Professional ultimate disc team lands in Columbus

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From the April 19, 2012 edition

The 400 or so people piled into the bleachers at Westerville Central High School last weekend saw a thriller win by the home team — but none of the players had class on Monday.

Columbus, meet the Columbus Cranes, your brand-new professional ultimate disc team, part of an equally new American Ultimate Disc League dedicated to a sport with a rabid cult following, particularly on the nation’s college campuses.

For the uninitiated, ultimate disc — just ultimate for short — is a 7-on-7 game that involves moving a Frisbee-like disc into an end zone through forceful, graceful passes that put your backyard Frisbee tosses to shame. Watch a few seconds of a game clip and you’ll realize these guys are incredibly athletic — they’re running up and down the field like soccer players, pivoting and passing like football players and jumping and maneuvering like basketball players.

Cranes president and CEO Michael Moses saw this game and wanted in. He bought the Cranes in 2009, even though he’s never played ultimate and didn’t know much about the nuances of the game.

“We’re a huge sports city, and I thought this would make a lot of sense here, especially for what it brings to the fans. There can be an exciting play on every play,” Moses said.

League headquarters are in Detroit, but organizers are far-flung; the commissioner lives in Nebraska. Founding teams are in Kentucky, Rhode Island, Detroit, Indianapolis, Buffalo, Connecticut, Philadelphia and Columbus.

The game has a massive following — Moses said people in 18 countries tuned in to the Cranes’ season opener via pay-per-view television. The Cranes already have 1,300 Facebook likes and 1,200 followers on Twitter.

Colleges and universities routinely have clubs, but the sport is not NCAA-sanctioned. Most Cranes players have been associated with Ohio college clubs, and some players have been recruited from other states by their friends. Players are all 19 and older, and they work as bankers, lawyers, teachers and engineers by day.

“It’s not quit-your-job money, but it is a paid job,” Moses said.

The Cranes are back in action this weekend at Westerville Central. The regular season continues through July, and the league championship will be held at the Detroit Silverdome in August.