November 29, 2022
Welcome to the Fall 2022 edition of the Aii Newsletter, a periodic review of Aii projects and diversity and inclusion updates from around the league.
After celebrating our game’s greatest players at the 2022 AUDL All-Star Game in Portland, I am beyond proud of what our league and athletes have accomplished both on and off the field this past season. As our country began to reemerge from the global pandemic, sports offered an inclusive environment to physically connect again, discuss critical social issues, and work together to make a monumental impact in our communities. From Boston to Seattle and Atlanta to Los Angeles, the AUDL and its teams have used the sport of ultimate as a platform to engage youth, celebrate our diversity and stand up against social injustice.
Perhaps no one embodies our core values more than Joe "Smash" Anderson, our 2022 AUDL Community Engagement Award winner. A respected veteran representing one of our newest teams in the Colorado Summit, Joe instantly became a league ambassador for enriching the local community and showcasing the model for giving back throughout the AUDL. I want to congratulate Joe for his incredible impact, as well as all the nominees from across the league.
On a larger scale, our footprint is continuing to expand to ultimate communities around the world. As we celebrated the beginning of our 2022 season with the Torneo Eterna Primavera (TEP) tournament in Colombia, our new partnership with the Chinese digital lifestyle platform Xiaohongshu put an exclamation point on Championship Weekend and beyond. Also known as RED, Xiaohongshu live streamed the two semifinal matches and the 2022 Championship game to more than 150,000 fans in China. The social media outlet will also broadcast live coverage of 2023 AUDL regular season games and host at least 30 domestic disc events throughout the country. Our game is undeniably global, and the AUDL is a proud steward for our sport.
Closer to home, were also proud to announce the inaugural Northwest Cup, a mixed-game, 8-on-8 exhibition that was played with players from the Portland Nitro and Oregon Onyx versus the Seattle Cascades and Seattle Tempest was a huge success. The game preceded our 2022 All-Star Game, showcasing world-class athletes from the AUDL and the Western Ultimate League (WUL). Access to ultimate disc will always be paramount for the growth of our sport, and this game represents a celebration of all genders, backgrounds and identities coming together on a national stage. We hope you were able to join us virtually for these two exciting contests, and I look forward to the next chapter of the AUDL going into 2023.
CEO & Commissioner
Aii at Championship Weekend
The AUDL Inclusion Initiative (Aii) tries to be involved and active at the national level league events and this past Championship Weekend was no exception. The core of the Aii programming involved a small, private discussion panel that was led by our partners at RISE. The panel included the Aii's own Christina Chung of the Philadelphia Phoenix as well as three other players from around the league: John Jones (CHI), Kevin Pettit-Scantling (MAD), and Joe "Smash" Anderson (CO).
The conversation lasted about an hour and was recorded on Saturday morning. The focus of the conversation was on "Code Switching" and how that concept was relevant to the panel both on and off the field. When trying to narrow a topic to focus on Aii leadership wanted to choose a topic that everyone could relate to, not just minority groups.
"Madison, as well as the entire ultimate community, is a predominantly Caucasian environment and we wanted the discussion to be relevant for everyone. People don't tend to listen when they feel they're being lectured at or they can't relate to the material so we chose a topic that most folks could connect with. We believe people of all colors are sometimes forced to code switch to fit in and often they don't realize it or are not familiar enough with the concept or vocabulary to be aware of the situation. We hope this discussion was educational for everyone involved and to its eventual audience," said Matt Smith, co-chair of the Aii and one of the organizers of the event.
The conversation is still being edited and the AUDL media team hopes to release the full discussion in the near future.
In addition to the "code switching" conversation, our partners at RISE also filmed an interview with James Pollard of the Philadelphia Phoenix for a segment entitled, "A Walk in Their Shoes." You can see some of their other examples here and we're looking forward to the release of the edition featuring one of our very own.
Following all filming, several members of the Aii and RISE host Scarlen Martinez enjoyed lunch together. They had a lively conversation about the event and all things race in sports and the working-world. This was the first "in-person" event the AUDL and RISE have collaborated on, with all previous being digital. Both parties really enjoyed the working experience and are looking forward to more work together in the future.
Dylan DeClerck, the inaugural AUDL Community Engagement Award winner in 2021, joined the festivities at Championship Weekend. He helped out as a volunteer coach at the youth clinic and was a positive and impactful addition, especially while working with the younger age group onsite. There were even some young Minnesota fans who were excited to meet one of the long time Wind Chill stars. DeClerk was also honored before the Championship Game and performed the ceremonial coin toss to determine opening possession.
