From Chicago Player To Raleigh Owner: Casey Degnan Joins Mike DeNardis In New AUDL Franchise

A long-time Chicago player, Casey Degnan is making a big move back to his hometown.

Casey Degnan
Casey Degnan.

The move was a leap of opportunity, but one long dreamed about.

Raleigh, North Carolina, now has an American Ultimate Disc League franchise.

Casey Degnan, a well-known player in the Chicago ultimate scene, has made news by leaving the Midwest and joining with his brother Sean and Mike DeNardis in heading up a new professional team for the AUDL.

While DeNardis is relatively well-known in the ultimate world as the coach of the UNC Men’s team and now area club team Ring of Fire, Casey Degnan is one of the new owners in the growing AUDL South Division, which — along with Nashville, Jacksonville, and Atlanta — will bring the league’s presence to the Southeast next year.

This move is a sign not only of the AUDL’s expansion, but of the growing opportunities that continue to arrive in semi-pro ultimate. Degnan is one of many taking advantage, as he changes his city, his responsibilities, and his life for a chance to take the helm of a new team.

Know an Owner

Raised in Raleigh, Casey Degnan graduated from Cardinal Gibbons High School before heading to High Point University. There, he was the first player in school history to make the NCAA Tournament in tennis (all the while doing so with his off-hand, after having injury problems) and developed an intense passion for athletic competition.

“My parents and in-laws, brothers and friends all call Raleigh home,” says Degnan. “I’m excited to be back home and reunite with my immediate family, but to also join a new ultimate one.”

For the past six years, Degnan has lived and worked in Chicago, where he has been heavily involved in the ultimate community.

Degnan immersed himself immediately. As a player, he has been apart of Chicago Club and Beachfront Property club teams, and is a veteran of club tournaments around the country. Degnan was also the first player signed on Chicago’s Wildfire AUDL franchise when it premiered two years ago. Well known for his speed and goal-scoring ability, Degnan is a tireless worker, who spends a large amount of time focusing on his training, and is also highly regarded as a competitive teammate and opponent.

He’s also taken on several leadership roles in the Windy City; he was a founding member of Chicago’s beach league, has worked with event leadership for the world-famous Chicago Sandblast tournament, and has been with the Ultimate Athlete Project for the last two years focusing on their weight, conditioning, speed and agility training program. Degnan is also studying at Ball State University in the Master’s Coaching Program.

Most of all, Degnan wants to focus on spreading his passion to the youth. He gave up his job as a day trader to go back to athletics and working with kids in schools. The youngest of six boys, Degnan wants to share his philosophy for many reasons — from promoting health and fitness to sharing competitive sportsmanship and drive.

Degan emphasizes the value of play and the ability to influence the youth of a city through the teaching and participation of sports, not only to grow the health and safety of kids, but their enjoyment as well.

As a coach, Degnan has given back to the ultimate community, and the youth of the Chicago area, in many ways. He’s coached two high school teams in CUJO (Chicago Ultimate Junior Organization) and has given his time and financial support to help other ultimate programs. Most recently, he started  his own ultimate team and athletic program at Intrinsic H.S., an inner city charter school, where he began the athletic program and served as athletic director.

Degnan has volunteered at numerous coaching and youth clinics, working with various ultimate related youth outreach programs, organizations, and schools teaching ultimate throughout Chicago, with CUJO and Callahan For Kids (a Chicago Wildfire nonprofit partner).

“Chicago has served as my surrogate family,” says Degnan, “and I couldn’t have asked for a better group of Frisbee friends and people who I have called family for the past six years.”

Ready to Lead

Degnan’s experience enriched the Chicago ultimate scene, but he never stopped thinking about one day returning to do the same for his hometown.

“There was always the the notion that some day I would bring my experience and professional ultimate back to my hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina,” says Degnan.

Degnan first considered the move when the talks of starting AUDL teams began, but decided, after meeting with Steve Gordon, to work hard to help build Chicago’s professional team and community.

