In Austin, A Battle over the Future of Youth Ultimate

The local disc organization's decision to work with the local AUDL team instead of a long-time youth organizer has fractured the community.

The 2022 Austin Youth Spring League. Photo: Matthew Brooks — TUSC.

Colleen Kepner is a youth organizing legend in Austin. Since 2004, she has been directing youth ultimate camps, running clinics, and coaching middle school teams. She was the co-founder of the Austin Youth Spring League — still the de facto middle and high school league in the city — in 2005 and directed the league until 2011. After that, she continued to independently offer popular youth summer camps, including the latest iteration — Texas Ultimate Summer Camp, or TUSC — for more than a decade. Her ultimate resume is wide and deep.

In late 2021, after two years in which Austin Ultimate (AU), the city’s non-profit governing body formerly known as the Ultimate Players League of Austin (UPLA), did not operate their Youth Spring League (YSL) due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kepner reached out to the organization, expressing concern about what could happen to youth ultimate in the city if the league didn’t come back in 2022. Like many ultimate organizations, AU was hit hard by the pandemic and experienced significant board member turnover and volunteer burnout. All of the organization’s leadership serve in a volunteer capacity, and they were still trying to get their feet under them. Late in 2021, they had been setting up to run their first programming since 2019 — an adult winter league — but it was canceled due to the Omicron variant outbreak.

Kepner suggested that she, under the purview of her newly incorporated TUSC banner, could be the person to step up and run Youth Spring League in 2022. “‘We need someone who’s a professional,'” she recounted telling the AU board. “And that was echoed by the President, the Vice President, and others.”

The two parties eventually came to an agreement and signed a memorandum of understanding establishing TUSC as the exclusive operator of the 2022 YSL. The league took place successfully last spring, and TUSC followed up the offering with their usual summer camp with record numbers and more youth programming in the fall.

How, then, did the AU board vote 8-1 earlier this month to partner with the city’s AUDL team, the Austin Sol, on their 2023 YSL, leaving Kepner and TUSC blindsided?

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