Dan Morgridge, Executive Director
First of all, thank you. Thank you for participating in the sport we all share and for adding, at whatever level, to our amazing community.
As many of you are no doubt aware, our sport is enjoying a period of increasing growth and some big changes. These represent both challenges and opportunities for our community. To best fulfill our mission and make Ultimate Chicago a facilitator and resource for ultimate across Chicagoland and the state, we have hired an Executive Director.
The changes in our sport are vast. Even before the push to increase the visibility of the sport, the number of people playing our sport was estimated to have crossed $5 million, and youth leagues are expanding across the nation. The internet has increased the amount of people discussing and viewing our sport by facilitating a rapid expansion of websites, social media, and even video explaining, discussing, and highlighting Ultimate. Soon, Ultimate could be an Olympic sport, and even the strategies and throws regularly used at the highest levels were mere novelties just a few years ago. A new professional league is exploring how active referees and other rule changes can make the sport even more spectator- and family-friendly. It is unclear how these changes will challenge or change our sport, namely USAU’s mature observer system which has been supporting exciting play for a decade. Additionally, our Ultimate communities are giving rise to new business models and a second, larger generation of businesses are joining those pioneering merchandise and apparel companies that have been the only game in town.
All of these changes allow our community for unique opportunities to explore what it means to embody and be driven by our Spirit of the Game. In this respect, all of us, from the newest pick-up player to our flown Goose Helton, are active participants in using the SOTG to shape the direction of the sport and the community that we love.
What does this all mean for us here in Chicago and Illinois? What does this mean for UltimateChicago.
Ultimate Chicago’s mission is to promote and grow the sport of Ultimate among players of all skill levels; to be a resource for Chicago-area players and teams; and to recognize and encourage play according to the Spirit of the Game. Ultimate Chicago is more than just an organization to run Ultimate leagues. We are dedicated to promoting the game of Ultimate in the Midwest and beyond.
A new player may not be aware of how much has changed over the decades at UC, but the old timers (*cough* * cough*, sorry, we mean “experienced”-timers) have seen how far we have come. UC and its predecessor, Chicago Ultimate Summer League, have been around and growing ultimate in Chicago for 2 decades. It is a hard job; and what started out as one summer league which operated off of a phone tree, has grown into a six-figure organization. But playing in a largecity does have its disadvantages, as an example UC regularly spends $70,000 a year in field fees. UC has had great success. That one summer league in the 90s has grown into roughly 20 leagues and divisions with over 3,000 registrations and a website that reaches almost 5,000 people.
All of this was managed by volunteer boards trying to find time in their busy lives to make it all happen. Over our 20 years we have had a steady parade of amazing organizers and board members; we hope to continue to highlight some of the people who have put in hundreds or thousands and in some cases definitely over ten thousand hours to promote Ultimate and our community without any pay.
But as UC and the sport grows, and UC is facing pressures both internal and external to the sport that represent what consultants might call increased headwinds. These challenges can be illustrated by two examples:
- Field costs: the amount UC is charged for fields is constantly changing and every year threatens to jump significantly. In addition, every year UC doesn’t know what it will be spending on fields until long after we have committed to our full year’s schedule of league locations and times. This is a significant price risk for UC and it makes budgeting for the current and future year extremely difficult.
- Declining unique players: The demographic with the largest drop seems to be elite men. UC is very excited about the growth of options to play ultimate around Chicago. The amount of club teams has clearly increased and we are looking forward to more growth in the quantity and quality of club teams in Chicago. This growth has illustrated an opportunity for UC to offer leagues and events that work better with club teams. UC can also work to improve the retention of newer players.
Other challenges include normal growth in costs; IT and communication challenges as our community grows and having a two-way dialog becomes more complex; changing and diverging priorities as the range of our player demographics get older and younger simultaneously; additional scheduling issues as national organizations and local ones seek out a new equilibrium for tournaments throughout the summer and fall; additional complexities as new business models seek to enter our sport; and ensuring that SotG guides our actions and is optimized throughout our community.
