Raleigh Now Spotlight: Raleigh Flyers

Professional ultimate disc teams prepare for playoffs

by Jessie Ammons
photograph courtesy of Raleigh Flyers

Add professional ultimate disc competition to the area’s long list of excellent spectator sports: The Raleigh Flyers are No. 1 in the region and gearing up for playoffs July 29 and Aug. 5.

More commonly known as ultimate frisbee (“We use ‘disc’ because ‘Frisbee’ is trademarked,” explains team owner and general manager Casey Degnan), or simply “ultimate,” the sport’s popularity has steadily grown over the past five years. Degnan says it tends to draw almost fanatically dedicated players and fans, an attitude he exemplifies. “‘When a ball dreams, it dreams it’s a Frisbee,’” he says, quoting a saying popular with players. There’s also: “‘Frisbee joins man’s greatest tool, his hand, with his greatest dream, to fly.’”

It’s definitely a crowd of true believers: “The culture and the people who make up the sport seem to distinguish it,” Degnan says. “Many fans of the Flyers are also players,” adds coach Mike Denardis. “Our players will often play pickup with many of the people that cheer for them on Saturdays.”

After his own career as a professional player in Chicago, Degnan saw the opportunity to return to his hometown two years ago by partnering with his brother, Sean Degnan, and with former UNC ultimate coach Denardis to launch the Raleigh Flyers. The team, which debuted in 2015 simultaneously with teams in Nashville, Jacksonville, and Atlanta, is part of the American Ultimate Disc League South Division.

The Flyers have maintained a winning record. The team won division finals in 2015 and lost in national semifinals; last year, the Flyers finished No. 2 in the regional division. This season kicked off in April, and as of press time, the team is No. 1. If the Flyers continue to win through the final away game July 8, the team will host an initial playoff match Aug. 12. If they lose a game and finish second in the division, they’ll play July 29.

“Playoffs have that electric feel,” Degnan says. “Win or go home.”

No matter the outcome, ultimate is a lot of fun to watch. Gameday atmosphere at WakeMed Soccer Park is low-tech and high-energy. Degnan says the athleticism of these professional athletes is not to be underestimated, but that one of his favorite parts of ultimate is its accessibility to every level. “It’s the sport I think is best positioned to bring the joy of play to the most amount of people in the world.”

Individual game tickets are $14, $5 for ages 5 – 13
and group rates are available; raleighflyers.com