July 20, 2022
Welcome to the Summer 2022 edition of the Aii Newsletter, a periodic review of Aii projects and diversity and inclusion updates from around the league. To get each newsletter delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for the email list here.
Imagine the day when we have 8-12 year olds from all walks of life regularly playing ultimate together in the neighborhood, 13-18 year olds playing in school leagues, college students on varsity-recognized teams and then all-stars hopeful to be drafted by a pro team. Now play out that diverse and inclusive scenario in continents around the world. That, my friends, is our global vision. The AUDL is just the first step along this global path.
To achieve this global vision, we need broader recognition and engagement with all segments of our communities and exceptional partners to help us execute the business plan. The Legends partnership announcement in June is a big step for the AUDL and pro ultimate. Legends was created to serve the hospitality needs of the Dallas Cowboys but has expanded around the world to provide services that cover almost all needs of a professional sports organization. Legends’ historical clientele have been the big five sports in the world, but they recently embarked on a mission to engage emerging sports, like Ultimate, to help build the next ”big thing”.
Our relationship with Legends allows us to accelerate our growth plans by leveraging the scale of their sophisticated operations and by tapping into their extensive networks. Our services agreement will start with an analysis of our fan base which will help us be more targeted and thoughtful in our entertainment and product sales offerings. We will expand into merchandise strategies and then eventually into venues that will help grow hospitality options. Legends also plans to invest capital into the AUDL and support us financially as we achieve our growth targets.
The creation of a diverse and inclusive set of players, staff and fans in North America is just the first step along a global path. We had very successful showcases at the TEP Tournament in Medellín, Colombia and are having conversations with representatives in Asia and Europe about how we can bring a pro style of Ultimate to their geographies – truly a global melting pot. We are excited about the potential in front of us and are so thankful for all the people who’ve built this foundation in North America. By partnering with groups like RISE, we keep the focus on being inclusive as we grow. It is our duty to turn these dreams and imagination into reality!
Over the years, the AUDL has been making an increased effort to get the word out about semi-pro ultimate outside the United States. In 2017, the AUDL partnered with EuroStars, a women’s European All-Star team, to provide visibility for women in ultimate. Following a successful campaign, the deal was cut short due to the pandemic in 2020, but the AUDL was still committed to spreading the word about ultimate internationally.
On April 4 of this year, the AUDL took another step forward when it announced the launch of its Sky AUDL program. Designed to form a working relationship with the Latin American ultimate community, its first foray into the Latin American scene was set for the Torneo Eterna Primavera (TEP), an annual tournament in Medellín, Colombia. TEP is an international tournament, boasting men’s, women’s, and mixed divisions. American teams have been traveling to Medellín for years, but this marked the first time AUDL teams made the trip. The DC Breeze, Los Angeles Aviators, and New York Empire traveled to Medellín to participate in the men’s division.
There was an immediate impact according to Colombian player José “Joc” Jiménez. “The success of the league coming here was to keep creating relationships with our region to achieve the expansion goals. Every single Latino player in the league, their recognition and bringing these types of events to LatAm countries, increases this very good relationship, and that means success for every party involved,” said Jiménez, who previously played for and represented the Aviators in the 2019 AUDL All-Star Game.
Outside of playing in the tournament, the AUDL also set up youth clinics to be run by AUDL staff and players. Aaron Weaver, a current Aviator and youth coach in Santa Barbara, California, was amazed by the players that turned out to learn from the pros. “We coached close to 400 kids over the course of two days. which is far beyond anything we have ever been able to accomplish in southern California,” said Weaver. “We went through a lot of the drills that Aviators used during tryouts and practices, and, from my perspective, it felt like we hit the sweet spot of challenging the players to move out of their ultimate comfort zones while also providing spaces for them to succeed along the way.”
The AUDL’s own Evan Lepler was in attendance to call the games to an international audience. But the tournament’s championship game in the men’s division was not the main event of the weekend. That took a back seat to the game between the Latin American All-Star team and the Los Angeles Aviators. “Honestly, the atmosphere felt like a Championship Weekend in Madison! Especially when the Latin American All-Star team was playing and surged to an early lead against the Aviators,” said Lepler. “In terms of the energy that fans brought and the under-the-lights showcase game feel, it was definitely legit.”
