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NYC's Pro Ultimate Frisbee Team Soars to National Semifinals

By Nikki Lohr | August 1, 2013 8:03am
 NY Empire is competing for a national title in Chicago.
NY Empire is competing for a national title in Chicago.
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NEW YORK — New York City has two brand new professional Ultimate Frisbee teams — and one is heading to a national championship.

NY Empire, which launched in the spring and boasts a 12-5 record, is traveling to Chicago this weekend to compete in the televised semi-finals of the American Ultimate Disc League.

If NY Empire beats the undefeated Toronto Rush on Saturday afternoon, the team will go on to the year-old league's national final Sunday afternoon.

"I'm nervous, I'm not going to lie," said Isaiah Bryant, 28, co-captain of NY Empire. "But it's a good feeling. I'm always nervous in the days leading up to a game."

Bryant, a Harlem resident and account manager at American Urban Radio Networks, joined NY Empire when the team started over the winter. Players earn about $30 per game, but Bryant said he does it for the friendships and the fun of the sport, not the money.

"I love the flight of the disc. It's beautiful," Bryant said. "In football, if the ball goes over your head it's gone. But in Ultimate, if the disc goes over your head, you can run it down. There's this sense of second chances."

Long popular on college campuses, Ultimate Frisbee started in 1968 at Columbia High School in Maplewood, N.J. The game is similar to touch football, but the player who has the disc cannot run with it and must pass to a teammate instead.

The sport has soared in popularity recently, with 46,000 people across the country playing on Ultimate Frisbee club teams in 2013, up from 37,000 in 2009, according to USA Ultimate, the governing body for the sport.

Seth Canetti, 31, the other co-captain of NY Empire, said the real benefit of going pro, as opposed to playing in a club, is that the costs of travel and the uniform are covered by the team.

"It's enough for a meal and a couple of post-game drinks," Canetti, a Rye, N.Y. resident who works in logistics at Avon Products, said of the $30 he generally receives per game. "Hopefully some day there’ll be guys who make a living off it, but I don’t think it’ll be in my time.”

Like NY Empire, another professional Ultimate Frisbee team called NY Rumble also launched in the city earlier this year.

Both teams have 27 players apiece and practice all over the city, from Randall’s Island to Pier 40 in Hudson River Park. NY Empire plays home games at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, while NY Rumble plays at Union City High School in New Jersey but runs a fan bus from Chelsea for $5.

NY Rumble, which had a 3-7 record in its inaugural season, is part of a separate pro league called Major League Ultimate and also hosts clinics for young Frisbee players.

The teams are funded primarily through sponsorships but also through sales of tickets, merchandise and concessions.

“Ultimate is in the midst of a renaissance,” said Elliot Trotter, founder of Skyd Magazine, a website that covers Ultimate Frisbee games and news. “There’s no other sport like it.”

NY Empire’s Saturday game will be broadcast live at 7 p.m. Eastern Standard Time at UXTV Network., and the final game will be at 2 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on Sunday. It costs $13 to view all three championship games live. Off-air broadcasts of the games will be posted later and can be seen for free.