We don’t see these challenges as negatives but as great opportunities for the sport and UC as we explore the best way to promote our mission in the future. These include finding more field options throughout the Chicagoland area; implementing the next generation of our website and two-way communication with our community; and actively engaging our partners throughout the region.
Even more exciting is our opportunity of using the strengths of UC to better become a centralized resource and driver for growth for all things ultimate throughout Chicagoland and the state. This includes working to get even more youth involved and engaged with our sport and the SotG; using our majority-female board to explore the female experience of ultimate and grow participation and satisfaction; providing benefits to our entire community to try to bring a greater sense of continuity from pick up player to elite club team; strengthening our two-way communication to become a resource for ultimate news, highlights, training materials; facilitating a bottom-up approach to creating new ultimate offerings(for instance in suburbs which would like to pilot new local leagues or tournaments); and, of course, providing even more playing and training opportunities from ourselves and partners through clinics, leagues, and tournaments.
In listening to the ideas and suggestions from our community it has been clear to the board that we will never suffer from a lack of creativity and passion when it comes to exploring these opportunities. One of the reasons UC has had such a long succession of prudent and effective boards has been all the great ideas as well as the passion collected from the community that keeps the volunteers going year after year. But with the increased risks and larger organization the board needs more help to optimize our responses to our challenges and opportunities.
In order to best take advantage of our solid foundation to further our mission without unduly burdening the board or community, the board decided to hire a permanent, full-time employee. This executive director would be tasked with bringing together and lifting up an increasingly diverse community. This task will not be an easy one; but the UC board views it as a great problem to have. The board spent more than eight months engaging with the community, former board members, and other cities and regions around the US who have hired staff, to refine our goals, create a process, interview candidates and make our selection. We received many great candidates and conducted a lengthy interview process which included a committee made up of current and former board members. The board is very happy with how well the process went and is very excited to announce our new hire.
Without further ado, UC is honored to be able to announce that Dan Morgridge is the new Executive Director of Ultimate Chicago. UC is overjoyed to have him and is looking forward to all that we will be able to do next year and beyond. We would like to thank everyone who helped make this possible but especially the most active members of the interview committee who were no longer on the board but still helped out, namely: Ben Davis, Frank Menendez, and Angelo Artemakis.
Below is an introduction from Dan:
To the Ultimate Chicago Community,
Sixteen years ago, I would never have guessed that stepping onto an ultimate field would make such an impression on me. From an immensely positive youth experience into equally fantastic league nights and parties at Piece, I found myself among a community of vibrant, fun people. Whether we came knowing it or discovered it by happy accident, there was always one factor that differentiated Ultimate from any other sport - the Spirit of the Game. And no matter what happened in the heat of the moment, the community would always reinforce spirit whenever it seemed competition threatened to overtake it.
I was lucky enough to participate in Ultimate Chicago leagues, a growing club scene, and even a few international tournaments. (I am happy to say that our spirit is right on par with the best of Europe!) I found that as I progressed in Ultimate, it gave me avenues for nearly every aspect of growth I could hope for: how to organize; how to teach; how to inspire; how to lead; overall just how to be a more complete person.
Unfortunately, my career began to overtake my ultimate time, and I found myself less and less able to be as invested as I once was in this fantastic sport. I spent several years working in service and hospitality - a different kind of spirit, but not quite the same. Managing a restaurant that preached "enlightened hospitality" sure sounded a lot like being spirited - what ultimate player can't relate to being kinder and more thoughtful in a situation where you don't have to be? But hospitality is only a one-way street, and there's no guarantee that the energy you put out in that world need ever come back to you. When the board offered me this position, I knew it was something I'd been missing for a long time - as a sport, as a social outlet, and as a fulfillment of "Spirit" as part of a community.
I now find myself in aposition to ask "Where are we?" in both a very personal as well as public manner. I want nothing more than to answer that question with all of you - and then to figure out where we want to be. Over the next few weeks, I want to hear from as many of you as possible - whether you want to write me a note, or find me on the fields, or share a drink with me after league some night. I'm hoping that with your input, we can continue to make our league more vital, more vibrant; that we can make something that means much more to us than just a sports league. For those of you who don't know me, I can't wait to meet you; for those of you who do...it's so good to be back.