June 20, 2019

The Current

In this week's edition:

  • A Feature Interview with Anraya Palmer

A Feature Interview with Anraya Palmer

Interview by Daniel Bowler

Daniel Bowler (in bold): When did you start youth coaching?

Anraya Palmer marks up against Vancouver Traffic’s Laurel Jay.

Anraya Palmer marks up against Vancouver Traffic’s Laurel Jay.

Anraya Palmer: I have been coaching at Paideia for five years now, I just finished my fifth season there, so kind of right after college. I had a bunch of free time, and I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do. Miranda [Roth-Knowles] was like “well, you’re gonna play Outbreak”, that was the first year [Atlanta] Outbreak started, “think about coming out and coaching” and I was like, “yeah, I like coaching”. I’d coached youth soccer and basketball in the past, never coached youth ultimate - this was still when I was really young in the sport, didn’t understand strategy…but being able to coach under Miranda, I’ve learned so much.

What do you find rewarding about coaching youth?

It’s rewarding that our community is so close knit. There aren’t a ton of women’s high school teams in Atlanta, so you pretty much know everybody on the team. There are some teams that I’m not familiar with, but for the most part, if they come out to Youth Club Championships tryouts you know the players. You get to see them grow up through freshmen year; Paideia has a pretty good middle school program, so a lot of them start then. It’s super rewarding getting to see them grow and mature, and become athletes that become confident, which is something I struggled with growing up. It would’ve been awesome to have a closer in age female role model be like, “Hey, yeah I went through this as well, this is how high school is. You’re gonna get through it, let ultimate or whatever sport, let that be your outlet, it’s ok to be strong and competitive. All the emotions that you’re feeling, all of it is normal.” It’s cool to bond with them. My first year [coaching] I was still trying to figure out the program, and meet the girls, and there are still some I communicate with that graduated my first year with the team. I didn’t really know them the way I know the girls I’ve seen go through the program for four years. I think it also helps coaching Groove, it’s been around for such a long time. It’s got a huge alumni base, people will always come back…it’s just such a close knit family, which is just something I’ve always experienced with my frisbee teams, which is really awesome. Playing soccer growing up, once it got older and more competitive, it was like we were all competing with each other. This isn’t how a team should operate, we should like working together.

Do you feel like your experience as a player of Color (POC) has shifted depending on the level (High School, College, Club, Pro)?

I think so. I think also growing up playing soccer, I was usually the only Black person on my team. Then going to the University of Georgia [UGA], a predominantly white school. Then playing on the frisbee team… the year after I graduated there were more people of color on the team, but for the most part, it was me and maybe one other person. I think it’s just learning more about ultimate as a sport, then realizing I’m not seeing a lot of people that look like me. We’re traveling to different tournaments against different schools, and still I’m not seeing a lot of people that look like me. Just being more aware of the fact that there aren’t a lot of people of color playing the sport has really shifted how I think about ultimate now. It’s like, alright I just found out about it, so… there’s probably a lot of people that don’t know about it. As it has gotten more popular, and there’s more video available, more clips and highlights, well, it’s out there. People can find it, so why aren’t people finding it? That’s what I’ve been asking myself a lot recently. I think it’s not being marketed to a certain group of people. I think a lot about when we try to host clinics in Atlanta, they’re always at Piedmont Park, which is super affluent. We market it to the same group of high school kids because we know we’re gonna get the same people to come out … [Piedmont Park is] a place where most people have to drive to... so we’re not really trying too hard to get a different group of people in there because we’re so set in like “if we advertise this, we know we’re gonna get this group of people.” From College to Club now I’ve seen a lot more people of color. In general, there, like even at College Nationals, I definitely saw a lot more people of color playing. Especially Black women who were playing, which was really awesome. It’s a thing that the middle school team I coach is diverse, and I’m wondering why it doesn’t translate to other schools that I’ve seen. It’s just like, the student population. Coaching at Paideia there’s not a ton of diversity to begin with. So already there’s not going to be a large number of people of color that are going to come out and play. I think for the most part they’ve already established themselves as already going to play basketball or soccer, and then make it a yearlong thing because they’re really into it, maybe trying to get a scholarship for it. And we get a lot of basketball players towards the end of their senior year. I wonder how to market it better, even at schools with a larger diverse population… Grady [High School] is an in-town school, which still isn’t as diverse as it should be. Maynard Jackson [High School] is an in-town school that we played against recently and I don’t think they had any people of color on their team, and I think their school has to be 50/50, if not more, African American. I just think we’re so set in marketing it to a certain group of people. That’s kind of what I’ve noticed since I’ve been coaching and playing.

