In most major cities, the ultimate scene is fragmented into different parts and layers. There are recreational players, league players, college players, and club players. Despite many of these categories blending into each other, there are distinct groups — both social and competitive — that form, just as they would in any activity.
When you reach the highest levels of competitive club ultimate, it becomes more rigid. There are tryouts, cuts, and clear dividing lines between teams.
But the Houston area club scene is trying to change that.
Space City Ultimate is an innovative way of structuring club ultimate that seeks to eliminate some of those bright-line divisions.
Brought about by Sean McCall, a former Doublewide player and long-time organizer, Space City dubs itself as a “great experiment” — “a club of several teams organized to create a career path for emerging players to reach an elite level.”
Every player interested in being involved in the competitive club scene becomes a part of Space City. After an initial tryout, players are sorted into different tiers, from the A-team Ignite on down, much like in most cities. But the decisions aren’t final.
“Over the past three seasons, we’ve had a season long play-in tryout, where a player that catches fire on our second team, Eclipse, would take it up to Ignite for Sectionals,” said Cory Casella, the 2013 President of the club.
That means that players have the entire summer to prove themselves, rather than just an individual weekend tryout. “Nobody ever gets complacent, because your spot’s always in jeopardy from somebody else who’s hungry,” explained Casella.
Last season, six players played up from Eclipse onto Ignite, and a handful of them were starting for Ignite by the time the Series came.
But the Space City initiative is bigger than just a longer tryout for players. Everyone in the club contributes — either by paying dues or working on various committees. The “service based model” makes handling things like renting fields, handling travel logistics, and running practices easier for everyone playing club in the city, rather than just an individual team.
“One of the things that we’ve struggled with is losing players to [Austin's] Doublewide,” said Casella. They’ve just got such an established program.”
That’s part of the reason Houston is trying to organize a better system.
The club’s mission, according to the website, is to “attract talented players to Houston, make our players better and keep them here so this city becomes a mainstay in sustainable competitive Ultimate. That long-term goal guides club decision-making.”
It’s not perfect. Last year, Eclipse struggled to integrate some late season cuts from Ignite, who were the team’s top playmakers. They have adjusted by planning to make final Ignite cuts earlier in the summer this year, while still allowing for Eclipse players to play up onto the Ignite roster.
“Some people get their feelings hurt every now and then, but that’s the way of competitive sports,” said Casella.
Ultimately, they see the project as a way to develop a better way of organizing ultimate with a focus on collective ownership and development.
“We do really think we’ve got something special here,” said Casella. “We’re really trying to innovate.”
The club put together a video explaining “Why Space City?” Watch: