By Sam Elliott
Spring brings about more than just the start of baseball season in Indianapolis.
The Indianapolis AlleyCats began play last month for their fifth season in the American Ultimate Disc League — the first and largest professional ultimate frisbee league in the world with 26 teams across the United States and Canada.
The AlleyCats were one of the league’s eight founding teams in 2012 and, since 2014, Fishers High School class of 2010 graduate Rick Gross has been on the roster.
Like most people, Gross didn’t know what ultimate frisbee — just “ultimate” to those in the know — was until his cousins asked him to play in a pickup game with friends the summer before his senior year at FHS. Having played baseball, basketball and soccer growing up, he quickly found a love for the game.
“I went off to Vincennes University for my first year of college and I saw a couple people playing in the yard and asked if I could play,” Gross, now a student at IUPUI, said. “They said they had a team there at the school and asked me to play for the team. A couple weeks later they asked me to be one of the captains.”
Upon returning to the area, Gross heard about the AlleyCats and first tried out in 2013 before making the team in 2014 — the first season Jared Payne took over as head coach.
“He should play a big role this year with him being a third-year player and he’s definitely gotten better every year,” Payne said of Gross. “He’s a very coachable, very competitive player. He really likes to play defense and guard some of the better players on the other team, but he’s talented on offense so we’ve been playing him in a lot of situations this season and he’s performed well so far.”
When he’s not playing ultimate, Gross is helping teach and introduce it to the next generation of potential AlleyCats players as a coach for approximately 15 players on the FHS club team in its third year alongside head coach Will Drumright.
“I have a passion for helping ultimate grow in Indy,” Gross said. “It’s pretty cool because I used to work at the YMCA like three or four years ago in the teen area, so I already knew a couple of the guys and had introduced it to them. That’s kind of how we started getting players. We did a little scouting and recruiting and picked up a couple guys, and with word of mouth it spread through the school and we started picking up more guys.
“It’s really hard to explain ultimate to somebody. Usually I just pull out my phone and pull up a highlight video and people really enjoy watching it,” Gross said. “I say it’s a mixture between football, basketball and soccer.”
Ultimate is played on a 100-yard football field, but with the end zones taking up 20 yards at each end.
“It’s like soccer as far as you’re always running around and not stopping and it’s like basketball where, if you pick up your dribble in basketball, you can only pivot — in ultimate frisbee, if you catch the disc you can only pivot to throw and you can’t move with it,” Gross said. “When you catch the disc you have to stop until you pass it to someone else and you score with a catch in the 20-yard end zone.”
In the AUDL, there are two six-team and two seven-team divisions across the United States and Canada. Teams play their regular seasons within their division, and playoffs begin with second- and third-place teams facing off for the right to face the division’s top team. Division winners move on to the final four league championships — this year hosted in Madison, Wis., by Midwest Division perennial power, the Madison Radicals.
“They’re the team that we need to beat. They’re who we’re shooting for, but we have to get to the playoffs first,” AlleyCats team owner Tim Held said. “Chicago, Minneapolis and Indy — all the ultimate people are saying its between the three of us for that third spot, with Madison and Pittsburgh being first and second. That’s what people are predicting.”
ALLEYCATS 2016 SCHEDULE
Home games played at Roncalli Stadium, 3300 Prague Rd., Indianapolis
- 4/8 Cincinnati W 22-17
- 4/16 Madison L 32-25
- 4/24 Cincinnati W 35-14
- 4/30 Minnesota L 21-20
- 5/7at Minnesota
- 5/14 Pittsburgh 7:30 p.m.
- 5/21 Detroit 3:45 p.m. at Carroll Stadium
- 5/27at Cincinnati
- 5/28 at Chicago
- 6/19 Chicago 4:30 p.m.
- 6/25 at Detroit
- 6/26 at Pittsburgh
- 7/2 Pittsburgh 7:30 p.m.
- 7/10 at Madison