Growing out of engagement on social activism and social media, a potential new contender emerges in the South Central.
June 10, 2021 by Edward Stephens in Profile with 0 comments
The Eyes of March
You probably didn’t see the eyes on March 21st.
There were four of them, two pairs’ worth, a little more than half a percent of Twitter’s character allotment. They were right there on their own, the first tweet from a brand-new account, not quoting or replying to anything, as if arising from nothing.
Such tweets are the invisible backdrop of timelines, easy to scroll past, easier to forget: everybody in cyberspace is out there throwing around eyes, and as a rule they don’t amount to a hill of wet sweatbands.
But these eyes, as it turns out, were the first glimpse of a substantial something. A whiff of relevance — not to mention the only reason anybody would have had to scroll past the emoji eyes to begin with — came from an immediate retweet, the only one to date. It was courtesy of Colton Green, a UT-Dallas sophomore whose active presence in ultimate Twitter throughout much of the last year has resulted in a large-ish (by frisbee standards) following. Green is, among many other things, pretty good at the Twitter game: he knows better than to throw away a retweet on four meaningless eyes from a team no one’s ever heard of if there isn’t going to be any there there.
The next piece of the puzzle was an interest form for said unheard-of team, Flash Flood. It featured an intriguing core of solid young players. There was Green, of course, as well as his 2019 UTD teammates Jason Hustad and Emmanuel Bilolo. But alongside that trio — not too surprising in and of itself — were players from farther afield: Christian Cortes of the men’s club Oakland Guerilla and Ryan Hoffman from Carnegie Mellon and Pittsburgh Temper.
More notable than the core, however, was the team’s ambitious statement of intent. It listed two goals: to “creat[e] a team culture focused on fighting for and addressing racial equity in frisbee and outside of frisbee,” and to have fun in the context of playing competitive ultimate. That was it. No mention of making nationals or player development or “creating a space for players to push each other and grow.”1 Flash Flood, however much or well they managed to play, were ready to take a different, and quite possibly radical, approach to a season of club ultimate.
The team Twitter account produced a trickle of additional solid roster announcements for a couple of weeks before dropping the bombshell: 2018 Callahan winner and bona fide star Gabe Hernández. What had started a few weeks earlier as a throwaway emoji for a regional upstart was now a serious phenomenon on the club scene.
“I Know Hoffman from Twitter”
The history of Flash Flood in the South Central actually goes back a few years. It started in 2015 as a way to get a lot of the Dallas-area YCC players — including Green, Cortes, Zach Slayton, and Ben Rogers — some club exposure. That initial year fostered not only player development, but also rivalries with some of the other local clubs, especially Nitro, the self-designated elite men’s team from Dallas.2 Flash Flood aren’t high schoolers anymore, and that initial germ blossomed into former Flood players’ desire to distinguish themselves from, rather than feed into, the area’s existing programs — a position vindicated in some defections from both Nitro (Hustad, Bilolo) and reigning South Central mixed division champs Public Enemy (Abe Gambert, Jonathan Costello).
If you leave it at that and sub out a few team names, it’s the kind of timeless story that could have happened (read: often does happen) any year in any region and any division — and, honestly, just about any discipline: the kids make a play to strike out on their own, eschewing the establishment in favor of a new order.
But the way that the rest of Flash Flood has come together is much more a product of the times than a timeless process.
The influence of the long pandemic hiatus is an essential and prominent factor in the team’s makeup. That sudden removal of the year-round pipeline grind — YCC to club to college to AUDL to club again — provided ample time for Green to marinate on what is important to him as he considered diving headlong back into the massive time commitment of playing high-level ultimate. And the answer he landed on was exactly what he was missing most during months of lockdown: the people.
“A lot of it was: I realized how much I missed my friends in frisbee,” said Green. The revival of the old Flash Flood squad was an obvious way to bring everyone together again. “The ability to play with a high-level team appealed [to us]. If I can play with my boys, that’s what I want to do.”
That idea resonated — not only with the Floodsters of yore, but with Green’s larger ultimate social circle, too. Regional acquaintances from college and club — Dillon Larberg of Houston H.I.P., Sam ‘Suds’ Ward of Oklahoma and Austin Doublewide, Colorado State’s Nick Phillips, Tulsa (D-III) and Prairie Fire stand-out JT Stancil, and a cohort of Oklahoma State’s best talent.
Add to that the most 2020 group of all: players Green befriended on the internet. As opportunities for in-person interactions dried up, the need to make human connections found an outlet online. Several members of Flash Flood’s roster reflect that shift. These include USC’s Chris Doehring, Northwestern handler Kenneth Xuan, and Pittsburgh Temper’s Ryan Hoffman and Ben Banyas.
I asked Green how he managed to poach the Temper guys. “I know Hoffman from Twitter,” he said matter-of-factly, as if it’s the most natural thing in the world for a Twitter acquaintance from the Steel City to sign up for a summer and fall in the Big D. And, this year, maybe it is.
Life > Frisbee
Playing with friends might have kickstarted the Flash Flood project, but it is the smaller piece of the organization’s mission.
“Our first main goal is addressing racial equity on and off the field,” says Green. And that, according to him, has been the key ingredient for Flood’s success in recruitment. “A lot of people are drawn to that.”
The murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd3 last year — and the worldwide tidal wave of anti-racist demonstrations in their wake — brought the centuries-old cancer gnawing at the core of American society to the forefront of public consciousness. And young people in particular were galvanized to take up the fight against the largely unexamined forces that continue to hold so many of the descendants of American slaves in poverty and out of political power.
For Green, who during his year without frisbee grew more involved in activism as he became close with the family of a victim of police violence, that meant trying to re-frame his involvement in ultimate in a way that complemented these larger goals rather than letting it continue to exist as a separate space. In order to do that, he had to come up with a central tenet from which the rest of the mission would flow.
The mantra he hit upon, which he repeated several times in a 90-minute phone conversation, is obvious to the point of pure elegance: “At the end of the day, frisbee isn’t the only thing in life.”
That messaging was crucial in drawing together players from the wider community. “I really wanted to be on a team that had a specific focus on [anti-]racism, so when I saw that listed on Flash Flood’s tryout form, I filled it out,” said Banyas.
“I care about what the team stands for,” said Xuan, adding, “I wanted to know what it would be like if a team actually valued me as much as they value average white dudes.”
Both Xuan’s and Banyas’s sentiments — especially coming across such distances — highlight the current lack of that kind of messaging and support around the men’s division.4
For Green, ambitious and energized, merely assembling a group of like-minded people for a team that has a public stance isn’t enough. Looking around at the larger ultimate landscape, he felt a lot of teams “aren’t as proactive [about racial equity] as they say they are.” And he hasn’t been shy about bringing his beef to social media. The Flash Flood project has been designed to take a boots-on-the-ground, local approach, rather than waging the campaign through public messaging alone. “We want to realize the privilege we have to play frisbee and give back as best as possible,” says Green.
The activist side of Flash Flood’s operations was still in the planning stages when we spoke, but one crucial aspect is that it isn’t going to include ultimate clinics. “So many frisbee teams want to shove frisbee down people’s throats,” says Green. “We want to build relationships outside of frisbee.” To that end, he cites large swaths of food desert in south Dallas communities and diversity in the Dallas Independent School District as potential focal points. The final direction(s) of the team’s efforts will be determined during a June mini-camp — devoted only half the time to practicing ultimate, with the other half scheduled for team equity education and in-person service.
Green acknowledges the scope of the problem: “We cannot solve racism individually.” That includes individual ultimate teams. But by changing the way an ultimate team operates, Flash Flood could set an example for a new sort of paradigm within the sport. And if enough teams push in that direction, some real progress, at least, seems possible.
What isn’t clear — and won’t be for a couple of months, at least — is whether Flash Flood has what it takes to rise to national prominence for their on-field play.
But while earning a spot in the Club Championships is not an explicit goal for the team right now and isn’t on the list of metrics by which they will measure their success, it’s still hanging out there as a potential outcome.
Without question, they have some real talent. Hoffman has established himself as a premier cutter defender. Larberg is the kind of playmaker that can ignite a whole team. Jason Hustad — to offer some of my own perspective from when I watched him with UTD in 2019 — looks like a player poised to make a huge leap forward. Those high-ceiling stars should have room to excel given the high floor of the rest of the roster, many of whom have cut their teeth during hours upon hours of practice for various semi-pro teams, including the powerhouse Dallas Roughnecks.
That’s without bringing their splashiest name into the conversation: Gabe Hernández. Hernández, though still in his early days of high-level club, was a coup of a signing for the young team.5 He raises the bar for both disc skills and athleticism, and adds the signature mettle on display in his legendary college regionals performances for Stanford and Johns Hopkins in 2018 and 2019. That kind of play could be an X-factor in a Sunday bracket.
It probably won’t be enough to take down Austin Doublewide at Regionals. (Green, having been assigned the unenviable task of guarding Abe Coffin extensively during Roughnecks practices in 2020 before the season was canceled, understands as well as anyone the talent gap between their respective club teams.) But the other South Central men’s stalwart, Denver Johnny Bravo, had a rough go of it in the 2019 campaign and could be vulnerable. While there is no doubt Bravo are making a return to form a 2021 priority, their struggles did not escape Flash Flood’s notice. “We were like, ‘The gap has been opened,’” says Green.
Meanwhile, there seems to have been some turmoil among the also-rans in the extended off-season, leaving the question open for now as to whether other teams — Houston H.I.P., for example, or Denver Inception — will be quite as ready to present a challenge as in past years.
Green’s surmise? “This is the best year to make the run.”
It’s a judgment he bases not only on talent and regional circumstance, but also on the bet that the larger aims of the team, toward equity and service, will catalyze the formation of stronger buy-in and mutual trust — a dearth of which has been the undoing of so many talented units in crunch time. The sense of shared purpose could drive them higher than they’d have been able to reach as just another club.
Or maybe they’ll just be another upper-half regionals team from Dallas. It’s all possible. Either way, Flash Flood have digested a nightmarish 2020 experience and repurposed it as something positive on a number of levels. And because of that, they have the attention of the frisbee community in 2021 …
An uninspiring 8th-place regional finish in 2019 cast some doubt on the team’s elite status. ↩
to name only a few of far, far too many ↩
Hernández wasn’t even going to play club at all this season, but Green managed to persuade him — with the help of tickets to see Bad Bunny at the American Airlines Center next year. ↩