Toney: Connect Diverse Communities, Local Organizers to USA Ultimate

Thoughts from the USAU Board candidates

Ernest Toney.

This article was written by Ernest Toney, one of the candidates for the two at-large positions on the USA Ultimate Board of Directors that are up for election through December 23rd. All seven board candidates have been offered an opportunity to write an essay and appear on a special edition of the Deep Look podcast this week. USAU members can vote in the election through their online account.

First off, I want to acknowledge how exciting it is to see such a strong and talented field of candidates running for the at-large Board of Directors positions. I worked with the candidates during my five years as a Manager of Competition & Athlete programs at USA Ultimate and know that the Board will be stronger at the conclusion of this election, regardless of the outcome.

Why am I running?

2020 was a difficult year for lots of people in lots of ways. For me, it was a year of reflection and redefining my purpose. Amidst the global coronavirus pandemic, the acceleration of social unrest across the United States, the emotional toll of partisan politics, and the general uncertainty of…everything, my desires for community and helping others increased. I was searching for certainty, and here is what I discovered – I can control my values, my actions, and where and how I use my energy (resources like time, volunteering, knowledge, and influence). So, I decided to use those resources to support the communities, causes, and people I care most about. Ultimate was at the top of that list.

A year without ultimate feels like an eternity, and I miss it.

Seriously, if I could spend a week right now of being on the road, setting up and breaking down tourney sites, working 16-hour days, not sleeping, and taking complaints about [insert heckle/criticism here], I would do it in a heartbeat.  But at the same time, I know that event and program management is no longer the most impactful way for me to give back to the ultimate community.

The best way for me to advance the sport (and its three Cs – community, character, and competition) is to use my energy at the strategic and board level. USAU is far from achieving the progress it hoped to during the current three-year strategic plan. The pandemic affected that, of course, but the strategies to achieve the four goals, in my opinion, were audacious for that short timeframe when you consider the limited paid and volunteer resources, disparate growth infrastructures, and competing priorities of the membership base. I feel like Goal #1 itself (increase access to and participation in the sport, with emphasis on inclusion and local youth development) could fill a three-year plan and there would still be a need to improve.

USA Ultimate took a big hit this year. And while their years of strong financial management kept the organization afloat, they will need help to continue serving the ultimate community amidst more uncertainty. They experienced turnover from leading national volunteers, made the financial decision to refrain from backfilling full-time vacancies, and furloughed employees while others took pay cuts.

In a normal year, the USAU team is stretched thin – overworked and underpaid – but pulls off hundreds of events per year, while working hard to meet a myriad of strategic, membership, and community goals. And those goals cannot be met without active members, diverse revenue streams, volunteers, strong disc organizations, and the stakeholders who bring structure to the sport and its supply chain…and that all suffered this year, too.

I believe my value to advance the sport lies here: in my understanding of how USAU works operationally, the positive relationships I have with the stakeholders of the sport, my proven ability to navigate complex situations with effective decision-making, my access to diverse communities, and my business acumen and relationships.

With regards to the latter two items specifically, my marketing, business development, large professional network, and community organizing strengths have enhanced in the last 2+ years since leaving USAU. I am eager to apply those insights to help the organization grow by connecting diverse and external communities to the sport. I am also eager to help USAU build stronger connections and relationships with disc organizers across the country to enhance the national, regional, and local infrastructures that support the sport’s growth.

I hope to earn your vote in the upcoming election! In the meantime, feel free to connect with me through social media (Twitter / Facebook) if you have questions.

You can read more about Ernest Toney’s candidacy on USA Ultimate’s website.

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