What do you think schools can do to bring their teams in line with their school demographics?

I’ve talked to the coaches at Maynard Jackson, which is a new team, and a lot of their players come from the middle school program… so they’re playing there since they can’t compete as a middle school team, and will be at the school the next year as 9th graders. What I hope that they do is actually market the game, instead of just thinking that they already have a team established, they don’t have to recruit people for the team. Being in the school now, this is where you do the groundwork to ensure the program stays for a longer time than the four years this current middle school class will be there. Being in the school and being able to recruit the kids you want to recruit [is useful].

Do you feel like the Live Ultimate marketing has been marketing to people already playing the sport, or more geared towards reaching new players?

As I’ve been told for the ambassador program, it’s kind of a way to bridge the gap between USAU and the community… I think to a certain extent ultimate is marketed to people who just play ultimate, I mean like when I’m looking for a game on ESPN 3 I don’t think the average person is just flipping through channels and settling on ultimate frisbee… I think it’s also marketed towards the younger generation, to keep the retention of ultimate. I’ve noticed it a lot more, and I’ve been to club events where people are like “who cares, I’ve been playing frisbee longer than her”. But it’s cool, kids were coming up to me and like, “Oh right, I know you! Can I talk to you? These are the issues that I’ve been dealing with, can we discuss these things?” That was the first time outside of the US Open & YCC events that I actually saw the benefits of the ambassador program. So I think it’s still being marketed to people that play ultimate, and I think that’s the challenge we’ve been finding with the Color of Ultimate clinic that we’re trying to run.

We’ve been trying to get people of color, kids of color really, to come out to these Color of Ultimate clinics that we’re going to have before the game. It’s just been like, how do we market this sport to people that don’t know the sport? We’re finding there’s a reason you market to the demographic that you know you’re going to get, because you’re gonna get them. That’s the challenge we’ve been running into, but we’re also getting people to come out. I think we have like eight people signed up, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but that’s eight more people of color that haven’t heard about ultimate come to learn, which is awesome, and I think that’s a lot of it. I think you see numbers and you base it off of more [traditional participation] numbers, and think that’s not a lot of people, and consider trashing the idea to do something where 200+ kids will come out. But it’s more meaningful for the kids who have never seen the sport to learn it as opposed to those 200 kids whose parents fly them all over the country to tournaments already.

You’ve said that the growth of minority involvement is your main desire when looking at Atlanta ultimate. How are you feeling about it now since I believe at that time Project Diversity hadn’t been created? Does it seem like there’s more of a path?

