Utah team hopes to capitalize on ultimate disc popularity
McCord Larsen gets emotional when asked to pinpoint exactly when he fell in love with ultimate disc.
The sport, most commonly known as "ultimate frisbee," has been a constant in Larsen's life since he was 8 years old, an outlet for a boy who was a traditional sport outcast and a welcomed escape from the teasing of his classmates.
"The game itself made sense to me," Larsen says as his voice cracks slightly. "It's a different mindset than a ballgame, and I wasn't very good at ballgames to begin with. It's a different kind of sport for a different kind of people, and I really just fell into that niche."
Now 22 years later, Larsen is teaming up with fellow "ultimate" enthusiast Jonathan Orlofsky to bring professional ultimate disc to Salt Lake City.
Orlofsky, 30, is the owner of the Salt Lake Lions, one of several expansion teams entering the American Ultimate Disc League this spring. The AUDL, which hosted its inaugural season beginning in April 2012, is home to 12 teams and one of two professional ultimate disc leagues in the U.S.
Larsen, a Logan native, is Orlofsky's coach and will be charged with making the Lions competitive immediately, something he hardly shies away from.
Larsen, 30, works part-time at a battery and light bulb store in West Jordan and works occasionally on production projects for films shot in Utah. But his true passion is coaching and leading others.
He learned the game from his older brother and began practicing with Utah State's ultimate disc team at age 14. He played in summer leagues and adult city leagues as he got older, then played with the Utah State team and coached the game at Skyline and Olympus high schools.
"Everywhere I've been, on my mission, we played every week, and I taught new people how to play every week," Larsen said. "In Germany, I taught people how to play, and I played every week. I can't go very long without throwing a disc."
Orlofsky, who was born in New York, still works his day job as a graphic, web and print designer, but he knew owning an ultimate disc franchise was his calling as soon as the opportunity presented itself. He was on vacation when the AUDL owner, who was skeptical that Utah even had an ultimate disc community, called and granted him an expansion team.
"I've wanted to be an owner for a very long time, I just didn't have a way to do it," Orlofsky said. "When I learned there was a league, I just called and made it happen."
Orlofsky participated in other sports like competitive swimming, but he fell in love with ultimate while playing on an intramural team as a freshman at the Rochester Institute of Technology.
"I get chills thinking about it right now," Orlofsky said. "I instantly knew I loved the sport and I didn't stop playing."
The duo already held tryouts for the team, hosting about 60 players from Utah and neighboring states like Colorado, South Dakota and Idaho in early October to form the initial squad. From 60, the group will be whittled down to 28 by the end of the month, seven of which will start for the team. However, in order to begin playing by April 2014, Orlofsky admits there's a long way to go. He still is searching for a stadium for the team, likely to be a local high school, looking for national and local sponsorship opportunities, and most importantly, getting the community interested in a sport more likely to be played on a park field or a college quad than a professional stadium.
Both men are confident that the game can succeed in Utah and are hoping to combine value for families, a lack of sports in the spring and the openmindedness of Utah sports fans to build interest in the Lions.
Larsen cited Utah's embrace of Real Salt Lake, loyalty to the Jazz and passion for college football teams like Utah, Utah State and BYU as harbingers that ultimate disc can survive and thrive here.
"Whether you wear one blue or the other or red, you get a uniquely loyal fan base," Larsen said. "They love to hold on really tight and that's something that's unique to Salt Lake."
Orlofsky says he's already sold "a few" season tickets and several tickets to the first game, even if he isn't sure when or where the first game will be. His expectation is around 2,000 fans per game when the season gets rolling.
Larsen said he already can envision himself stepping onto the field for the first Lions game, leading his team through the gameplan and living a dream he's imagined from the first time he tossed a frisbee.
"Imagine an 8-year-old on Christmas morning who got everything he ever wanted," Larsen said. "That's me."
A closer look
O Ultimate disc pickup games and leagues can be found all around Utah using the Utah Ultimate Disc Association's schedule here: http://utahultimate.org/pickup.
• For information on the Salt Lake Lions, visit the team's website here: http://saltlakelions.com/