Professional Ultimate Disc finds home in South Philly

Philadelphia Phoenix players take part in practice at the South Philadelphia Super Site. The team returned to action in 2021 and now plays its home games at 10th and Bigler. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

It’s fast, incredibly athletic and highly entertaining. And it’s now found a home in South Philly.

The sport of Ultimate Disc has flung its way to professional status locally as the Philadelphia Phoenix have begun playing a national schedule while hosting home games at the South Philadelphia Super Site at 10th and Bigler Streets.

“It’s an awesome time and a lot of fun,” said Mike Arcata, who plays for the Phoenix and also handles the team’s general manager position. “The sport is super fast-paced and action-oriented so the games are really exciting and we put on a really good show with our game-day staff.”

Sometimes generically described as Frisbee Football or Ultimate Frisbee, the non-contact game is played on either a grass or turf field and points are scored on offensive possessions by passing the disc to a teammate in the opposing end zone. The game includes other modifications in which players cannot take steps while holding the disc. Interceptions, incomplete passes, and passes out of bounds are turnovers. Play continues until a point is scored. It’s easy to follow and it’s incredibly athletic.

Photo/Mark Zimmaro

“It’s so clear what’s happening and as you learn more, it makes the game that much better,” said Phoenix offensive coach Nate Venditta, “You can immediately come and love it and understand it and then as you learn more it deepens the love for it because you realize how many pieces are moving. It’s really cool.”

The American Ultimate Disc League was formed in 2012 and included the Philadelphia Spinners, who won the league championship in the inaugural year. The Spinners left the league to join a competing league the following year and the Phoenix replaced them that season, keeping a continuous presence in the City of Brotherly Love. The Phoenix qualified for the playoffs in 2013 but have missed the postseason ever since. Like many other professional sports leagues, the AUDL was canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19. After the extended time off, the team moved its home location to the South Philly Super Site.

“The location is amazing,” Venditta said. “The view is awesome. It’s super accessible so close to (Interstate) 95. This is the perfect spot for us and we hope this is our home for a long time.”

Philadelphia Phoenix head coach David Hampson gives instructions to players during a recent Philadelphia Phoenix practice at the South Philadelphia Super Site. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

Building a home and a fan base in South Philly has also created opportunities to spread the love of the game to children.

The team created the Phoenix Ultimate Academy as a local youth development program

“I think it’s really important, especially as a new sport that is trying to grow,” said Phoenix cutter James Pollard. “Some find it in high school if you go to the right places but most people don’t find it until college. Now that we’re finding kids to play it, they’ll just grow up playing and make the sport better and better.”

The organization also started an initiative called Pass the Disc, which aims to bring the sport to youth in underprivileged communities throughout Philadelphia, with the mission to provide free ultimate instruction and discs to local youth through partnership with city recreation centers. All efforts help grow the game for future generations.

“The goal is to make the sport more accessible to underprivileged communities,” Arcata said. “It’s very cheap and very easy to play but it’s always been considered a grassroots thing that started in college circles and stayed in those communities. We’re trying to make it more available to people who traditionally haven’t had exposure to the sport.”

Pollard was one of the lucky ones to start throwing a disc in high school. He continued playing as a secondary sport while he competed in tennis at Thomas Jefferson University.

“I found it in high school in gym class,” Pollard said. “It was one of those sports they introduced for a couple of weeks and I thought it might keep me in shape for tennis in college. I started playing on a club team there and fell in love with it and now I play Ultimate.”

James Pollard gets ready to launch the disc to start play during a recent Philadelphia Phoenix practice at the South Philadelphia Super Site. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

And he plays it well. Pollard and the Phoenix scored a 23-22 victory over the Boston Glory to wrap up a five game road trip. Philly is now 3-4 and undefeated at home (2-0).

The league consists of 22 teams across the United States and Canada. Each team plays a dozen games in the regular season before playoffs and a final four-style championship weekend.

Photo/Mark Zimmaro

The Phoenix return to South Philadelphia to continue their playoff push on July 16 against the Atlanta Hustle. They also have home dates scheduled for Aug. 6, Aug. 21 and Sept. 18. Tickets are $12online and $14 at the gate on game day. Look for other discounts, group rates and other offers available on the team’s website at Children under 6 are free.

The Phoenix are hoping to have that home-field advantage as they try to recapture the magic of the first year of Ultimate Disc in Philadelphia when the Spinners won it all.

“There’s definitely a history of excellence in Philly and we’re trying to bring that back,” Venditta said.