Dynamic movement. Soaring hammer throws. Layout catches.

Tossing a Frisbee used to be a casual activity in the park. Now, for some athletes, it comes with a modest paycheck.

In August, Portland Rising will begin its first season as an expansion team in the Premier Ultimate League, a professional league for women, transgender and nonbinary athletes. The team, which was set to debut last year before the pandemic forced cancellation of the league’s season, will face off against squads from New York, Austin, Texas, and Colombia.

Ultimate requires teams of seven players to complete passes with a flying disc while defenders try to intercept or knock down their throws. Players cannot run while holding the disc. A team scores when it completes a pass into its opponent’s end zone.

“It’s a fantastic sport,” said head coach Anne Lightbody, a Falmouth native and associate professor of earth sciences at the University of New Hampshire. “It combines dynamic action, beautiful plays and really the thrill of high-level competition.”

Portland Rising will showcase Maine’s deep talent pool, according to team member and co-owner Chloë Rowse, 27.

“There’s a ton of Ultimate players here,” said Rowse, a Waynflete High School graduate who competed for Colorado College and Team USA after learning the sport in Maine. “It’s an incredible Ultimate community, and we’ve all known that, but I would say the rest of the country hasn’t known that.”

Ultimate has been growing in Maine since it first took root in the 1970s, said Tom Stoughton, secretary of Maine Ultimate and commissioner of the state’s high school league. He estimates that around 600 boys and girls compete each year in the spring high school league, while an even greater number of adults play on collegiate, rec and club teams.

While Portland’s Ultimate scene remains robust throughout the year, many of the state’s most talented players have needed to travel to Boston to compete in the country’s top club leagues, said Rowse. Now, players from the Boston area, joined by athletes from as far away as Colorado and California, are coming to Maine to play for Rising.

Portland Rising players huddle before a scrimmage during a training camp at Fitzpatrick Stadium on July 10. Rising is Maine’s first professional sports team for women and nonbinary athletes. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“These are some of the top players in the country,” Rowse said. “And the world, really.”

Rowse, like many of her teammates, has competed at national and world championships with collegiate, club and national teams. Yet this season will mark her first opportunity to play professionally.

Players will make salaries more in line with semi-pro sports than most professional leagues. The 27 athletes on the roster will split an estimated base pool of $24,460 during the 2021 season, though some may elect to share their portions with their teammates. On average, that comes to $906 per player.

The opportunity to make any money playing Ultimate is a welcome surprise to players like Rising co-captain Kate Powers, 27. Powers, who picked up the sport at Bowdoin College before competing with Maine club Frolic, said taking on the title of professional athlete has changed her perception of herself.

“It gives you good reason to take yourself seriously,” said Powers, a Portland resident. “For me at least, it has opened up space for me to explore what the upper limits of my athletic ability are.”

Portland Rising co-captain Kate Powers reaches for a pass during a scrimmage at Fitzpatrick Stadium. Powers is excited about playing on a professional team. “It has opened up space for me to explore what the upper limits of my athletic ability are.” Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

While Portland’s other professional sports teams are composed of men, Portland Rising will provide a stage for other groups whose stories often go unnoticed in the world of sports, said team co-owner Maddie Purcell.

Though Rising initially described itself as a “womxn’s” team, it has since dropped that label in order to be more inclusive of nonbinary and transgender athletes, Purcell said.

That devotion to inclusivity is at the center of Rising’s mission. Purcell hopes that besides serving as role models in the community, team members and coaches will expand access to Ultimate through measures like the Rising Development Program, which will provide high-level coaching to younger players.

“We think we can do a lot with bringing communities together in Portland,” said Purcell. “I’m so freaking excited that we’re finally able to do the on-field part that basically gives us the leverage for everything else.”

The pandemic will limit Portland Rising, which held a two-day training camp earlier this month, to an abridged schedule this summer.

The team will play an exhibition game at Memorial Field at Deering High against New York Gridlock on Aug. 7 at 6 p.m. It will then host the three-team PUL International Tournament at Fitzpatrick Stadium from Aug. 13-15.

Rising’s first tournament opponent will be Colombia’s Medellín Revolution, which Purcell called “probably the most famous Ultimate team in the world.”

“It’s a pretty big deal in the Ultimate community to bring them here,” said Purcell. “Our team, honestly, has been fawning over the fact that we’re going to get to play Revo in our first game.”

Chloë Rowse, co-owner of Portland Rising and a player on the team, competed in Ultimate for Colorado College and Team USA after learning the sport in Maine. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Tickets for both the exhibition and tournament games are on the team’s website and range in price from $15 for a single-game tournament ticket to $45 for an “everything ticket” that grants admission to the exhibition and all tournament games, according to a team spokesperson. Student and children discounts are available.

For Rising players who have spent the last year attending team workouts, meetings and hangouts over Zoom, August can’t come soon enough.

“There’s so much built-up energy that’s ready to just sort of explode on the field,” said Powers. “I think it’s going to be fun to watch.”


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