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San Francisco FlameThrowers to Host Women’s All-Star Game

The AUDL team is hosting the event to further the cause of gender equity. To some, it represents more than a game, but is it enough or just a start?

Claire Desmond of San Francisco Fury, one of the organizers of Saturday's Women's All Star Game. Photo: Kevin Leclaire -- UltiPhotos.com
Claire Desmond of San Francisco Fury, one of the organizers of Saturday’s Women’s All Star Game. Photo: Kevin Leclaire — UltiPhotos.com

This article was written by guest author Laurel Oldershaw.

This Saturday, April 9, the San Francisco FlameThrowers will host a Bay Area Women’s All-Star Game before their home opener against the Seattle Cascades. The All-Star Game will feature a talent-packed lineup of players from Bay Area’s women’s and mixed scenes, including four players who will be representing the US on the National Teams headed to WUGC in London this summer and several others with international U23 experience.

“It’s great that we have the opportunity to showcase women’s ultimate in the Bay Area. Here we are fortunate to have several nationally competitive women’s and mixed gender teams so there are a ton of talented women from both divisions to draw from for this game,” said Carolyn Finney, a member of the US Mixed National Team and a captain of Fury, who will be participating in the event.

Saturday’s game will feature players from Fury and Nightlock, both quarterfinalists in the Women’s division last season, as well as from three of the region’s top mixed programs in Polar Bears, Mischief, and American BBQ. It will be played using AUDL rules and referees, but a narrower field size than the normal AUDL field. There will be two 20-minute halves, separated by a 5 minute half time, and the whole game will be livestreamed with two female announcers.

“It makes sense for this to happen, as an opportunity to showcase talent and give young girls positive role models,” said Claire Desmond, a member of the US Women’s National Team and one of the main organizers of the event.

The idea for the game came from a similar women’s showcase hosted by the San Jose Spiders in 2014. Due to the closeness of the ultimate community, a couple email introductions between FlameThrowers players, management, and Desmond was all it took to make this idea a reality. Lucas Dallmann, who plays for the FlameThrowers and Revolver, was one of those connectors.

“There’s a lot of talent out here, and I never get to watch it. [The idea] kind of started from a selfish reason,” he said. “I have so many friends on the [All-Star Game] roster, people that I’ve grown up with and have learned from. For a long time, Fury was the team. They defined excellence to me as a kid.”

The FlameThrowers players and management were on board with the idea right away, and are excited to use the game as a way to continue their commitment to gender equity. On Tuesday, the FlameThrowers released a statement on the topic in which they write,

“We acknowledge that the professional leagues’ focus on a predominantly male version of our sport exacerbates the existing gender inequities in ultimate. In recognition of this fact, we join others around the league in committing to advocate for the growth of women’s and mixed ultimate, to showcase the extraordinary female talent in the club game, and to vocalize our support for women’s professional ultimate. We intend to honor these commitments in ways that are both visible and meaningful.”

“Our goal is to support women and girls in ultimate, whether it’s in the women’s-only section of play, or whether it’s mixed. We want everyone to have the appropriate opportunity to play and have role models they can emulate,” discussed FlameThrowers co-owner, Josh Langenthal.

Some are anxious to hear what that commitment will entail. Claire Chastain, US Women’s national team member, tweeted in response to the FlameThrowers release of the statement.

The FlameThrowers, who donated money to the All-Star Ultimate Tour last year, are also donating a portion of their ticket sale revenue to the Women’s and Girls’ programs of the Bay Area Disc Association (BADA). The AUDL will cover the cost to livestream Saturday’s all-star game for people across the country to watch, as part of their own efforts to support gender equity.

Head coach and co-owner of the FlameThrowers, Joshua Greenough, commented, “This game is an opportunity to showcase some of the best female players in the country and build upon what Qxhna Titcomb did last year with the All-Star Tour. Good things followed the original energy with NexGen and we hope that by partnering to create this opportunity, the FlameThrowers will continue to show our support for the whole ultimate community, not just our rostered players.”

The Cascades have also responded to the call for gender equity, developing a mission statement and values that dares to “reshape societal norms around gender, sports, and honorable competition.” The Cascades released a video earlier this spring starring Sam Harkness talking about the role of men’s voices in improving gender equity in ultimate.

Titcomb, who organized the All-Star Ultimate Tour last year and is one of the owners of the Cascades, commented on the upcoming All-Star Game, saying, “While the mission of the All-Star Ultimate Tour is to promote women in ultimate, our perspective takes into account all the other organizations that are working on something similar. In order to showcase women’s ultimate in cities around the country and to increase the media devoted to female athletes, we collaborate with like-minded individuals and organizations that are ready to take steps with us towards a more equitable frontier. It’s good to see teams like the FlameThrowers vocalize their intentions and encourage others to do so.”

Last year’s All-Star Ultimate Tour successfully demonstrated the demand for opportunities to watch high level women’s ultimate in a stadium setting. Organizers believe the All-Star Game on Saturday presents another opportunity for the ultimate community to show support for women’s ultimate by either attending the game or tuning into the livestream.

“I love the opportunity to play more and with other talented players in the Bay Area,” said Bree Cahn, captain of Nightlock, which is part of a group of teams hosting a Bay Area Women’s Mixer the following day. “I’m appreciative for the opportunity, but I wish there were more opportunities,” expressed Cahn.

Comments like Chastain’s and Cahn’s shed light on the greater issue of gender equity in the pro leagues. Although the Raleigh Flyers did sign Jessi Jones for a one-game contract against the Nashville Nightwatch last year, many believe the semi-pro version of the sport is forcing women’s ultimate to take a backseat. With the AUDL and the MLU entering their 5th and 4th seasons respectively, there has been growing demand from across the ultimate community for the leagues to do more to support women’s ultimate. 

“If we see an opportunity where we can help promote women’s ultimate, we will absolutely positively do that, and internally, we are trying to formalize more of a strategy on how we as a league can support gender equity,” said Tim Debyl, owner of the Madison Radicals and part of AUDL’s board that manages the ESPN3 partnership.

Moving forward, the pro leagues have a challenge set for them on the national stage to not just talk about supporting women’s ultimate, but also put enough resources behind women’s playing opportunities to demonstrate their commitment. The All-Star Game this Saturday represents a strong effort by the FlameThrowers to demonstrate their support for women’s ultimate, but will it be seen as enough?

“I hope that what comes out of this game are conversations within the community to pave the way for other regions across the country to organize and promote events just like it, specifically other places with large pools of extreme talent like Seattle, Boston, Austin, and Denver,” Desmond said.

The game will be played at 4:45 pm tomorrow at Laney College in Oakland. You can follow the livestream for free on the FlameThrowers YouTube channel. 

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