By Kierstin Lindkvist
Ultimate Frisbee is one of the world’s fastest-growing sports, and the Chicago Union is making a name for itself within the sport. After making it to championship weekend last season, the Union has developed a core family-friendly fan base with hopes of spreading the passion for the sport to the next generation.
[INTRO VIDEO PLAYS]
Kierstin Lindkvist: WELCOME TO MEDILL NEWSMAKERS. I’M KIERSTIN LINDKVIST. WHEN MOST PEOPLE THINK OF CHICAGO SPORTS, ULTIMATE FRISBEE ISN’T TOP OF MIND, BUT IT’S ONE OF THE WORLD’S FASTEST-GROWING SPORTS, WITH EVEN TALKS OF THE SPORT MAKING AN APPEARANCE AT THE 2028 OLYMPICS. AND THE CHICAGO UNION IS MAKING A NAME FOR ITSELF HERE WITHIN THE SPORT.
ACCORDING TO USA ULTIMATE, MORE THAN 7 MILLION COMPETE WORLDWIDE, AND ROUGHLY 3 MILLION PEOPLE PLAY IN THE UNITED STATES. THE AMERICAN ULTIMATE DISC LEAGUE, OR AUDL, IS THE PREMIER PROFESSIONAL LEAGUE IN THE UNITED STATES.
IN 2012, THE LEAGUE FORMED WITH EIGHT TEAMS. CHICAGO JOINED AS AN EXPANSION TEAM A YEAR LATER, AND THE AUDL HAS SINCE SPREAD TO 25 TEAMS ACROSS THE U.S. AND CANADA, SPLIT INTO FOUR DIFFERENT DIVISIONS.
ORIGINALLY UNDER THE NAME THE WINDY CITY WILDFIRE, THE TEAM REBRANDED TO ITS CURRENT NAME, CHICAGO UNION, TO REPRESENT THE BLUE-COLLAR NATURE OF THE CITY. THE UNION COMPETES IN THE CENTRAL DIVISION, AGAINST TEAMS LIKE THE PITTSBURGH THUNDERBIRDS, THE DETROIT MECHANIX, THE MADISON RADICALS, THE MINNESOTA WIND CHILL AND THE INDIANAPOLIS ALLEYCATS.
THE SPORT COMBINES THE RULES OF MULTIPLE OTHER SPORTS, PLAYING ON A LARGE FIELD WITH TWO END ZONES. TEAMS ARE COMPRISED OF SEVEN PLAYERS AND BEGIN EACH DRIVE WITH A PULL – SIMILAR TO AN OPENING KICKOFF IN FOOTBALL. THE TEAM THEN HAS TO PASS THE DISC FROM ONE PLAYER TO THE NEXT WITHOUT DROPPING IT OR TAKING STEPS WHILE HOLDING IT – KIND OF LIKE A TRAVEL IN BASKETBALL. A GAME FULL OF HUGE INTERCEPTIONS, DIVING LAYOUTS AND CLUTCH BLOCKS, THE TEAM WITH THE MOST POINTS AFTER FOUR 12-MINUTE QUARTERS WINS.
FOR THE MOST PART, A NUMBER OF PROFESSIONAL TEAMS IN CHICAGO ARE CURRENTLY IN A REBUILDING PHASE, OR IN THE MIDDLE STAGES OF CONSTRUCTING A WINNING TEAM. THE UNION – QUITE THE OPPOSITE – EVEN BOASTING A 13-2 RECORD LAST SEASON. AND THE UNION IS HUNGRY FOR A CHAMPIONSHIP WIN AFTER MAKING IT THERE LAST SEASON. I CAUGHT UP WITH THE TEAM AND FANS TO SEE WHAT THE HYPE WAS ALL ABOUT.
[Fan cheers Let’s go Union! Woo]
THE CHICAGO UNION ON THE HUNT FOR ITS FIRST AUDL TITLE AFTER TWO STRONG SEASONS, DRAWING A LOYAL FAN BASE WITH IT.
Maureen O’Brien, Chicago Union fan: It’s just fun. I mean it’s a really good way to be a part of a community with people. I love the name Union.
PLAYED ON CHICAGO’S SOUTH SIDE, JUST STEPS AWAY FROM THE GREEN LINE. FOR SOME PLAYERS, PLAYING CLOSE TO HOME MEANS EVERYTHING.