2022 AUDL All-Star Game
The second ever AUDL All-Star Game took place on November 12, 2022 at Providence Park in Portland, OR, home of the Portland Nitro. The only other previous All-Star Game was played in 2019 in Madison, WI, and produced a double-overtime thriller complete with highlight-reel plays and full-roster celebrations. This year’s event included a host of wrinkles that distinguish the AUDL All-Star Game from the broader sports landscape.
On and off the field the AUDL showcased its commitment to diversity and inclusion. Both teams were led by women as Sara Gnolek, coach of the Chicago Union, was at the helm for the East-Central while Linda Hamon, of the Los Angeles Aviators, led the South-West.
Asked about her expectations prior to the game, Gnolek said, “I’m excited to watch players in the same division who normally play against one another get a chance to compete with each other. These players spend all year game-planning to take away someone’s strengths, now they can use those skills to their advantage.” She added, “Considering all the talent, I’m expecting some exciting plays.” As for the whether she’ll pull anything out of her coaching bag of tricks she replied, “Not yet, but hopefully I’ll figure something out by gametime.”
Athletes from different countries, cities, and communities took the field to represent their team. A number of BIPOC players competed, including the Aii’s very own Michael Kiyoi from the Los Angeles Aviators.
This year's All-Star Game also featured a series of rule changes meant to serve as a trial for potential league-wide updates in the future. The following rule changes were in effect:
Five second stall
Backcourt violation enforced at the 50-yard line (pivot across and toe drag allowed)
Pull from 10 yards into field of play
Two points if disc is released from behind (not touching) brick mark line
All the rule changes and talent on the field certainly led to an exciting night of ultimate! The full game is now available on AUDL.tv! Also check out the game highlights below.
Inaugural Northwest Cup
Another event that premiered during All-Star Weekend was the inaugural Northwest Cup, an exhibition game that featured mixed lineups of players from teams in the AUDL and the Western Ultimate League (WUL). An 8-on-8 format pitted Portland Nitro and Oregon Onyx against Seattle Cascades and the 2022 WUL Champion Seattle Tempest.
Local rivalry undoubtedly produced exciting, high-spirited gameplay that showcased the talents of men, women, and non-binary athletes of all identities and backgrounds playing together on the same field.
The AUDL was excited to partner with the WUL and bring high-level Ultimate to broader audiences and support the WUL in their mission to advance the sport of ultimate by showcasing and amplifying women and non-binary athletes.
Steve Hall, AUDL CEO and Commissioner, was quoted as saying, “Our common goal is to bring ultimate to a more diverse group of people, especially youth. The Northwest Cup represents a common ground to come together competitively on the field and provide an example for all communities on what’s possible in our sport.”
The game ended in a thrilling 24-20 win for the visiting Seattle squad.
Headed into year-two of competition in 2023, the WUL is comprised of seven teams across the West with the schedule of games played between March and May. The WUL is a nonprofit organization and is currently accepting donations to support its mission. For more information, visit westernultimateleague.com/donate.
Tampa Bay Cannons
Athletes that reach the peak of their sport are often transformative. If you ask the people that knew them early in their athletic careers, you’d hear stories of greatness early on followed by a quick acceleration to even higher achievements. This is not Jaime Perez’s story.
“I was not good at this sport,” he recalls. “I was super uncoordinated. I don’t think I’d ever owned cleats, and I’d never had to change directions before.” Not exactly what you expect to hear from a player that was selected for the AUDL All-Star Game.
Perez’s ultimate journey begins where a lot of ultimate journeys begin, in college. After spending the vast majority of his life growing up and swimming in Tampa, Perez found himself swimming collegiately at New York University (NYU) and studying political science. As many collegiate athletes quickly find out, finding the right balance between athletics and academics can be a monumental challenge.
Two years into his swimming career at NYU, Perez stepped away from the sport he’d put countless hours into to focus on academics and lessen the overwhelming time commitments that collegiate athletes endure. He quickly found a competitive void in his life. Some friends of his played on NYU’s ultimate team, so he thought he’d tag along to a practice.
“I was so used to having all my time consumed by something,” Perez said. “I needed something to do.”
Perez was met with instantaneous challenges as he found almost none of his skills as a swimmer translated to ultimate. But he did have perhaps the most important skill necessary for any athlete, the will to work hard. “I’m very competitive, and it put a fire under my ass to train hard. Any success I’ve had is working hard and not missing a practice. I’m pretty proud of being a workhorse.” Spoiler alert: the training paid off.
Before long, Perez found himself with more and more opportunities to play ultimate. Going from one very white space, swimming, to another predominately white space, ultimate, Perez doesn’t remember ever feeling out of place. Being the only Latin athlete wasn’t new to him.