Lepler added that this wasn’t just a showcase of AUDL talent, as Latin American teams had a lot to offer. “My biggest takeaway from watching the AUDL teams take on Latin American club teams was that the rest of the world is catching up,” he said.
There was a lot of buzz whenever a Latin American team had the chance to compete against AUDL competition. Weaver noted that the Latin American players absolutely cherished the opportunity to play against AUDL talent. “Pool play games have this ravenous intensity about them because every opponent is trying to beat what can be argued is the pinnacle of the sport,” said Weaver. “I had several conversations with some of the players we played against after our games, and there were more than a few times when players would start to cry when talking about how lucky they were to have the opportunity to play against us, who they've only ever seen on ‘TV.’”
Jiménez echoed the sentiment, stating this was a great first step in the AUDL Sky program. “With our LatAm teammates, it was amazing to play,” said Jiménez. “This showcase wasn’t just to compete. It was to show our community how exciting Ultimate could be and show the league how much talent is in our community. I would like to create different events to keep sharing this.”
“I know the Colombian Ultimate leaders were very, very grateful to have the Empire, Breeze, and Aviators there because their level of play absolutely enhanced the competition,” added Lepler. “Ever since Mauricio Moore really began to grow the Ultimate scene in Medellin, he has ambitiously and aggressively brought many of the top American players and coaches to Colombia to help run clinics, compete in their tournaments, and participate in cultural exchanges that are invaluable to the growth of the sport. This was another positive step in the right direction.”
While the impact on the field was certainly palpable, the impact off of it may have been even greater. Between the youth clinics taking place leading up to the tournament and the conversations before and after games, it was clear that the AUDL players were welcome and that the tournament was enhanced by its inclusion. “The league respected our LatAm culture, my culture, and also being gender-inclusive with the Latino All-Stars Team,” said Jiménez, who is excited to figure out more ways to grow ultimate in Latin America.
Perhaps this will become an annual venture for the AUDL. From all accounts, things went about as well as could have been planned. Well, except for one thing. “We should have brought hundreds of jerseys/swag to give away to people because literally every person was looking for AUDL gear,” said Weaver.
Lepler shared the same sentiment, stating that Matt Stevens of the Empire realized the same issue. Perhaps in 2023 we’ll see a slew of new AUDL jerseys around Latin America. Though with the level of competition skyrocketing in the LatAm area, we shouldn’t be surprised if they have their own names on the back.
For the Tampa Bay Cannons, every game means more. Not only are the Cannons competing on the field with the teams in their division, throughout their home schedule they are partnering off the field with local organizations to raise awareness around a series of causes and to support the local community. With six home games, co-owner and team sport-psycologist Amanda Myhrberg felt it was pretty easy to accomplish. “Finding partners for all six home games seemed like a lot at the outset, but then again, it was a no-brainer for us and we filled up the games fairly quickly,” said Myhrberg.
In most cases, the partnerships have a theme or connection to an event on the calendar. As part of the celebration of June as Pride Month, while the Cannons were set to take on the Atlanta Hustle, the Game Day Charity Partner was Metro Inclusive Health, a locally based 501(c)(3) organization that provides “quality health and wellness services that are inclusive, relevant, supportive, and represent the lifetime continuum of the diverse people in our community”.
The Cannons donated a portion of the proceeds from the game to Metro Inclusive Health while also including them in the gameday experience. A representative from the organization threw out the ceremonial first toss and the Cannons announcers inserted information about the organization throughout the broadcast. Metro Inclusive Health also brought one of their HIV testing trucks to the game to provide onsite healthcare for those in attendance.
St. Petersburg, Florida, where the Cannons play their home games, boasts the largest Pride Parade in the state and it was important to the players that the team give back to the community. According to Myhrberg, it was the players that brought up the idea. “They were the ones who pushed for it,” she said.
Around the league, other teams also hosted Pride Month events. In Madison, the Radicals held Pride Night when they took on the the Austin Sol. The proceeds from that game went to support GSAFE, a Madison-based organization promoting “just schools for LGBTQ+ youth by developing leadership, training educational staff, and advocating for public policy”.
GET TO KNOW
Highlighting different perspectives and experiences from players and personnel around the AUDL.
