Fans pile into the stands, snack on ice cream, drink beer and listen to a live band as athletes warm up on the field on a summer evening in South Philadelphia. They’re not there to watch baseball, it’s Ultimate Frisbee. Directly across from Citizens Bank Park is the South Philadelphia Super Site, where fans can catch another Philly professional sports team playing most weekends from May through July: the Philadelphia Phoenix.
The Hotbirds, as the team is nicknamed, are in the playoffs for the first time since 2013, their second season. They compete in the American Ultimate Disc League, which consists of 25 franchises across the United States and Canada. They visit the DC Breeze in the playoffs at 7 p.m. Saturday (Fox Sports 2).
The return to the top has been slow for the Phoenix, who haven’t had a winning season since their last playoff appearance and went 0-14 in 2016. But in their first season under coach -leader Roger Chu, the Hotbirds rebounded from an 0-3 start to finish 6-6 and grab the third seed in the East Division.
The Hotbirds’ other claim to fame? They have the only female professional sports owner in Philadelphia, Dr. Christina Lee Chung.
“Promoting diversity and creating opportunity for women in the sports industry” is a key part of Phoenix’s mission, and it’s not just a line on their website. It translated into action. At nearly every home game this season, the Hotbirds have had all-female vendor rosters in an effort to support women-owned businesses in the community.
“I’ve had people reach out to me, people come up to me and say, ‘This is really awesome,'” Chung said. “There are a lot of women who have guided me on my journey. There are a lot of women who are with me, building their own businesses and businesses that provide support and ideas, and I hope we can do that. thanks to the Phoenix – be it in sports, be it in anything.
One such business is Triple Bottom Brewing, co-owned by Tess Hart, which is stepping forward in an industry traditionally dominated by men. Triple Bottom Brewing is also an “equitable company,” meaning it intentionally hires people from a wide variety of backgrounds, including those who have been incarcerated or homeless. The Phoenix hosted Triple Bottom Brewing in their home opener on May 13 and several games throughout the season.
The home opening also featured Jammin J’s seafood truck, owned by Malikah Crosby, and funnel cakes from Janell Savoy’s food truck, Fun’nel Cakes and More.
Chung took over ownership of the Phoenix with her husband, Dr. Jeff George, in January 2019. George introduced Chung to the sport as the ultimate amateur player and former coach himself.
Chung is also a practicing dermatologist and the Chief Medical Officer of AUDL. Chung also helped guide the league through the pandemic as chairman of its COVID-19 task force. After canceling the 2020 season, the AUDL managed to navigate a full 2021 season without interruption.
Like other sports leagues, the AUDL was able to return to normal cross-border competition this year. The Phoenix concluded their regular season on July 30 with a 25-19 home win over the Ottawa Outlaws. With his 52nd goal of the season, Hotbirds cutter Greg Martin set a franchise record in the fourth quarter, beating the mark he set the previous year. Martin finished the season third in the league in goals.
Martin is part of a strong core of veterans who helped transform the team from winless to playoff contender. Another name in Phoenix’s record books is Sean Mott, who has been with the team since 2014 and holds the Hotbirds records for most career goals, assists, completions and points played. In the July 30 game, Mott had seven assists and 43 completions to add to his lead.
Mott is also the oldest AUDL player without a playoff appearance, a streak he will finally complete on Saturday.
“Sean Mott is definitely one of the most talented players we have,” Chu said. “The team follows him on the field. They have the impression that he knows what he is talking about and that he confirms it.
The Phoenixes, like most AUDL members, are professional athletes who must balance their full-time commitments with their careers or studies. The talent pool is limited by geography, but it also ensures that each Phoenix member has a connection to the city they represent.
“In the big sports leagues you don’t have that – there’s not really a connection to the city. People are just signed from everywhere,” Chung said. “It’s kind of nice to come back to sports. base in town, where all these guys love the fact that we’re fighting for Philly.”
The Phoenix hosted a free Frisbee clinic for kids to learn from pro players before the July 30 game. They also run an initiative called “Pass the Disc”, partnering with local recreation centers to provide free clinics and ultimate equipment to young people in disadvantaged communities.
“Anyone can play this sport. It’s incredible. You don’t have to be a top athlete,” said Phoenix defenseman Matt Esser, who helped lead the pre-game clinic. “There are levels – of people who just want to get out and stay in shape, and there are levels of people in between. It’s often a mixed sport, so men and women play and compete together on the same field, which is really cool. And you don’t need much for that, so go for it.
The Phoenix hopes its playoff spot will help raise the profile of Ultimate Frisbee in the community. They face a tough test in the Breeze, which has beaten the Hotbirds by one point in their previous two meetings this season. The winner will face the undefeated New York Empire.
The Hotbirds see this run to the playoffs as part of a bigger picture.
“I always tell everyone there is no plan,” Chung said. “You can’t do anything wrong. It’s pro ultimate. Whatever we do, people are going to look at us 50 years from now and be like, ‘Remember those people who started this?’ It will be you.