July 25, 2012
Article by Matt McKinney '13
Photography by Kate Hovda '15
Knox College senior Jason McGeeney had to stop and make sure he wasn't dreaming.
He was at the Silverdome, a sprawling Detroit, Michigan, sports stadium that once housed the NFL's Lions, the NBA's Pistons and the 1994 World Cup in soccer. There were commentators. The opposing team, Philadelphia, had a cheerleading squad and a mascot.
McGeeney, a computer science major from Lexington, Kentucky, was even getting paid to be there.
An aspiring software designer, McGeeney is a member of the Bluegrass Revolution, a professional Ultimate team -- one of eight in the newly launched American Ultimate Disc League. At 21, he is the third-youngest player on the team, comprised mainly of recent college graduates from five states.
Although the long bus rides and competition in many ways reflect McGeeney's three years with the Knox Ultimate Frisbee club team, he appreciates the uniqueness of his position. (Photos above and below: Jason McGeeney, wearing a green shirt, plays Ultimate for the Knox College club.)
For example, at tournaments, he and his teammates participate in several hours worth of public relations events -- a quirk that's nearly unheard of at the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Division III level, especially in club sports.
And perhaps the biggest difference: McGeeney no longer has to pay travel and lodging fees to play Ultimate.
"I very much lucked out in a lot of respects," he said.
Learning Nuances at Knox
McGeeney played just one year of Ultimate before coming to Knox -- usually during the half-hour before he had high school jazz band practice.
"We'd play the lowest form of Frisbee you could," McGeeney said.
At Knox, he learned the nuances of the game. McGeeney credited David Kurian '11, Peter Walker '11, and Jae Hyoung "Tim" Lee '11 with helping push the limits of his talent.
"Those guys -- the captain figures -- they were all super-supportive," he said. "We lost a lot when I first got here, but we all grew together, too."
McGeeney said the "inclusiveness" of the sport builds friendships. And because a premium is often placed on sportsmanship, players develop those relationships on the field.
"It's just a great atmosphere. It's something I'm proud to be a part of," he said.
The Knox Ultimate Frisbee club, a co-ed squad, consists of players with varying levels of ability and background. That means players "must learn to become teachers," according to McGeeney.
A captain himself, he now passes along tips and encouragement to his Knox teammates.
Athleticism is important, but not paramount, he stresses to less-experienced members of the team. A sense of imagination, though, is crucial. Players must anticipate the disc's arcs and turns, while processing information rapidly.
Ultimate involves a dazzling mix of skills, like a baseball batter processing the trajectory of a curveball or a basketball point guard delivering the perfect lob pass-all combined into one play.
For McGeeney, that is part of the game's allure. "It just captures so much at one time," he said.
Just weeks before the playoffs, the Kentucky-based Bluegrass Revolution (with a record of 9-7 as of July 25) lead the league's Western Division. The top two teams from the Western and Eastern divisions will square off for a chance to play in the American Ultimate Disc League Championship August 11 at the Silverdome.
McGeeney said it's unclear whether the AUDL, now in its inaugural season, will be successful. One way or another, though, he believes a long-standing pro disc league will exist in the next five to 10 years.
Right now, he's just grateful to be one of the first professional Ultimate players.
"This has been an absolute fantasy," he said. "I love playing and I'll keep doing it for as long as they keep me around."