For being the lone teenager in a group of adult professionals in last Sunday’s practice, Colby Chuck showed his San Francisco Dogfish teammates he was no greenhorn in Ultimate frisbee.
Perhaps home advantage came in play for the Berkeley High junior. After two years bouncing around in San Francisco, the Dogfish, one of eight teams in the semi-professional Major League Ultimate, is moving to Berkeley and will call Yellowjacket Stadium in Berkeley High its new home starting next month.
Chuck can’t play for the Dogfish due to his status as a high-school student, but he is gaining valuable experience by practicing every week with the team.
“The players mentor me to get better for college and beyond,” Chuck said. “It’s just great that they can correct my game and make me get better.”
When the Dogfish moved to Berkeley, head coach Justin Safdie invited Berkeley High School Ultimate players to join their tryouts for free. Chuck made the cut thanks to his experience playing in a club of around 70 Berkeley High students year-round for three years.
It was one of many ways the Dogfish planned to reach out and engage the Berkeley community before the season. The coaches and management hoped to tap into the big Ultimate frisbee culture in Berkeley, which extends from developmental clubs at Willard and King middle schools to intramural clubs at UC Berkeley.
The Dogfish’s contract to play in the Berkeley High Yellowjacket Stadium is arranged on a year-by-year basis with the Berkeley Unified School District, according to BUSD spokesperson Mark Coplan. Since the games and practices are on Sundays, he said there will be minimal conflicts with high-school athlete programs in need of the field.
“It’s an unique opportunity for our new, beautiful stadium in Berkeley High to make use for public uses,” Coplan said.
The Bay Area at large has been a hotbed for Ultimate frisbee, a sport founded in New Jersey. The American Ultimate Disc League, another semi-professional league from which MLU broke off and created their own league, supports two teams in the Bay Area — the San Francisco FlameThrowers and the San Jose Spiders.
The Bay Area Disc Association supports multiple leagues and tournaments for thousands of Ultimate amateur players throughout the year to accommodate the increasingly popular sport.
The Dogfish and the MLU say they are committed to helping the sport grow. Before its five home games this season on Sundays, the Dogfish will hold a youth clinic to teach Ultimate frisbee to its young supporters.
“I think all the teams in the league are striving to make it as family-friendly as possible,” said Matt Ruby, an assistant coach for the Dogfish. “What sport sums up Berkeley better than frisbee?”
The Dogfish, which was founded in 2013 with seven other MLU teams in the United States and Canada, previously played its two seasons in Kezar Stadium in Golden Gate Park and Boxer Stadium in Balboa Park. But the team wanted to move closer to a less windy venue — heavy winds can seriously disrupt the quality of play. They also wanted a spot that was more accessible by BART and public transit.
Ruby, a Berkeley resident who works as a video producer outside of coaching, was one of the Dogfish personnel who wanted to move the venue across the bay. In one road trip to Portland, he and other coaches persuaded the general manager to consider the move to Berkeley.
Ruby and Chuck are not the only coaches and players with roots based in Berkeley. The Dogfish sports eight UC Berkeley students and alumni on its roster, according to Ruby.
“Berkeley is much more of a community than San Francisco, which has a lot of different neighborhoods,” said Sam Adamson, a Berkeley resident and Dogfish player for all three seasons. “It gives us a chance to really build a fan-base here.”
One demographic missing from the Dogfish — and on all eight MLU teams — are female players, a surprising fact considering Ultimate frisbee’s reputation as a gender-equitable sport.
Although the MLU is a co-ed league, an unprecedented move among other professional sports league in the United States, no female players were registered for the MLU in the 2014 season. One of the assistant coaches, Liz Penny, is just one of two female coaches in the MLU.
No female players participated in the two tryout combines hosted in Berkeley in January, according to Ruby. He expressed hope that with more exposure in Berkeley, female Ultimate frisbee athletes will try out for the Dogfish next year.
“It’s unfortunate that none have tried out,” Ruby said. “I actually think the greatest strength for Ultimate going forward will be as a mixed sport. There are incredible women ultimate players that would make our team. I don’t doubt that for a second.”
The first Dogfish home game will be on April 19 at 2 p.m. in Yellowjacket Stadium. Tickets are $15 each.
Get the latest Berkeley news in your inbox with Berkeleyside’s free Daily Briefing. And make sure to bookmark Berkeleyside’s pages on Facebook and Twitter. You don’t need an account on those sites to view important information.