To know ultimate Frisbee is to love ultimate. For those that don't know, the time is now.
The Indy AlleyCats, the city's newest professional sports team, are at the top of the American Ultimate Disc League's western division with just four games left before the playoffs - three are to be played in Indy where attendance averages 800 people a game and has topped 1,200. After a hard-fought win over their archrivals, the Columbus Cranes, at their most recent home game, the AlleyCats are primed for the arrival of the Connecticut Constitution (#2 in the Eastern Conference) at 2 p.m. on July 8, followed by a double-header the following weekend, ending with one final pre-tournament match against Columbus at 2 p.m. July 15.
A short primer for the uninitiated:
The game is played on a football field. The object is to catch the disc in the end zone. The team playing defense "pulls" the disc to start the game (and after each point scored). Similar to a kickoff, the disc is launched down the field to the offense where a handler retrieves it. When a player possesses the disc, he must stay planted; the other players strive to break free from defensive coverage with forwards cutting into the handlers for close, quick passes while other scramble midway down and yet others run for long-range scoring opportunities. Plays are worked out on the fly, the players do not stop moving unless the disk goes out of bounds or a point is scored.
Much of the game's excitement involves watching athletic "layouts" where players dive to grab the disc or deny the other team a catch. The various throwing techniques add another layer of interest as handlers work over, under and around defensive challenges with a balance of artistry, precision and strength.
With 40-plus points per game (one catch in end zone = one point), "only basketball scores so many times," coach Michael Potter said in a recent email. "The game is fast paced and exciting."
Part of becoming a big-league sport involved a slight taming of some of the ultimate's free-spirited roots. Instead of playing until a team reaches a designated point total (which can be hell on windy days where weather forces many turnovers), a game is now limited to four 12-minute quarters. Whereas once players self officiated, admitting their own fouls and determining boundary calls, the sport now has referees.
The sport is still dominated by traveling club teams, but Indy has managed to snag a load of talent, much of it homegrown from places including Lafayette, Muncie, Bloomington, Broad Ripple and Garrett, Ind.
Players also travel from five states and even Europe to fight for Indy. Player Marc Huber is an Austrian pilot who manages to grab a flight to the U.S. every two weeks to give Indy a nice bit of international flavor.
Ultimate ambassador Brodie Smith, a product of Florida, is best known for his trick-shot video postings on YouTube, which have been viewed more than 18 million times. Smith, who could have played for any of the newly formed AULD teams, said he chose Indy because of owner Tim Held's tenacity and the chemistry he felt when he practiced with the team.
And, while the team may move to a more lucrative market as the league grows (think Chicago), now is Indy's time both to boost its team and to prove its worth as a long-term home for the sport.
"Who knows if we'll be here for seven years," Smith said. "But it was important for this (team) to be here."
The team encourages people to come out to a game. Tickets are cheap for a pro sport ($9 a pop) and at the team's home stadium (Roncalli High School Stadium at 3300 Prague Rd.), the refreshments include beer and Dippin' Dots.
"As with any sport, having the support of the fans means everything," Potter said. "It motivates the players and makes a better more exciting experience for everyone. Nothing says summer like playing Frisbee!"
Christopher "Wildcat" Sackmann, who graduated from IU in 2010 and now owns and operates The Chocolate Emporium in downtown Bloomington, told interviewer and fan Josh Fairbanks recently how he envisions the final few weeks of the team's inaugural season.
"Alleycat fans should always expect a wild ride," Sackmann said. "We have some tough games ahead and some new players joining and rejoining the team. If players can keep their eyes, ears and hearts open and trust all the hard work and chemistry we have accomplished over these past six weeks, fans should expect a strong, entertaining 'Cats finish."