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How one initiative brought Black Ultimate Frisbee players together

The three-stop Con10ent Tour aims to bring culture to the sport

At 24 years old, I had never seen an all-Black team playing Ultimate Frisbee before Sept. 11. The day that changed was the first stop of the Con10ent Tour, the first All-Black Ultimate Frisbee tour. Players arrived at Edgely Park in Philadelphia ready to showcase Black excellence. I was on the verge of tears of joy because I was not the “only Black player” on a team anymore. I finally felt a sense of home when playing the sport responsible for my blood, sweat and tears.

The earliest memories I have with a disc are around 4 years old, when it was introduced to me by my father, a white man from Illinois. I’m a Black girl from the North side of Chicago, and being born in the ’90s, basketball was supposed to be my sport. I played other sports as a youth and I dabbled in Ultimate Frisbee. Junior year of high school, I got cut from the basketball team. I wasn’t upset because my love for the game had started to fade. I turned my energy to Ultimate and played for my high school team, which included several Black players.

Yet, the farther away I ventured from my high school to play Ultimate, the fewer Black players I saw. By the time I went to college at the University of Colorado Boulder, I was one of two Black players on the Ultimate club team. It wasn’t long before I felt isolated.

Once — with the aux cord in hand during warm-ups — I wanted to play hip-hop because in high school we listened to artists such as Waka Flocka or J. Cole to get us hype. As soon as a bar started, my teammate would change the song, revoking my aux privileges. It did not stop at music, and I started to question my love for the sport.

I craved more from the Black players I met at tournaments. I always felt like one of so few. Then, I saw a video from an organization called Disc Diversity, which focuses on equity consulting.

“Rather than fixing a broken system, in a community that’s already like none other, let’s be radical,” said Shanye Crawford, founder of Disc Diversity. As “A Change is Gonna Come” played in the background, Crawford shared her idea of having an All-Black Ultimate Frisbee tour. It would be the first of its kind in the format that blends a core team of players with others in the local community.

Ultimate Frisbee tours and showcase games are common. The NexGen Tour introduced people to Ultimate and the team had a couple of players of color. The All-Star Tour showcased the great female Ultimate players. The EuroStars showed Europe’s talent.

A separate showcase game called the Color of Ultimate, featuring people of color, occurred in Atlanta in 2019. It was the first time I remember seeing a diverse group of Ultimate players on one field.

This year, the Con10ent Tour was born, keeping the Black Ultimate player in mind. Crawford organized the tour with three stops and different uniforms at each stop. It would be the first tour where Black people and Black culture within the sport would take center stage.

“She took a risk reaching out to everyone in the community, working with them and making sure their stories are heard and that means a lot,” said Austin Hegmon, a Black Ultimate player based in Atlanta who participated in the Philadelphia and Seattle stops.

According to its website, USA Ultimate is funding more grassroots efforts such as events, leagues and clinics with more community development, even talking about how racial bias can enter the sport.

Crawford recruited players who applied through community outreach with the idea to grow the sport and have a network of Black players.

“I didn’t apply immediately because I didn’t think I was good enough. … Ultimate in Canada is not as big as it is in the U.S.,” said Devon Asomata, a Canadian Ultimate player who played in Philadelphia and Seattle.

I applied to participate in the tour because I wanted the chance to meet other Black Ultimate players and thought that together we could grow the sport. I would get what I always wanted: a chance to be accepted and play with people who looked like me.

Philadelphia was the first stop on our tour on Sept. 11. A Soul Train line started the festivities and we warmed up to Black music that took me back to high school. A game full of trash-talking and swag dripped from everyone’s pores throughout the game as we put on a show for everyone at the field.

“It felt like a familial thing and you could tell immediately,” said Hegemony.

Robert Bryant played during a time when seeing a Black person, let alone a person of color, was “unusual” while playing Ultimate in the Bay Area.

“I first played a tournament the same year of the ’89 earthquake,” said Bryant, one of the coaches on the Con10ent Tour who now lives in Oakland, California. “You go from there to here, it’s pretty cool to have an experience like this … it gives you a hopeful sense for what’s possible.”

The final stop on the tour was Friday in Seattle, one of the top cities for Ultimate.

“The biggest thing when you are Black and coming into the sport is you don’t see yourself … I hope Black players can see these Con10ent games and see themselves represented,” Asomata said.

“It is a marvelous feeling to see all the people I’ve mostly held in my heart and imagination for the past 10 months … and enter into their real joy. … I literally cannot describe the wonder,” Crawford said.

It has given people hope for the future of the sport to know that there are more Black Ultimate players. Friendships are forming because the games created a support system that has sometimes lacked in our experience playing Ultimate.

“To see all that come together with this group is superpowerful and gives me a lot of hope for the future of the sport for us [Black people],” said Hegemony.

Had I seen a team with a high amount of Black people, I would not have doubted my love for the sport. I would have seen people who looked like me and that would be the difference. 

“I feel accepted by that group of people and I am glad to have a community like that to call my own,” said Emanuel “Manny” Coleman, who lives in upstate New York and is a captain on the Bowdoin College men’s Ultimate team.

We were players wandering around thinking we were alone in the sport and found each other in Philadelphia, Oakland and Seattle. There was no fronting because everyone was full of joy, excitement and hope to be around each other. We were searching for one another for so long and there we were, together.

I always wanted more from the Ultimate community and the tour has given me more.

Zoe Collins Rath is a journalist working in Virginia working as a sports and education reporter.