This issue’s "GET TO KNOW" segment spotlights Kaela Helton, Co-Head Coach of the San Diego Growlers. Kaela has a breadth of experience within the Ultimate community, from a successful playing career in club divisions, women’s professional leagues, and being one of the few players selected to represent USA on the 2022 World Games Team, to helping youth players as an owner of CUT Camp, to being a practice player within the AUDL for the Raleigh Flyers, San Jose Spiders, and San Diego Growlers, to finally taking on the responsibility of co-head coach with the San Diego Growlers. We caught up with Kaela and got some insight into her Ultimate experiences.
San Diego Growlers
Do you remember the moment you fell in love in Ultimate?
The first time I chased down a huck was the moment I fell in love with ultimate and I never looked back. I used to play soccer on a competitive traveling team and I ran track (100m, 200m, 400m, relays). There is nothing quite like that feeling of chasing a disc in any other sport.
You have had and continue to have an incredibly successful ultimate career. As a player, what defines your personal brand of ultimate?
Ultimate is a team sport and I have always been dedicated to doing what is best for the team, to play in a team-centric manner. I am extremely competitive and bring that fire to all aspects of the sport, be it training, coaching, practice, games. I feel the most confident when I know I have put in the work when no one is watching.
What are some highlights from your career that put a smile on your face?
Winning college nationals is a fantastic memory for me. Me and my roommate/best friend were co-captains that year and put in a lot of work to get to that championship game. We didn't have a coach so we had extreme ownership over the team and how the team did was directly linked with how we played.
Making the World Games team this year has been a dream come true for me. I tried out for the team in both the 2013 and 2017 cycles and was very close to making it but didn't. This time around I had made my peace with never making the team, which gave me a sort of resolve to show what I could do at tryouts. It still feels surreal, even though I am flying out tomorrow.
Who is a player you have looked towards for inspiration?
Sarah Griffith (Surge) is one of my all-time favorite teammates and competitors. She brings such an intensity and work ethic and passion for the game. She is an incredible athlete and the way that she thinks about the game and her teammates inspires me to be better.
What are some tips you would give to younger players to improve and reach the level?
Put in the work when no one is watching. Don't rely on motivation to keep you going because it will not always be there. Create habits and training patterns that you will stick to. Tryout for the best team you can and take every opportunity to play against players who are better than you. Don't be afraid to make mistakes—you will learn the most from those moments. Invest in your teammates.
For the past couple of years you have been coaching with the Growlers. What made you decide to take on that role?
I used to be a practice player with the Growlers when I first moved to San Diego because I was playing for Fury (which is located in San Francisco) and it was a good way to get reps during the week. It became clear to me that the SD community was eager for more frisbee knowledge, and since I have been coached by one of the best coaches in the game for years (Matty Tseng) I knew I had a lot of knowledge to pass on. Coaching the Growlers was the next logical step. I had spent a lot of time with the players and felt respected in the community. The owners asked me to join the coaching staff and I said yes.
What is your coaching philosophy and overall approach?
You can never spend too much time on fundamentals. My goal is to develop individual player skills first and then teach team strategies as a framework for those players to excel.
What is one of your proudest coaching moments with the Growlers?
Our win against Dallas in the playoffs. I was so proud of the way we played that game, it really showed our strengths and potential. The entire team really came together and it showed in our play. But really, my proudest coaching moments are always the little adjustments that I see players make when I know they have been working hard on it.
What have you contributed to the culture of the Growlers?
I have brought a winning mentality to the team and a belief that we are contenders. I have also helped to shape a growth mentality within the team culture and the players have all bought into that idea.
As a coach in the AUDL, what are some key growths you have seen in the league and what are some areas for continued growth?
It has been great to see the league give back to the community, particularly in the form of supporting women's and BIPOC ultimate opportunities. The visibility of the sport has definitely grown due to all the media coverage and I am excited to see what comes next for Ultimate. I think the league could do more to support youth Ultimate opportunities, which is actually something that I am passionate about and working to develop as well.
As the 2022 AUDL season unfolds, the Aii will continue working to promote inclusivity. Watch for more exciting initiatives as we look ahead to Championship Weekend 11 and beyond. Continue following the Aii Newsletter as it highlights the work going on across the league.
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.