I think there is. Obviously being involved with Project Diversity is huge, I think our community saw a need for an entryway for minorities to get more involved, or have their voices heard more in our sport. So I think Project Diversity is huge for that. The biggest thing we’re doing right now is this Color of Ultimate game. I’m hoping we’re marketing to strictly Hispanic and African American communities, like heavy minority areas in Atlanta, and the game is in an area accessible for people to get to. It’ll also be free, so you can donate a ticket or just show up, plus the clinics, plus we’re trying to get radio and TV exposure, all kinds of media exposure, just so anybody and everybody will come out. I think actually seeing the game will be helpful in getting people to come out and play, because in my experience you talk to a kid about ultimate, they’re like, whatever, but you show a kid a highlight video, and they get excited. [Atlanta] Soul, we’ve been trying to practice in more diverse areas, and there’s football kids that are playing before and they’ll see us warming up and ask questions, see us start our warm up drills and be like “Oh, these women, this is a sport!” So I think that’s going to be a good pathway, I’m not sure what the next steps will be for Project Diversity, but I’m hoping that it’s more clinics in areas where we can bring out a different crowd of kids than the ones we’ve been catering to in Atlanta before. It’s hard for me sometimes, because Atlanta is such a diverse area, and as far as ultimate communities goes it’s probably one of the most diverse, and it should still have more people of color. People come out to play pickup, but they don’t come out to tryouts. I don’t know if it’s a welcoming thing, or they feel they shouldn’t be there skill wise. So I hope we do a better job of incorporating more minorities into ultimate and retaining them, as opposed to relying on clinic participants to spread ultimate on their own. I don’t think we would ever say that to non-minority kids. Focusing on building up a specific school’s program is something different. I’m hoping that’s the next avenue for Project Diversity, but we’re so bogged down in Color of Ultimate right now it’s kind of hard to think about the next steps.

I really want to hear about Project Diversity - how did it get started and did y’all even know each other before it got together?

I know a lot of people on the committee currently, Devin [Cox] went to UGA and Paideia, I played with Lauren Lee and played against Lauren Lee, who’s on the committee. Josh Feng is the one I think who got it all started because he recently coached at a predominantly African American school and he brought an ultimate program into that school- which hasn’t been done at that level before I don’t think in Atlanta. Which is saying something, because we have a pretty decent youth scene, but it’s all coming from the same six/seven schools. So yeah, Joshua is the creator of it, I assume he just went to AFDC [the Atlanta Flying Disc Club] and told them we needed a committee for diversity based on what his experiences have been at Wesley, the school he was at. Him and Shanye [Crawford] were probably the first two on the board to get it started, and then they reached out to people, and there was an application process. It seemed like there were a lot of people in our area that wanted to be involved, but not being people of color I think they saw they needed to step back and let someone else be in charge of the project. I didn’t apply the first time, just because I have so much going on, but when it was going through again- my original thought was that I would be involved in some way, but I don’t need to be on the committee. Then thinking about it more, I realized it was something that I care about, and if I wanted to see it done the right way I should be on the committee to make it happen that way. So I’m very excited that I’m on it now, it is a lot of work in addition to all the other things that I’ve been doing, but it feels like the most meaningful work that I’m doing, which is what makes it super exciting.

I liked what I was reading on the website about the Project’s stated goals - especially the focus on sustainable growth. I don’t know about you, but it feels like sometimes the ultimate community can be very good and put a lot of focus on the awareness side of issues, but not pursuing changes and maintaining them. To you, what does sustainable growth of diversity and inclusion in the sport mean?

I think first it’s getting kids involved that usually wouldn’t come out and play ultimate. Going to them as opposed to getting them to come to us. We have to sacrifice our willingness to go out, because usually we know kids are gonna come out so we’ll decided a location based on what’s convenient for us. So first going out to kids, making it accessible for them. And sticking with it, not just giving up because you only have eight players. Or because there are only two or three kids that are involved in a program. Those two or three can learn a lot and have a lot to gain, and we can gain more ground because if they start to learn and love the game, they can [share it with their friends]. Getting more in those communities and making them want to play the sport, be passionate about the sport - it’s not just about developing people that love the sport, but also people that want to coach the sport to other kids. When I think about the players that I coach, they have enough knowledge to captain and coach teams if they need too. Teaching these kids the game and how they can also coach the game. Growing a person not just as a player, but all around. They will be able to coach a team by the time they are my age and they’ve been playing long enough, they will be able to lead a team and know the ways to recruit people- I don’t know. It’s just kind of a continuous cycle of bringing people in and teaching them what we have learned, so they can teach others.

How did the idea for the Color of Ultimate come together? How long have y’all been working on it?

