captain Meeri Chang noted that the team made a distinct effort just to focus on the game itself while it was happening, rather than its implications for the sport. She said she hoped that “our game and our play… will inform the conversations other people are having about it. We still have to prove ourselves but the energy was great and the crowd celebrated for everyone – guys and girls!”

Seattle’s Bert Abbott added, “the game accomplished what we can only hope a game like that accomplishes, which is that after the game, a bunch of young fans – and older fans – are coming up to players asking them to sign their clothing, their discs. And they’re trying to find the women they idolized during the game. Not only young girls but young boys – people of all genders – were amped up by what they saw on the field.”

In addition to the approximately 850 fans in attendance, there were also more than 900 people who streamed the game online from across the country. Both teams hoped that all those who showed up or tuned in online had come away with the realization that elite mixed ultimate is just as amazing to watch as single-gender professional ultimate. In its post-game coverage, Ultiworld called the match a high-energy spectacle, a tier above the standard AUDL games most audiences watch.

Cascades owner Qxhna Titcomb said after the game that this was only the beginning of what she hoped would be a huge movement. “We’ll use this as an example for other franchises to be able to replicate,” she said. “This is definitely not the final step, but it’s a step – among many, many more to come.”

Moving Forward

After the game, the FlameThrowers continued their best season to date and capped it off with an AUDL Championship in August. But they hadn’t forgotten about the Cascades Cup or the gender inequities inherent within the AUDL and the sport as a whole. Prompted by a GroupMe message from Cassidy Rasmussen, a majority of the athletes chose to donate their paychecks from the $20,000 prize to programs like the BADA GURLS Program (which teaches female-identified athletes leadership, coaching, and problem resolution skills as well as how to develop and strengthen their own local ultimate programs).

During the off-season, the conversation around gender equity in professional ultimate reached a new threshold of engagement and a formal boycott of the AUDL was organized. The FlameThrowers realized that while our organization and a few others were making their own efforts, they were not supported by the league on a satisfactory level and to play in the league was to continue inherently supporting the gender disparity. Almost 75% of the active 2017 roster chose to boycott the league, while a few athletes remained on the team for 2018 since they believed that supporting the FlameThrowers and helping change come from within was ultimately the best path towards successfully proving that women deserve to play alongside men in the league. The FlameThrowers management fully supported all of the athletes in their individual decisions and renewed our efforts towards promoting women’s and mixed ultimate whenever possible.

The 2018 mission for the FlameThrowers stated, “We’re on a mission to bring equity to our beloved sport. It’s the same mission we’ve been on for a long time now, but this season it feels more important than ever to show the AUDL just how much the Bay Area loves elite women’s and mixed ultimate. Like last year, we want to find the best women out there and give them a chance to wear a FlameThrowers jersey with pride. Unlike last year, we are committing to a full 28 person roster of female-identified athletes who will be paid at the same rate as our male-identified athletes and get to try out for free.”

In addition to signing a full female roster, the FlameThrowers also donated money to BADA to underwrite and organize clinics and tryouts for youth players, including young female players, throughout the season. The team continues our direct relationship with the Berkeley High School women’s team, California Roll, who run a booth at every FlameThrowers game to raise money for their travel and tournament costs. We also assist them in their efforts to publicize their fundraising, impressive tournament performances, and efforts towards equity by amplifying their content on our social media channels.

Our individual athletes continue their activism as well, and the team supports them at every chance. For example, Jackelyne “Kobe” Nguyen chose to donate her season’s salary to the Berkeley Pie Queens during their crowdfunding campaign and the FlameThrowers happily matched that donation. Many of our athletes coach local women’s teams and we are constantly organizing clinics and other events to assist the community. Hosting the FlameThrowers Cup in 2018 is just one of many acts of support – both public and behind the scenes – that we hope will shift the needle towards a more equitable professional league and the growth of women’s ultimate as a whole.

FlameThrowers Cup Preview

The full roster has officially been announced and we are counting down the days until the FlameThrowers Cup! With large amounts of turnover since last year, only Antoine Davis, Vincenzo Vitiello, Byron Liu, and Audrey Lyman will be returning for their second Cup experience. However, this year’s list of athletes is just as impressive as last year’s and will be sure to give Seattle a run for their money. Featuring stars such as Ellen Rim of Mischief and Natasha Won of Nightlock on the women’s side and Marcelo Sanchez and Eli Kerns of Revolver on the men’s, the team has an inordinate amount of skill on both offense and defense. Based on the outcome of last weekend’s game against Seattle (which also featured several women despite not explicitly being billed as a mixed game), it is sure to be a close and action-packed match!

San Francisco’s strengths include the fact that many of these athletes play mixed club and have competed together in the past, but Seattle returns with a roster that looks largely similar to last year’s and a lethal deep game. With Antoine Davis shifting over to the offensive side, it remains to be seen whether the team will have an answer for athletes like Mark Burton in the backfield. An exciting matchup to watch out for is Steph “Slim” Lim vs. Kobe Nguyen, who battled it out last week and looked evenly matched – Slim was a valuable reset option for the Cascades and notched a few goals as well, but Kobe got a sweet layout block against her in the final quarter. Both athletes are hungry to prove themselves again this time around.

Before the game, fans will have a chance to take a photo with the AUDL trophy we won last season, and during the game there will be merchandise and hot food for sale. Afterwards, you can come down onto the field to have your gear signed by our athletes!

Tickets are available here, unless you bought a ticket for last week’s game against the Cascades – if you did, your entry to this game is free!

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