Editor’s note: Jason Parker, an avid Ultimate Frisbee player, covers the Triangle’s innovation economy for WRALTechWire.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – On weekends in the summer, I turn off my computer, rarely check email and refuse to return work-related phone calls.


I’m on a field, playing Ultimate Frisbee. Ultimate is my first love, a sport played with intense passion, with great sportsmanship, and an incredible devotion to the game.

The sport, once described as “counter-culture,” mainly because the games are self-officiated, attracts an interesting demographic: highly-educated innovation workers and startup talent.

For example, there’s a weekly pickup game held in Raleigh that’s known as “Nortel Pickup.” The game began in Nortel’s heyday in the Triangle and continues to this day as former Nortel employees bring their colleagues from Park startups and corporations down to the field to toss a disc, chase plastic, and socialize.

I play in the mixed division, where teams consist of men and women. Ultimate is one of the only organized sports where mixed-gender teams are encouraged and celebrated.

My teammates are startup employees, across a variety of industries. Many work in the Park. Many are in Master’s or Doctorate programs, or have already completed them. Many are life science professionals, working in medical facilities or research institutions. Our captain is the founder of Brothers Vilgalys Spirits Company in Durham, the city’s first liquor-producing business.

It’s not just my team – teams in the Triangle boast employees of SAS, Cree, Lenovo, Cisco, Channel Advisor, Bandwidth.com, Argyle Social, Duke University Health System, research laboratories at Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill, and NC State University.

Ultimate and the Innovation Economy

This weekend, July 4-7, TYUL and my organization, Triangle Flying Disc Association (TFDA), are playing host to the U.S. Open Ultimate Championships and Convention. All games will be played at the WRAL Soccer Complex in North Raleigh, and the convention will be held at the Raleigh City Center Marriott.

The U.S. Open Ultimate Championships and Convention is organized by USA Ultimate, the national governing body for the sport, and brings together top teams from around the United States and international teams from Japan, Denmark, and Colombia, to name a few.

As a TFDA Board Member, and an Ultimate Frisbee aficionado, I’m overjoyed that Raleigh won the bid to host the U.S. Open Championships.

It’s further validation that the Ultimate community that we’re building in the Triangle is strong, dynamic, and engaging.

In winning the bid, we competed against Austin, TX, Boston, MA, Seattle, WA, and Boulder, CO.

What do Austin, Boston, Seattle, Boulder and Raleigh have in common? They’re technological hubs, full of startup activity anchored in established technology businesses.

The correlation between Ultimate Frisbee and innovation economies isn’t accidental. It’s not a fluke. Bandwidth.com, one of the Triangle’s finest startups, is a sponsor of the U.S. Open Championships and Convention in order to recruit talented technology professionals.

Nationwide, teams attract talented innovation workers. Ultimate Frisbee, for some, is a sport they learned in college, a club activity that provided a social structure and athletic outlet without the machismo attitude of varsity sports.

The sport is bounded by a guiding principle – the Spirit of the Game – that holds players individually accountable for their actions, the actions of the team, and the sport at large.

The Game

The game is simple in concept, yet played at its highest level, requires incredible athletic prowess, field vision, and intelligence (see this incredible play featured on ESPN’s SportsNation).

Two teams of seven players – one offensive, one defensive – begin play when the 175-gram disc is “pulled” by the defensive team to the offensive team.

The offense can advance the disc down the field – a 40 x 70 yard field bracketed with 20-yard scoring endzones – by throwing the disc to their teammates. The goal is simple: advance the disc using forward or backward throws to teammates, until a teammate receives the disc in the scoring endzone.

The defensive team attempts to stop the offense from scoring, playing man-on-man defense, or zone defense, much like you would see in a basketball game.

It’s a sport I learned from my middle school advisor in the mid-90s. This was an anomaly in the 90s – a middle school Ultimate Frisbee coach – but that has changed today.

Ultimate Frisbee is one of the fastest growing youth sports in the nation, and one of the premier youth organizations is based right here in the Triangle – Triangle Youth Ultimate League (TYUL).

The Triangle’s Youth Club Championship (YCC) team won last year’s youth championships. Carolina Friends School (I am an alumni who played on the first high school team) just won the North Carolina State Championship.

Our local colleges run phenomenal programs that regularly compete in regional and national tournaments. UNC-CH’s Darkside and Pleiades competed in the College National Championships in May, and are annual contenders for the championship series.

At the club level, the Triangle boasts a Championship runner-up, Boneyard, a third-place finisher, Ring of Fire, and a thirteenth-place finisher, Pheonix. And this is just in last year’s Club Championships.

It’s a growing community, and I’d like to invite you to join us as we host the U.S. Open Championships and Convention this week.

How To Participate

Tournaments are no small matter – this one features 24 teams in three divisions – Open (Men’s), Women’s, and Mixed.

Raleigh’s own open team, Ring of Fire, the third-place finisher in last year’s Club Championships, and the Triangle’s top-tier women’s team, Phoenix, thirteenth-place finisher in last year’s Club Championships, are competing in the U.S. Open this week.

The tournament requires a staff of close to 20, and more than 160 volunteers have pledged to donate their time to helping the tournament run smoothly.

It’s a big deal.

The City of Raleigh is incorporating the tournament into its 4th of July celebrations, and is playing host to more than a thousand players, convention attendees, and volunteers.

USA Ultimate and TFDA/TYUL will have tents at the RaleighWorks festival on Fayetteville St. in downtown Raleigh.

We’re jointly running a Learn-2-Play clinic for beginning youth players, aged 6-18. It’s a free session, with some of the top players in the nation acting as coaches. Learn-2-Play will occur at the WRAL Soccer Fields on Friday, July 5, from 10 AM – noon. Parents are invited to send an email to pre-register their child or register on site.

Tournament play occurs each day, and a full schedule can be viewed online. ESPN will be airing the semi-finals on Saturday and the finals on Sunday on ESPN 3.

It’s rare that the Triangle plays host to national events. As a board member of TFDA and someone who has put in countless volunteer hours to bring the event to the area and to the Triangle’s innovation community, I encourage you to come check out the sport I fell in love with at age 12.

(Note: Learn-2-Play email is learn2play@usaultimate.org)