AII Newsletter: Summer 2021

August 10, 2021

Welcome to the Summer 2021 edition of the Aii Newsletter, a periodic review of Aii projects and diversity and inclusion updates from around the league.
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The AUDL just wrapped up the first year of its RISE & Lead discussion program which was spearheaded by members of the Aii in partnership with RISE.

The program is a 6-week discussion series that explored a new topic every week. The lessons focused on issues of bias, privilege, race, and equity, among others. The sessions were led by 16 AUDL members who volunteered their time to be trained by RISE personnel and to lead the discussions every week. This group of facilitators are a mix of players, owners, and team management and are recognized below:

  • Ryan Purcell, Austin Sol

  • Ken Porter, Charlotte Express (Retired)

  • Charlie Furse, Chicago Union

  • Jason Vallee, Chicago Union

  • Pawel Janas, Chicago Union

  • Devin Furness, DC Breeze

  • Kevin Pettit-Scantling, Madison Radicals

  • Ben Katz, New York Empire

  • Jonathan "Goose" Helton, San Diego Growlers

  • Kaela Helton, San Diego Growlers

  • Jackson Stearns, San Jose Spiders

  • Munis Thahir, San Jose Spiders

  • Rafael Castro, San Jose Spiders

  • Monica Johnson, Seattle Cascades

  • Xtehn Titcomb Frame, Seattle Cascades

The facilitators were split into four groups to help provide multiple available sessions for AUDL personnel to attend every week. The program was available free of charge to any AUDL members who expressed interest in attending. The program attracted a mix of coaches, management, players, and team owners. Not surprisingly, the groups tended to break down by geographic area with two groups primarily composed of West division personnel, one each from the Central and Atlantic division, and the Canadian participants joined whichever group was most convenient to their schedule.

In total, 92 participants attended at least one session and 21 completed all six sessions and received a Certificate of Completion (RISE & Lead). The certificate recipients are listed below:

  • Matt Smith, Atlanta Hustle, Player/Group Leader 

  • Chris Bartoli, Boston Glory, Player

  • Sam Rosenthal, Boston Glory, Coach 

  • Alexis Abelove, Chicago Union, Team Management

  • Charlie Furse, Chicago Union, Player/Group Leader

  • Pawel Janas, Chicago Union, Player/Group Leader 

  • Griffin Miller, Dallas Roughnecks, Player 

  • Jonny Malks, DC Breeze, Player 

  • Aaron Schwieterman, Detroit Mechanix, Player

  • Andrew Sjogren, Detroit Mechanix, Player

  • David Innis, Detroit Mechanix, Player

  • Ben Katz, New York Empire, Player/Group Leader 

  • Barbara Stevens, New York Empire, Owner

  • Jeff Babbitt, New York Empire, Player

  • Matt Stevens, New York Empire, Player 

  • Jesse Cohen, San Diego Growlers, Player 

  • Munis Thahir, San Jose Spiders, Player/Group Leader 

  • Rafael Castro, San Jose Spiders, Player/Group Leader

  • Satoru Ishii, San Jose Spiders, Player 

  • Monica Johnson, Seattle Cascades, Owner/Group Leader 

  • Remi Ojo, Toronto Rush, Player

AUDL personnel considers the program a great success, especially for its first year. Program coordinator Matt Smith notes, “We were pleasantly surprised with AUDL engagement at every step in the process. We set a goal of eight volunteers and got 16. We wanted at least 50 participants and we ended with over 80. There are of course improvements we can make but I’m happy we put progress over perfection and got this program off the ground. We look forward to improving this unique program year-over-year.”

The self-led nature of the program was indeed unique amongst professional sports. “From a RISE perspective, we do these types of workshops and multi-week programs with teams and leagues across all sports and all different levels, from the NFL to top college and high school sports. What’s special about this program is the fact that this is mostly led in-house within the AUDL from player to player,” Ian Cutler, Senior Director of Program Communications & PR at RISE, stated.

While the sessions have wrapped for the 2021 season, the project leaders are hard at work evaluating the program and looking for ways to improve in 2022 and beyond.


Matt Smith and Christina Chung, co-chairs of the Aii, joined Ian Cutler from RISE on the organization’s Champions of Change podcast on June 29th, 2021. The Champions of Change podcast features different professionals from around the sports industry and has included guests from the NFL, NHL, USA Track & Field, WNBA, and the NCAA.

Matt & Christina were honored to be included in such select company and happily joined the show to talk all things AUDL with a special focus on the league’s inclusion efforts. The podcast is available across all major platforms or can be streamed directly through the RISE website linked here.


As we start the run to the playoffs, we are excited for Championship Weekend, which will cap off a successful 2021. As part of the festivities for Championship Weekend, we are looking forward to a clinic that’s designed to introduce new parts of the community to Ultimate. Matt Smith will lead a group of DC-area youth in this clinic before the championship game on Saturday, September 11.

The goal of the clinic is two-fold. First, to serve as an introduction to the sport of Ultimate. We also want to take this opportunity to talk with participants about their views on diversity and inclusion. We believe that getting youth to be open about their thoughts is the best way to move our society forward. Our partner, RISE, is helping to create the agenda and topics for discussion.

These discussions are our first external engagement and build off the internal seminars and leadership groups that have occurred since last fall. Our hope is that players and teams will use this past year as a learning opportunity and a platform for further actions in 2022. We’re blessed to have so many people in our organization that care about diversity and inclusion and are willing to back up their thoughts and words with positive actions.


Highlighting different perspectives and experiences from players and personnel around the AUDL.

James Pollard
#17 -
Philadelphia Phoenix

When did you start playing ultimate?

