Franklin Field is undoubtedly going to have a busy weekend.
But what most of campus doesn’t know is when Tiesto and Passion Pit leave late Friday night, a newly formed professional sports team will be moving in on Saturday to christen its new home field.
Joining the Philly pro sports scene will be the Philadelphia Spinners, one of eight teams in the AUDL, the American Ultimate Disc League.
“When I ask people, what they usually tell me [is] they’ve seen it once or twice, but they’re not too familiar with it,” Spinners general manager and coach Jeff Snader said of his sport, ultimate frisbee, which is often known simply as “ultimate.”
“Most people are shocked to find out that ultimate has been around for 45 years,” he added.
When the team formed in October and had to decide on a home field, Penn’s own Franklin Field was its top choice.
“We actually reached out to them the first time, and I think I heard laughter,” Snader quipped. “We ended up reaching out three times before we got a response … and the third time they took us seriously.”
The Spinners will be the first professional squad to call Franklin Field home since the Philadelphia Atoms of the North American Soccer League left in 1976.
“I’d love to play ultimate anywhere — we could be out on a field with no grass on it,” team captain Nick Hirannet said. “But the fact that we have this great facility with as much history as it has, I think it will draw a lot of fans.”
As part of a professional league, the players will be paid, but for most, the league will not be their primary profession.
Hirannet, for example, will be balancing the Spinners and the Army Corps of Engineers, where he works as a mechanical engineer and product manager full-time.
At 25, Hirannet fits the average age of athletes on the team — 18 of the 23 players on the team are 26 or younger.
The glowing exception to the norm is 41-year-old Trey Katzenbach — the ‘Jamie Moyer of ultimate,’ if you will.
“Everybody who plays ultimate seriously in the nation knows his name,” Snader said. “He’s one of those guys who defies age. He can still run up and down the field like a young man.”
Snader compared ultimate to tennis, which involves a lot of change of direction moves and can be very difficult on a person’s knees. Hirannet agreed.
“It’s more cutting than in a lot of sports because the nature of the game, which is constantly changing direction,” Hirannet said. “A lot of guys end up with knee problems.”
While many non-Big Four leagues have come and gone, the AUDL and the Spinners hope to survive by appealing to families.
“Fans can expect to not only see a sport, but to see a lot of crowd interaction,” Snader said. “We’re doing T-shirt tosses, fun and games between quarters and halftime shows.”
The Spinners will also feature a dance team called the “Fly Girls.” But what both Snader and Hirannet both hope will attract parents is a unique rule called the “integrity rule.”
The rule stipulates that any player can overturn a referee if overturning the call is not in his team’s favor.
“These players are tasked with the responsibility that if they see something wrong, they should overturn it,” Snader said.
For example, a player makes a diving catch and bobbles the disc. The player knows it hit the ground, but the referee rules it a legal catch. At that point, it is the player’s responsibility to overturn the call.
“It’s a great thing to see because kids are like, ‘Wow, even though these guys are playing their hearts out, they will actually overturn a call that hurts their team because it’s the right thing to do,’” Snader said. “You should be a good man in honor and integrity.”
As of Wednesday night, the Spinners sold over 550 tickets for Saturday’s matchup against the Buffalo Hunters. The team knows it has to start small, and it is happy with that number.
“I would have been happy if we had just 500 people show up,” Snader said. On the future of ultimate, he remains positive.
“Ultimate has some really unique properties that I think will attract parents and have them want to bring their kids.”