It’s a beautiful summer evening in Raleigh; humidity is low and the temperature hovers around the mid-70s. Brier Creek Park is filled with people—kids playing on the playground, teenagers shooting baskets, a group of fencers practicing moves in the golden rays of the setting sun. On the field, about 40 men are throwing Frisbees back and forth to one another. The spinning disks whiz through the air as the players block, jump and catch. This isn’t a casual game amongst friends. It’s the Raleigh Flyers, a professional ultimate Frisbee team, practicing for its next game against Nashville Nightwatch.
If you haven’t heard of the Flyers, it’s time you do. During its first season as a team in 2015, the Flyers won the South division title and this year its are a contender again, fighting for the win against a stacked Dallas team (imagine the Yankees of the pro ultimate Frisbee league).
“It’s an exciting, fun, fast-paced sport to watch,” says Raleigh Flyers team captain Noah Saul, who started his career playing for New York. “It’s got the flow of basketball, the running of soccer and some of the receiver patterns of football.”
Ultimate Frisbee also happens to be one of the fastest growing sports in the United States, with more people playing the sport than beach volleyball, track and field, lacrosse and rugby. The professional American Ultimate Disc League started in 2012 and has since grown to 26 franchises. The Flyers compete in the South division against teams in Texas, Florida, Tennessee and Georgia.
Raleigh native Casey Degnan who was the first player signed to the Chicago Wildfire in the Midwest league dreamed of bringing a professional team to his hometown. He partnered with Mike Denardis, who has coached elite club teams and UNC’s collegiate team, to start a new franchise here, and they introduced the Raleigh Flyers in 2015.
Just a few years ago, elite ultimate Frisbee players were paying to play but now they are actually getting paid to play a sport they love. They appreciate the fans that come to support and cheer them on.
“On game day when they play in front of fans they feel the energy of the crowd,” says Denardis.
The team hopes to raise awareness of the sport locally and get more people to come and see the games.
“As the sport grows, we’ll always stay true to our roots and try to get new fans hooked on not only the game, but the integrity and spirit you will often see on display out on the field,” says Denardis.
“It’s a big, tight-knit community when you’re in it,” adds Saul. “But it’s a challenge breaking out of the Frisbee culture and breaking into the general population.”
One way they hope to broaden their appeal is to focus on youth leagues and support ways for new people to learn the sport. The team offers an hour-long clinic before every game, where newcomers can learn how to play. Children and families are welcome too.
Visit raleigh-flyers.com for more information.