Not your run-of-the-mill athletes: The Atlanta Flying Disc ClubThe Atlanta U17 Girls Ultimate Team (“the rATLers”) celebrates their national championship win at the 2023 YCC tournament in CO. Photo credit Rudy DeSort.
This story has been updated.
Atlanta, GA — One local sports club that’s been flying under the radar for years aims to provide an inclusive, fun experience for people from all walks of life.
But it’s the sports code of conduct — called the Spirit of the Game — that sets it apart.
The Atlanta Flying Disc Club (AFDC) was founded in 1978 and incorporated in 1988, and is dedicated to promoting the sport of Ultimate Frisbee in Atlanta “by fostering accessible, diverse, and competitive local & national play.”
The AFDC is a non-profit organization run mostly by volunteers, and with more than 2,500 members, it strives to include people of all genders and ages from around the metro Atlanta area – and perhaps most notably of all, youth players.
Charles Bliss, the Director of Advocacy at Atlanta Legal Aid since 2005, has been co-coaching the AFDC’s U17 (under 17) girls team with Hayley Plants for about five years. Having played Ultimate himself as a child and later in law school and on other various teams, Bliss said he had a fantastic time with good friends, sharing amazing experiences everywhere he went.
George Li, another coach involved with AFDC, was working with middle school and Youth Club Championship (YCC) teams and reached out to Bliss, who said he’d be interested in a coaching job.
“I felt like I really wanted to give back some to Ultimate after all the great fun I’d had playing,” said Bliss. “It’s a beautiful game and super fun…There’s an emphasis on fairness and sportsmanship, what we call the ‘Spirit of the Game.’”
Spirit of the Game is the nationwide code when it comes to Ultimate, and “places the responsibility of fair play solely on the athletes themselves by requiring each player to know the rules and make their own calls, without the help of a neutral official,” according to the USA Ultimate website. This helps to strengthen mutual respect and camaraderie among opposing members of the sport, as well as communication, self-confidence, and healthy conflict resolution between opponents.
“Spirit of the Game sets Ultimate apart from other sports…I’ve never seen football or soccer teams circle up at the end of the game and compliment the other players on how they did, but that happened at every game during YCC. It’s a sport that’s really about the community in a truly unique way,” said Hazel Hughes, a member of the Atlanta U17 girls team.
Another U17 girls team member, Cecilia Clarke, spoke about the strong friendships she has made while playing Ultimate.
“Even though I mainly do Frisbee because of my love for the sport, the impacts other players have on me and my experience is unmatched in any other aspect of my life,” Clarke said. “…Coming together and playing with people from rival teams or high schools for pickup or other leagues, and not letting the boundaries of competition keep friendships from thriving, is what makes Ultimate special to me.”
In early August of this year, the AFDC’s U17 girls, U17 boys, U20 girls, and U20 boys teams traveled to Aurora, Colo. for the YCC National Tournament. Teams from Atlanta have been attending this event for years, and U20 boys team won the competition previously. This year, the Atlanta U17 girls team, composed of young women from all around the metro area, won the national championship.
Clarke’s time in Colorado proved to be a bit difficult at first.
“I had rolled my ankle really badly just a few days before, and had to stop playing after a couple of points in our second game due to that injury,” she said.
While sitting out, Clarke cheered on her team from the sidelines, providing them with encouragement and keeping morale up. Clarke said the idea that her team could win had not occurred to her initially, but partway through the finals, it hit her.
After winning, “I hugged my friend Lizzie Madden, the one who convinced me to join the team, and who’d always been there to answer my questions and help me improve. I felt so proud because I had seen all the work my teammates had put forward, all the workouts and extra throwing sessions we posted about in our group chat, and it all felt so worth it.”
Hughes said the final game stood out.
“In the final game…our captains and star players were really given a chance to shine…,” Hughes said. “The feeling after we won was so special because we worked extremely hard for that win and felt like we really deserved it.”
Bliss called his players a “talented group of young women.”
“They worked hard and selflessly and really came together as a team…,” Bliss said. “The last couple of games were quite grueling…they really performed with great skill, but also a lot of grit and hard work to win.”
Bliss says that his favorite part of coaching is the players.
“They’re such nice young people,” he said. “It is just a pleasure to work with them from start to finish.”
Bliss also expressed his appreciation and gratitude towards colleagues Scott Thompson, Li and Plants, as well as to supporters of the club like the parents, who helped organize the Colorado trip and work to raise money for the teams. These funds benefit the AFDC, which in turn helps the metro Atlanta area grow and reaches out to interested schools, parents, and kids around town.
“It really is a great community in ATL,” said Bliss. “It provides a great opportunity for athletics and positive life lessons.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled a name. This story has been updated with the correct information.
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