And now for something completely different: Professional Ultimate Disc

I had the pleasure of attending a sporting event that I have never attended, except in a mass tournament setting, and never at this level, a Professional Ultimate Disc match. Yes, Philadelphia has a professional Ultimate team, your Philadelphia Phoenix , who play in the American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL).

Their home matches are played at intimate A.A. Garthwaite Stadium in Conshohocken, PA, not far from Philadelphia proper.

Philadelphia Phoenix History:

The Phoenix started in the League in 2012 as the Philadelphia Spinners, winning the title that first season. The next season the Spinners joined a new league started by it’s owner called  Major League Ultimate (MLU). The Phoenix then rose to take their place in the AUDL. For four years there were actually two Pro teams until the MLU folded after the 2016 season.

Basic Ultimate Rules:

For those who do not know the sport here are the basic rules for a standard Ultimate Match per USAUltimate.Org:

Ultimate in 10 Simple Rules
by Steve Courlang and Neal Dambra

The Field: A rectangular shape with end zones at each end. A regulation field is 70 yards by 40 yards, with end zones 25 yards deep.

Initiate Play: Each point begins with both teams lining up on the front of their respective end zone line. The defense throws (“pulls”) the disc to the offense. A regulation game has seven players per team.

Scoring: Each time the offense completes a pass in the defense’s end zone, the offense scores a point. Play is initiated after each score.

Movement of the Disc: The disc may be advanced in any direction by completing a pass to a teammate. Players may not run with the disc. The person with the disc (“thrower”) has ten seconds to throw the disc. The defender guarding the thrower (“marker”) counts out the stall count.

Change of Possession: When a pass is not completed (e.g. out of bounds, drop, block, interception, stalled), the defense immediately takes possession of the disc and becomes the offense.

Substitutions: Players not in the game may replace players in the game after a score and during an injury timeout.

Non-contact: No physical contact is allowed between players. Picks and screens are also prohibited. A foul occurs when contact is made.

Fouls: When a player initiates contact on another player a foul occurs. When a foul disrupts possession, the play resumes as if the possession was retained. If the player committing the foul disagrees with the foul call, the play is redone.

Self-Officiating: Players are responsible for their own foul and line calls. Players resolve their own disputes.

Spirit of the Game: Ultimate stresses sportsmanship and fair play. Competitive play is encouraged, but never at the expense of respect between players, adherence to the rules, and the basic joy of play.

Differences For the Professional Game:

And for those that do play, here are the main differences for the Pro Game as provided to me by my Slam Volleyball League cohort and Lower Merion JV High School Ultimate Coach Jun-Ming Lin-Haines.

Professional Ultimate Rule Differences:

Professional Ultimate:  A Professional Ultimate game is an officiated sport overseen by 1 head official and 3 other officials.  While the officials do make active call determinations (foul, travel, drop, in/out, etc) and enforce the yardage penalties, professional Ultimate relies upon the integrity, mutual respect, safety, and adherence to the rules by all its participants.

Field Size:  Played on a football field, regulation field is 80 yards long by 53 1/3 yards wide, with end zones 20 yards deep.

Length of Game:  Like basketball, a regulation game consists of four 12-minute quarters.  Special clock rules are in effect during the last 30 seconds of each quarter.

The Pull:  If an untouched pull lands in bounds and then goes out of bounds, the disc is put into play on the playing field closest to the line where the disc first went out of bounds (e.g., if the disc rolls out the back of the end zone, the disc is put into play on the back line).

Stalling: Unlike non professional games of Ultimate, referees NOT players are not responsible for keeping the stall count. Also the stall count is to 6. If the count reaches 7 before the player releases the disc, it is a immediate turnover.

Double Teaming:  2 defenders may actively mark the thrower.

Substitutions:  Players not in the game may replace players in the game during a timeout on the field.

Advantage:  Similar to soccer, an official may allow play to continue after a foul if stopping play would unfairly punish the fouled team.

“Macking”:  If the clock shows 00:00.0 and the disc is in the air, the play will continue until the result of the throw is determined.  A player may “mack” the disc to a teammate, but no subsequent throw will be permitted.

