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It was less than a year ago—last December to be exact—that the Colorado Summit became the newest franchise in the American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL), and it wasn’t long after that that ultimate aficionados attended try-outs for the Centennial State’s first professional ultimate team. Now, after a wildly successful 11–1 inaugural season, the team is just one win away from the AUDL finals, held this weekend in Madison, Wisconsin. (If the Summit win their semifinal game against the Chicago Union, they will play in the final on Saturday the 27th against either the Carolina Flyers or the New York Empire.)
We sat down with Summit team members Mark Donohue and Felix Pronove a couple of days before the semifinal contest to talk the rules of the game, the fame and fortune that may—or may not—come with pro-level disc-tossing, and the secret to the Summit’s success.
5280: First things first: How should we refer to this sport to avoid infringing on copyright laws?
Mark Donohue: The word Frisbee is actually trademarked by the Wham-O company, but we often say “ultimate Frisbee” when describing it because that’s the word more people are familiar with. Really you should just call it “ultimate” or “ultimate disc.”
Roger that. And ultimate isn’t the one with baskets?
Donohue: Nope. Ultimate is a combination of soccer and football with seven players per team. The basic idea is that you’re throwing the Frisbee to your teammates and advancing it up the field to try to score a goal. There’s an offense with possession of the disc and the defense is doing their best to swat the disc down when it’s thrown, intercept it, or just make it really hard to find an open person. Once you catch the Frisbee, you have to be stationary–similar to basketball when you pick up your dribble–but you have a pivot foot that you can use to try to get around defenders. In terms of the actual skills, throwing and catching at a high level is really important.
Felix Pronove: Conditioning is also huge. I’m frequently running hills and practicing on a regular basis, and I’m still ready to die after a point is scored. Also, unlike any other sport, ultimate disc—at least at the lower levels—has no referees. If you feel like you were fouled in the process of trying to make a play, you can call it, and then it’s between you and the other player to make a decision. We try to respect our opponents as well as our teammates, just for the good of the game. I think that brings a really positive experience to everybody who plays.
What does your training regimen look like?
Pronove: We started out the season in March with a couple weekends of six-hour practices on both Saturday and Sunday. During the season, we went down to one or two practices a week, but there is an understanding that you’re training on your own time. A lot of us currently play on a club team as well as this pro team. Most players are probably averaging four practices a week, if not more. And that doesn’t include any running drills or lifting that we do on our own.
And you’re making the big bucks for your efforts?
Pronove: We get $500 for the ultimate disc season, but that amount is based on how many games you play, so there’s a pro-rate to it as well. I always joke with people that I’m getting paid in stamps, more or less, but that just shows we do this more for the love of the sport than for the actual financial benefits of being a professional athlete.
So if you’re not in it for the money, at least there’s glory to be had, right?
Pronove: I’ve been playing for 11 years now, and my family and my significant other got it to some degree. I did get those “go kick butt” sentiments, but once they started watching the game at the professional level, they really started to understand it. That’s when I began to hear, “Oh my gosh, you should absolutely have caught that! What were you thinking?”
What’s the secret to the Summit’s success?
Pronove: The University of Colorado Boulder Ultimate Frisbee team is one of the top powers at the college level year-in and year-out, so being able to draw from that deep pool of players has been a huge asset. And then quite a few of our players had already played together on various club teams.
Donohue: There’s also the fact that the Summit has some veterans of the league who have spent years playing on other teams scattered throughout the country. The leadership provided by those veterans, combined with high-IQ coaches, has led to a team with a lot of drive, a lot of experience, and a lot of eagerness to take on the challenge that each practice and each game provides.
Sounds like the plotline of the first season of Ted Lasso. What are you hoping comes out of this weekend, besides walking away with a “W”?
Pronove: One of our captains, Joe Anderson has been preaching something to us this whole season: “Show your joy on the field.” We play ultimate for the love of the game, the love of the community. We want to show that to our ultimate disc fans in the stadium. The championship is just another opportunity to continue to show that joy to the rest of the world.
The disc flies today at 4 p.m. MST when the Summit will take on the Chicago Union in the AUDL postseason semifinal. If you can’t make it to Madison on short notice, stream the game live on AUDL.tv (subscription required) or, better yet, pull up a barstool and cheer on the team at one of the local watch parties being held at Tom’s Watch Bar in Denver, The Ute & Yeti in Colorado Springs, and Obstacle Brewing and Grill in Fort Collins.