In season three of their existence, the Los Angeles Aviators of the American Ultimate Disc League may seem to be flying under the radar.
Aside from their high-tech home website, Twitter and Facebook accounts, the “Aviators Nation” YouTube channel, and a Wikipedia page, they sport a slick set of black-and-red uniforms which, on that alone, should account for their No. 12 spot in the league’s current power rankings.
— Los Angeles Aviators (@laaviators) May 9, 2017
Anything might happen at an Aviators’ game at Occidental College’s Jack Kemp Stadium. At their last home contest, player Zach Theodore, a third-year pro out of Long Beach State, delivered a surprise marriage proposal on the field after a game to his girlfriend and team statistician Evie Herzfeld.
The pass was completed with the utmost of integrity, of course.
Eric Boorstin, one of five co-owners who operate the franchise in the AUDL, is included in a discussion with several players in today’s about how the “integrity rule” that comes into play.
But in addition to that, Boorstin believes the product they’re putting on the field as a family-friendly win-win situation, with “highly balletic plays – I like that word, putting ballet and athletic together,” with highlights that often make it into an ESPN “Top 10” SportsCenter highlight feature. A UK cable sports channel known as Eleven Sports Network will be putting the Aviators’ June 10 home game against Seattle on the air for wider exposure.
“It’s one of the world’s fastest-growing sports and we want to keep it growing until the demographics catch up,” Boorstin said. “For starters, it’s an affordable sport to play: Just one disc, eight cones.”
Boorstin, a civil attorney in Burbank by day, is part of a group that includes two movie lighting artists and directors from Sony PIctures Imageworks (David Conlon and James Park), a private banking manager at BNY Mellon (Devin Miller) and a sales exec at Mainfreight USA (Dan Smeltzer), all living narby in West L.A./Westchester/Culver City.
They paid the franchise fee to join the AUDL and have to share the costs of travel, marketing and everything else, drawing income from ticket sales, apparel and sponsors during the April-to-July season, leading into the playoffs and a championship match that this year will be held in Montreal.
“The goal continues to be to make enough money to pay the players and then keep working our butts off to get the word out as much as possible and continue to grow it.”
The players agree that the experience is worth it.
“It’s been a wild ride, and I’ve really enjoyed the management and opportunity to play at this level, a lifelong dream truthfully,” says Zac Schakner, one of seven players on the team with UCLA ties, getting his Ph.D. in marine biology there last spring and dealing with a comeback after cancer surgery.
“Off the field, the team works extremely hard so that we can compete at the time of our division. This typically involves a regiment of strength training, conditioning and skills practice during the week, all on top of our normal 9-to-5 jobs.
“For the fans, these games are great. I always tell people it’s like a mix of basketball, football and soccer, very fast paced and lots of exiting plays. Seeing the disc fly through the air adds an entire dimension to the game.”
Michael Kiyoi, a flex player who alternates between offense and defense for the Aviators, started out playing for the San Jose AUDL team three years ago before tearing his ACL, sitting out a year, and coming back when the Aviators came into existence, allowing him to play closer to home.
“The L.A. owners are great guys who support the community and youth ultimate especially,” said the former UCLA team captain. “They’ve created a great atmosphere, seeing a lot of kids cheering and bringing signs. Then there’s a hangout spot we go to with the fans and interact. It’s a pretty unique situation that a lot of other ‘pro sports’ teams probably wouldn’t do. Granted, they are more famous, so there’s no real comparison, but we want to focus on the community and spirit of the game and that’s what sets us apart.”
Mark Elbogen, a fourth-year player out of Santa Barbara who rooms with Kiyoi, calls the Ultimate Disc community “unlike anything I had experienced growing up. I played every sport growing up — soccer, baseball, basketball, track — and in each sport I was close with the players on my team, but didn’t really interact much with the other teams.
“In ultimate, everyone knows everyone. It’s amazing. You tend to attend the same college tournaments year in and year out and you meet people from other schools and teams and become friends. This community is small and tight knit and everyone has each other’s back. If you are ever in a city where you don’t know anyone, there is always a pickup Frisbee game nearby where you can just walk up and be welcome to play. Also, people are more than welcome to let fellow Frisbee players sleep on their couch for a night — or five.
“Heck, I even traveled to Thailand, got off the plane, took a train to a local park, and found a Frisbee game a few hours later where I made friends and found a couch to sleep on that next night. My new friend even called up another friend in another city who welcomed me to come visit and stay with him as well. I have never experienced this level of camaraderie with any other sport or hobby.”
The camaraderie spills over to the fans who attend the games at Occidental College.
“It is so much fun grabbing a pint with the team and fans after games,” said Elbogen. “If I play well, people who I’ve never met will come up to me and congratulate me on a good game. If I play poorly, friends who were in the stands will give me a few jabs about some of my less than stellar plays. I think its great that we get to keep a close relationship with the fans and keep people wanting to come back to more games.”
— AUDL (@theAUDL) April 5, 2017