While the change and move to Raleigh now may seem sudden to the outsider, it has been long thought of by Degnan and others. As the AUDL continued to grow, Degnan worked closely with the Wildfire, learning as much as he could about building a franchise and winning program.

The time is at last been right for Degnan to make the leap.

“I have enjoyed my time in Chicago immensely,” Degnan says, “as a player, as a teacher, as a coach and as a contributing member of an amazing community, but it was time for me to move on and to move back home and start a family and hopefully a flourishing ultimate franchise.”

The Creation of Raleigh’s Franchise

While Degnan has long thought about this team’s creation, Mike DeNardis is relatively new to the process. In August of this year, he began considering ownership of the team with a partner when Degnan renewed his interest. The two met and joined together, along with Sean Degnan, in co-ownership.

DeNardis, who has his own strong Chicago connection, is in many ways the perfect partner as he is has become one of the most respected ultimate leaders in North Carolina. He brings his own deep knowledge and experience, as well as coaching connections with some of the best young players in the area with UNC Chapel Hill and his club affiliation.

Together the Degnans and DeNardis brought together the funds to start the franchise, and the Raleigh team has become a reality. Casey Degnan’s brothers have businesses and contacts in the Triangle area, and will therefore not only be able to provide early opportunities to connect to the economy there, but also sound advice in a variety of marketing, accounting, and other areas.

DeNardis says he is very excited. “I am truly happy that I get to build a product from the ground up again,” he goes on to say, “especially on professional level where so many great teams have already established themselves.”

Things should be exciting from a fan’s point of view as well, as Degnan and DeNardis have some great players to build a team from in the area.

“Ring will definitely have a relationship with the team,” DeNardis explains, “but it will be interesting how the two teams coincide.  Obviously, there will be players on the pro team that can’t play for the club team, so we’ll have to work through that as our schedule is built, but I’m not worried about it being detrimental to either team.”

It will be interesting to see how the roster shapes up as the Degnan brothers and DeNardis balance the USAU club and AUDL scenes and begin to build a new community and identity together. It seems likely that with DeNardis in such a prominent role, Ring could be almost fully integrated with the new AUDL team, as other cities have done.

Returning Home

Raleigh’s ultimate scene continues to grow.

With Ring of Fire’s excellent results this year at the 2014 National Club Championships, recent youth National success, and more and more ultimate players and leaders moving into the area, it is clearly a city to watch.

Casey Degnan has seen the potential and expects great success in his return home. However, he has made clear that his focus, and all of his hard work, is centered around the passion for the sport and about spreading a game he loves.Together, with his brother and Mike DeNardis, he’ll look to build a successful franchise that will spread ultimate opportunities for leaders, players, and fans alike.

“My goal,” explains Degnan, “is to bring my 5 year tenure at 4 Star summer camps and my experience with coaching clinics, camps and high schools in Chicago to the Raleigh area to build off of the growing youth scene in Raleigh and provide top notch instruction from players, coaches and owners.  This facet is what drives me to bring the AUDL franchise to Raleigh.”

Degnan seeks to be a role model and to create dozens of others in the process, people who can step and lead the youth to strive to be better individuals. For him, it’s about building something bigger than himself, something that will stand out and be able to share these chances with others.

Leaving the land of deep dish pizza, native son Casey Degnan returns to Raleigh for some home style BBQ and an exciting future.

**Editor’s Note: An earlier version of the piece stated that Degnan was born in Raleigh, which has since been corrected (he was raised in Raleigh)**

  1. Alex Rummelhart
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    Alex "UBER" Rummelhart is an Ultiworld reporter. He majored in English at the University of Iowa, where he played and captained IHUC. He lives and teaches in Chicago, Illinois, and has played for Haymaker, Chicago Club, and Machine. He currently plays for Chicago Wildfire. Alex loves writing of all types, especially telling interesting and engaging stories. He is the author of the novel The Ultimate Outsider, one of the first fictional works ever written about ultimate.

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