Overtime:  If the score is tied at the end of the 4th quarter, then the game will continue into an overtime period.  The 1st overtime period is 5 minutes and has the same rules as regulation.  If the score is still tied after the 1st overtime, the 2nd overtime will be sudden death, with the first team scoring winning the game.  The 2nd overtime period has no game clock.

The Atmosphere:

Garthwaite stadium is smack dab in the middle of residential Conshohocken, and the atmosphere reflects that. Most of the people in the stands seem to be family and friends of the players, as well as a few obviously hard-core Ultimate fans. For just $10 for adults and $6 for chidren 7-17, you can get very up close and personal with the players and these family members. To show the closeness of the team with their fans, the Moms were introduced along with the team pre-game.

Philadelphia Phoenix Honor Their Moms Before Outlasting Toronto Rush 18-16

There were a few food vendors, one very local beer vendor, and free energy drinks, as well a a DJ keeping the crowd pumped.

Here are a few more pics of the stadium and the good crowd by game time that almost filled the stands on one side. nicely shaded by trees behind the fence.

The Game:

This was the starting roster for the Phoenix:

You can find more about each player here.

From the opening “Pull”, the game itself was pretty much non-stop action as one player tosses the disc to another. more like soccer with a disc than football to which it is sometimes compared, as they try to find an opening in the other team’s defense. The few pauses are when a team does not complete a pass and the disc is turned over, or they score and the benches empty in celebration. The play itself is mostly friendly competition except the occasions when more than one player goes after a tossed disc and there is some contact more by the play, than on purpose. Just about all contact is called immediately so tempers rarely flare, and the teams seem to congratulate and respect each other more than most any pro sport you will witness.

Quick Recap:

At this point I admittedly do not know the players well enough to do a decent detailed recap of the match as I would in my baseball and soccer posts, but I can tell you that the Phoenix broke on top 1st and never trailed, or in Ultimate Lingo:

At one time the ‘Nix were up by as many as four points, but could never put it away.

To show how close it stayed, these were the scores at the end of each Qtr.

It got interesting toward the end as Philly would let Toronto get level.

In the final half minute though the Phoenix defense forced a turnover, and in one last long toss and “hold” down the field they would get to the eventual :

Fittingly after the teams met at mid-field, in a show of sportsmanship and the closeness to the fans, both teams came to the sidelines for high fives from anybody that would get in line, including this scribe. It seemed like the Toronto players who have had a long road trip, appreciated the respect from the crowd. I admit that I, who have attended and covered literally thousands of scholastic thru professional sporting events, was totally enthralled by the whole up close experience.

Here are the final stats for the match:

Individual Leaders

Toronto Rush Philadelphia Phoenix
Assists 3 – B. Wachholz 6 – S. Mott
Goals 3 – S. Graham 4 – G. Martin; M. Arcata
Blocks 3 – R. Ojo 2 – Three players
Completions 34 – T. McKnight 42 – E. Fortin
Points Played 22 – C. Harris 20 – S. Mott
Plus/Minus 4 – S. Graham 5 – S. Mott; M. Arcata

Team Stats

Toronto Rush Philadelphia Phoenix
Throws Made-Attempted 199-225 203-228
Completion % 88% 89%
Offensive Productivity % 60% 64%
Total Blocks 16 12
Total Turnovers 30 27

Phinal Thoughts:

Once again I want to thank Ming, who has worked many jobs for the club, but on game day is a “Host” explaining the game to newbies, and talking with VIPs, for introducing me to this, as well as Phoenix GM Mike Arcata for the courtesies extended to me for this match.

I will be back as a paying customer next time, and will endeavor to bring you all more of my experiences with this exciting sport.

Up Next:

The Phoenix have three more home matches this season. If you are looking for something to do with the whole family on a weekend afternoon/evening and you can get to Conshohocken, I highly recommend checking out one of these games. The knowledgeable and boisterous – though never 700 level obnoxious as befits the sport’s creed – fans, along w/ the DJ and your on-field  play by play guy, Alex “Shaggy” Shragis, will make sure you have a good time.

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