Jesse Johnson, Chicago Union player: I grew up in Oswego. It’s no commute. It’s just a 20-minute drive or a 15-30 minute train line. It’s awesome. It’s so great.
FANS AND PLAYERS SHARE ONE ULTIMATE GOAL.
Caitlin Duffner, Chicago Union fan and Ultimate player: To see this sport at the highest level of competition. And I like the competition.
AND SHARING THE SPORT WITH THE NEXT GENERATION,
Ross Barker, Chicago Union cutter: Once a youth pipeline is formed, 10-20 years from now, all these kids that are out here playing right now will someday be on this field playing, and they will be a whole lot better than we are.
A UNITED, FAMILY-FRIENDLY ENVIRONMENT OPEN TO NEWCOMERS,
Wyatt Mekler, Chicago Union handler: It’s a fast-paced game. The food, the beer, the energy. It’s all good here, and when we get warm weather games like this, we got to utilize them, so give it a try. Come out.
Lindkvist: COMING OFF THAT GAME, I ALSO CAUGHT UP WITH HEAD COACH DAVE WOODS TO TALK ABOUT THE GROUP OF GUYS HE HAS TAKING THE FIELD AND HIS HOPES FOR THE TEAM MAKING IT BACK TO ANOTHER CHANCE AT A CHAMPIONSHIP TROPHY.
Lindkvist: COACH, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR TAKING THE TIME TO SIT DOWN AND CHAT. SO, DAVE, YOU ARE NO STRANGER TO THE SPORT, YOU STARTED OFF IN HIGH SCHOOL.
Dave Woods, Chicago Union head coach: I like to say I played a version of the sport with my high school friends, but it was a full-contact version. It had very few rules and almost always resulted in somebody going home injured and crying, so not quite the level that we play at in the AUDL.
Lindkvist: NO, DEFINITELY A LITTLE DIFFERENT. AND YOU PLAYED AND COACHED, NOT JUST IN COLLEGE BUT ALSO KANSAS CITY. HOW DID YOU MAKE THE SWITCH TO CHICAGO?
Woods: I tried out for the team and was surprised that I made the team and actually had a professional Ultimate career before I found my first professional job in Chicago.
Lindkvist: VERY COOL. SO LOOKING AT THIS TEAM, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY ARE THE BIGGEST STRENGTHS OF THIS GROUP OF GUYS YOU HAVE?
Woods: We have some very talented offense power. We’re returning several of our offensive players from this year that took us to championship weekend last season. A few more newcomers this year than we’ve had in the past, so that’s kind of an exciting new thing for this season. We have always played a very team-heavy style of defense, so we’re really eager to see that come to fruition.
Lindkvist: COMING OFF LAST SEASON, MAKING IT ALL THE WAY TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP TITLE GAME, ARE YOU COMING INTO THIS SEASON HOPING FOR REVENGE?
Woods: As much as I’d like to say “We’re going to take it 100% guaranteed. You can count on the Union,” I think this year our division is going to be heavily contested. It’s going to come down to some very close games. Don’t focus on the score. Focus on the task at hand. we’re going to take this season one game at a time, one quarter at a time, one point at a time.
Lindkvist: WELL SAID. FOR THOSE WHO DON’T KNOW THE SPORT OR WANT TO COME OUT AND WATCH, WHAT WOULD BE YOUR MESSAGE TO GET THEM TO COME OUT TO GAMES?
Woods: Chicago is a great sports city with a lot of fans watching a lot of different types of sports that I’m sure would fall in love with Ultimate if they came out to watch the Chicago Union play at De La Salle Institute. It’s a very family-friendly environment. We’ve got great fans who are regulars who welcome new fans. We try to make our home game experience as approachable as the sport itself. It’s all a big, united family.
AND TAKING A LOOK AT THE REMAINING HOME SCHEDULE FOR THE UNION, TICKETS START AT $15 APIECE AND ARE ON SALE NOW. VISIT SHOP.GOCHICAGOUNION.COM FOR MORE INFORMATION.
Lindkvist: FOR MEDILL NEWSMAKERS, I’M KIERSTIN LINDKVIST. THANKS FOR WATCHING.