When Don Grage, 49, of Vienna, began playing ultimate Frisbee in California in the 1980s as a way to get an aerobic-intense workout, he never imagined he would one day be the co-owner of a professional team.
“Yes, that’s right,” he said. “There are professional Ultimate teams.”
Ultimate is a team sport played with a flying disc. The object of the game is to score points by passing the disc to a player in the opposing end zone, similar to football or rugby. Unlike football and rugby, however, players cannot run with the disc, and may only “pivot” while in possession of it.
Grage says that while originally — and still — called ultimate Frisbee by many, the game is now officially called “Ultimate” in many areas because Frisbee is registered as a trademark — albeit genericized — for the line of discs made by the Wham-O toy company. He estimates that there are nearly 5 million recreational Ultimate players in the U.S.
Grage moved to the Washington, D.C., area in the 1990s to attend Georgetown University, where he received an MBA.
“I used to play weekly pick-up games all the time when I lived in Arlington,” he said.
Last December, he was offered an opportunity to become the co-owner of the DC Breeze, one of 17 professional-level Ultimate teams in the American Ultimate Disc League, which is one of only two professional-level leagues that play in the U.S. and Canada.
Grage, an entrepreneur, said his initial financial investment into the team was only “in the low five figures” but said the time commitment was something he had to research and mull over before finally accepting co-ownership.
“I generally don’t get involved in anything if I don’t like the other people involved,” he said. “I only do business with people I like. What I found out about AUDL and the DC Breeze was that it was a great group of people, both on the player side and within the league. ”
Grage’s partner is Aaron Foreman, a southern Maryland native who has coached high school football in the D.C. area for over 12 years and is the founder of Impact Sports Inc., a sports organization that helps student athletes at both the high school and collegiate level obtain scholarships. Foreman recently founded a football program for home schooled student athletes not afforded the opportunity to play in the public school system.
Foreman said he came up with the name “the Breeze” because of the fluidity of the way the game is played.
“It’s fluid like a breeze,” he said. “A breeze can also sneak up on you, and can even knock you down. That’s how I came up with that name.”
Foreman said he is glad that Grage decided to come on board.
“I’m very excited to partner with Don. His business background and my sports background make a formidable partnership,” he said.
AUDL’s inaugural season began in 2012 with eight teams. It currently consists of 17 teams in a three-division format. The DC Breeze is in its Northeast conference, along with teams from Philadelphia, New York City, Rochester, N.Y., Montreal and Toronto. Regular season games are played on Saturdays and Sundays during the months of April, May, June and July. Division championships are played in the end of July and culminate with a championship game the last weekend of July.
The DC Breeze will kick off its 2014 season with a game against the Toronto Rush at 3 p.m. April 12 at George Mason High School in Falls Church. All remaining games will be played at the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex at the University of Maryland, College Park.
“I have to tell you, as far as I’m concerned, Toronto is the team to beat,” said DC Breeze player Jonathan Neeley, 27, of Arlington. “They’ve got some really great players.”
Neeley said that he’s excited about the season. “[Some of us] are only paid $25 a game and expenses, so I’m not into it for the money, but it is pretty amazing to play in a professional league and having my travel expenses paid is huge. That in and of itself can be worth about $2,500 a season.”
Jarnail Bajwa, 29, of Chantilly, is also excited about the season and the opening game that will be held close to home in Falls Church. He was just signed to the team on March 10 and said it has not yet sunk in that he is now officially a professional Ultimate player.
“I will probably call friends and family members and tell them to come check out the opening game,” he said.
Bajwa — whose parents own the Bombay Café in downtown Fairfax city — attended Fairfax High School and George Mason University. At GMU, he says he was instrumental in establishing a school Ultimate team.
“I helped found the team my freshman year in 2007 and I have been playing for nearly a decade out of my own pocket, so to be paid and have expenses covered will be really nice,” he said of playing for the DC Breeze. In his day job, Bajwa works at an architectural firm and helps his parents with the restaurant in the evenings. He says he hopes to eventually transition from playing to coaching other Ultimate players professionally.
“At 29, I’m the second oldest player on the team,” he said. “I think that I can play for about 3-4 more years, but then I might need to try coaching. It is exciting that as this sport grows professionally, I might be given that chance.”
Grage says he is focused on helping to make sure interest in the sport does grow.
“I want to create more awareness for it in the area and foster community interest,” he said. “Ultimate is an amazing and exciting spectator sport that is performed in a fun, family atmosphere. I’m not really in this for the money, but of course franchise values go up as people attend games. So come on out!”
For more information about the DC Breeze, go to www.the-dcbreeze.com