I started playing ultimate in the fall of my freshman year of college at Philadelphia University in 2014. I was only able to make a 1-day tournament in the fall and the second day of sectionals that season. I was on a scholarship to play tennis, so most of my tennis matches conflicted with ultimate tournaments.

How were you introduced to the sport? 

I was introduced to the sport my sophomore year of high school in gym class. We only played it for like 2 weeks but I learned some of the rules as we went along. I don’t know what about the sport stuck out to me, but when I was looking at schools I remember looking to see if they had club ultimate teams. I wanted to play it to stay in shape for tennis.

How long have you been in the AUDL? What was your inaugural season? What is different between now and then?

2020 would have been my third year in the AUDL playing for the Philadelphia Phoenix. My inaugural season was 2018 which was also my senior year of college. I guess the biggest differences are the new Atlantic division, the creation of the Aii, and the creation of the player ambassador program. 

What went into making you the type of player you are today?

Everything about my life and family has shaped the type of player I am today. Most of my family were exceptional athletes. My dad was a semi-pro basketball player in the Army. My twin sisters both played D1 basketball, one at Saint Louis University and one at Manhattan College. My brother was a talented soccer and basketball player.  So naturally, I have been playing sports my whole life. When I was a kid and still living in Saint Louis, and much shorter, my primary sports were basketball, baseball, and soccer. Around 6th grade, I stopped playing soccer and baseball and started playing tennis. Once I started playing tennis competitively, the only other sport I continued to also play was basketball. I had various private tennis coaches through the years as I got better and better, and that led to me having multiple tennis scholarships, of varying money, to continue playing. I took the various skills from each of these sports and was able to apply them to ultimate and improve my game to where it is now. 

During high school, I would play tennis from 6-7:30 AM before class 3 days a week in the winter. I would go to a small group tennis practice on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10 AM during the summer. I would also go to a bigger group practice Monday-Thursday from 5:30-8:30 PM. I have taken that commitment to my training from tennis and applied it to ultimate. During the summer of 2019, I would go to the gym 4 days and week and would be playing ultimate at least 4 days a week. My background in other sports and commitment to being the best I can be has allowed me to go from a completely new player of the game in the fall of 2014 to playing in the AUDL and earning a U-24 national team tryout in 2018. And finally an AUDL All-star in the year...

How do you define your role on the field or within your team? 

Typically, my role is as a d-line cutter/puller. It’s my job to set the defense up with a solid floaty pull so everyone has time to run down and match up, protect the deep space, and be an end-of-quarter specialist. If my team is setting up a help deep or zone I am the guy they count on to defend the skies. Of the 10 goals I’ve scored in my young career, 5 of those came as the buzzer sounded. In the last game of the 2019 season against Montreal, I made a game-saving block in the end zone at the buzzer to force double OT, where our o-line marched up the field to win the game. 

Within the team, I am generally a quiet and supportive guy. I am not usually one to talk about all the things I’m doing off the field to get better. Whether I’m rostered for the game or just there to watch the team, you can find me on the sideline talking to a defender on the field. But with all that said, I can be quite fiery at times too, especially during practice. I feel like I’m the spark that lights the fire for the team. 

What have been some of your favorite experiences in the AUDL? 

My favorite experiences include playing a showcase game at the Eagles vs. Seahawks NFL game and the road trips up to Canada. Playing in front of tens of thousands of fans was incredible. It was amazing to have one big room for us to chill in before the game. They provided food for us and we had great seats that were basically on the field.

The Canada trips for us were always fun. We would load up into 14-passenger vans and hit the road for the 7-10 hour trip, depending on what city we were going to. I can’t even count how many games of Mafia I have played just from those trips alone. Trips like those can only do two things, bring your team closer together or fracture it. For us, it brought us closer together.

Who’s your favorite POC player/athlete? Why?

My favorite athlete is Lebron James. I like how on the court and off the court his demeanor is different. Before the game, Lebron will be your best friend laughing and having a good time, but once he steps on the court for the tip, you are just another guy standing in the way of a win. Then, once that final buzzer sounds you are back to being best friends. I also love how he puts just as much energy and time into playing as he does in giving back to the community and standing up for what’s right. 

As a POC, have you ever felt like you have to “be” a certain way? 

Yes, all the time. By being a black athlete that plays sports that are predominantly white I have to try to stand out for the right reasons and not the wrong ones. All it takes is one outburst of aggression and I will get placed into a stereotype as an angry aggressive player. If a non-POC did the same thing they would be labeled as a passionate player. 

Have you experienced discrimination on/off-field? 

It was the second day of sectionals my freshman year and the first point of the game. We are out there about to count off and the first player is the only black guy on their team. As we started counting, 0. I didn’t say anything and one of the senior captains said, “James, you know who you have.” I reluctantly said, “1.” As we came down the field and I got close to him he looked at me and said, “really.” I responded by saying, “They made me do it.” He made a quip to the sideline, and we laughed it off and continued playing. I never really thought about how bad that was, but the more I think about it, it’s not good. I often wonder how many times things have been said to me that are discriminatory, but just didn’t pick up on it because of the sports I played. I’m sure some of the kids I played tennis against made remarks under their breath after losing a match to me or would steal a line call here or there.


As the weather has heated up, so too has the action around the AUDL. The talents of our diverse players, coaches, owners, referees, and personnel around the league are on full display for the world to see. As we look forward to Championship Weekend, the Aii will continue working to promote inclusivity with initiatives through the end of the 2021 season and beyond. 

To have any actions that you or your team are taking towards diversity and inclusion within your community featured in an upcoming newsletter, please send your information to Matt Smith at:

The Aii is a committee that strives to increase racial and cultural diversity and inclusion throughout the sport of ultimate by providing underserved communities access to an affordable sport whose culture emphasizes healthy living, integrity in athletics, and potential to compete at the junior, collegiate and professional levels.