Then one day, Perez found himself going down a YouTube rabbit hole and came across a game where Seattle Sockeye matched up against Warao, a Venezuelan team. Perez, who was born in Venezuela, was in awe.
“The team was super legit and hanging and making plays with Sockeye, which I thought was the pinnacle of the sport,” said Perez. “I remember being stoked to find out more. I immediately started doing some sleuthing to figure out what the team was about.”
Just a few tournaments into Perez’s career, he happened to be at a tournament with the Columbian Jr. Worlds team. He remembers being in shock, not believing what he was seeing. Right in front of him was a team that was communicating strictly in Spanish. Cheering in Spanish. Talking strategy in Spanish. “I immediately got in touch with the coaches and told them, ‘Wow, this is so cool’.” Not long after reaching out, Perez was invited to play at U23 worlds in London in 2015.
Although Perez was Venezuelan and the team was Columbian, they deemed that was “close enough”, as Perez remembers.
“That experience made me realize that people that look like me and talk like me and react like me exist. It was really amazing to see other people reacting the way I do. It was normalizing,” Perez said.
From that experience, Perez launched an impressive AUDL career, starting in New York en route to Atlanta and Tampa. He got the opportunity to play on a high level club team, Chain Lightning, reaching nationals. He remembers being part of a “faceless mob” of players in New York, something they were proud of. Nowadays New York features “A whole lot of faces” Perez said. “It’s not homegrown talent anymore on that team.” That’s something the Cannons are working toward.
“I would say, candidly speaking, that I was spoiled in New York and Atlanta. They have longstanding and thriving ultimate cultures. All of the infrastructure they have there is not the case in Tampa."
Despite the lack of infrastructure and success, particularly at the AUDL level, Perez was excited to see a familiar face at the Cannons combine in 2021, Santiago Acevedo Mendez, the captain of the U23 Colombian team that Perez played on in 2015.
Perez’s journey had, in a way, come full circle. He was back home in Tampa and playing with a man that had captained a team that made him feel at home on the field.
With a team that was spread out all over the state, as well as recruiting players from nearby states, Perez admits it was hard to get people invested in the Cannons. Perez does feel optimism that the team is heading in the right direction, despite the 1-11 season Tampa endured in 2022.
“As a super competitive guy, it’s had to look back at a 1-11 season and say ‘success.’ There was a lot of ego swallowing I had to do. In a lot of ways this was my worst AUDL season, but it was also my best.”
Perez spoke to a young, committed core that is developing and getting better, raving about teammates like Cody Coates, who Perez described as “brilliant”. He has seen significant development through the pains of losing to some of the best teams in the AUDL. “When you play [Carolina] and Atlanta 4 times and get your ass kicked, it’s going to make you better.”
As for growing the sport, Perez has tried to make sure that other Spanish speaking peoples feel welcome and excited about playing ultimate.
“I definitely always try and reach out to other Latino players when I run into them. Now that I really feel like I’m a part of this community of Venezuelan and Latin American players who are playing ultimate at a high level in both continents. I played last summer in my 3rd or 4th international tournament with Warao out of Venezuela. I’m playing in the Pan American games. Jorge Delgado plays with me on those teams. He completely embodies what the South American ultimate style is. Scrappy and relentless. Quick. Someone that I have played a couple worlds with and doing it at the professional stage.”
Delgado was one of the four finalists for the International Player fan vote for the 2022 all-star game, losing to Quentin Bonnaud of the Montreal Royal. Former Cannons players Mario Rodriguez Gonzalez, Jigo Antonio Lontoc, and Luis Paz Zaccaro also play on Warao, creating deeper bond between teammates that compete against top competition in the AUDL as well as internationally.
Perez’s experiences with the Latino community have shown him the hunger and excitement that exists, and that is possibly unmatched, for Ultimate. By creating more content in Spanish, he believes that interest will skyrocket even more. “There’s already so many Latin players in South America that really want this content, but they don’t necessarily have the access to the content or understand it. [Having content in Spanish] would take them from being casual fans [of the AUDL] to superfans.”
As for what the future holds for Perez, he laughed thinking about what might be next for him. “I grew up in Tampa, and I’ve been here my whole life. Some of my teammates’ formative ultimate experiences were in South America, and now they play in the AUDL and it’s a dream come true. I see it on their faces and in the way they play. Sometimes when I’m feeling unmotivated and like my time in this sport is up, I look at those guys and it confirms the reasons why I play this game.”
Entering the offseason, we reflect proudly on the strides we made collectively as a league during the 2022 AUDL season. The Aii is still actively planning initiatives to promote diversity and inclusion in the seasons ahead. Subscribe to receive the Aii Newsletter and keep up with all the news along the way.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.