I kinda came on midway through the planning process of it all. I have played for Downtown Brown, which is huge, it’s an all minority team, and they were telling me about other hat tournaments that were gonna be all-people of color tournaments. Also at the same time in Atlanta, there was an indoor frisbee tournament and they decided to create an all-minority team called Minority Report…. There was also a game in Alabama that started with Kelvin Williams from the [Atlanta] Hustle, and they were trying to get a couple of [Atlanta] Ozone players and Hustle players to come to Alabama to teach - I think it was Central High School, I’m not sure - but in Alabama they were trying to get these kids to get excited about playing ultimate. They did those kids versus Hustle/Ozone and it was a big hit. I couldn’t make it down, which I was really upset about, but from what I heard it was just - it was everything for the kids. They got to see that there are people who still play this sport even in a predominantly white space and enjoy it…I think it was huge for them to see what you can grow up and be. So I think talking to the Hustle and the Soul, AFDC Project Diversity said they wanted to have a Color of Ultimate game for Atlanta. It started small scale, like it was just gonna be local Atlanta players, or whoever can come into the game. And I think it was Soul who said they should make it - we have the resources, we have the people, we have the funds, we can make this a big game. So we started reaching out to people via application and - I think it was huge to pick up some of the [Medellin] Revolution women first. To make sure people saw that it wasn’t like we were just trying to get people, that anyone that could come could do it. People see Manuela [Cardenas] coming in to play, this game is a pretty big deal. I think we have four or five players from Revolution that committed very early to playing, in addition to a couple of Hustle players and a couple of Soul players. That helped a lot. Putting out the application process, marketing the game a lot - we want this to be huge. We want people to come in, we’ll work with sponsorships or fundraising, whatever we can to get as many people from all over to come in. I think it was helpful for others to market this game, for myself, and other people on Twitter that were plugging it a lot - it’s cool to see how far of a reach we got. I think we had over 80 people apply from all over the place. A ton of people from Seattle, a lot from California, Colorado, Texas - just all over the place. I wasn’t expecting it to be that huge, but it’s awesome that it’s grown into this. I have friends up in Boston that can’t come to the game but want to know how they can donate. They want to watch, they want to help, from all the way up there. People all over the country that are willing to make this as huge of a deal as it is. I think it all started with that showcase game in Alabama last year, to say, “Yeah, we need more spaces for people of color in ultimate.”

Who are you most excited to be playing with, and who are you most looking forward to matching up against?

I get to play with [Elizabeth] Mosquera, especially since playing against her earlier this season with Soul - she is the real deal. It takes a lot for me to get star struck, I try to look at opponents as nameless, faceless, but - she’s the real deal. I get to play with a lot of my teammates from Soul and Ozone, which is awesome. I’m excited to play with Gabe Hernandez, I’ve never played with him before, that’s gonna be really cool. It’s always fun to match up against Manuela. She really elevates everyone’s play on the field, not just her teammates, her opponents too because you have to work so hard against her. It’s also cool - I love it when people are having fun while they’re playing, it shouldn’t be a chore to be on the field. That will be fun. We’re also doing a forum before to get to know each other, which will be super cool. I’m super excited to hear people answer the question “Why are you here?” Super open ended, what brought you to this game? Not just to ultimate, but also to this game. Byron Liu is on my team, we never played together but we know each other because he used to live in Atlanta. I’m excited to play against Allysha Dixon, I get to see her all the time with [Denver] Molly Brown, but it’s also fun to be on the same field with her all the time. Two of my sponsors for the Premier Ultimate League this year - Mark Rauls, he’s on my team, and Delrico Johnson. Super excited to like, officially meet them.

Palmer (far left) with her teammates before a Soul game.

Palmer (far left) with her teammates before a Soul game.

What’s it been like to play as a professional athlete, and what’s it been like playing specifically for the Soul?

The Soul is unique in that it’s pulling a lot of women not just from Ozone, but from [Atlanta] Bucket, the mixed team, or as far down as Gainesville, Florida. Erynn [Schroeder] is coming in from Charleston, South Carolina. Another coach is in South Carolina. It’s pulling the top people from our area and our teams, so it’s like people I wouldn’t normally get the chance to play with because during the club season they’re playing mixed. I know about these players, and sometimes we’ll see them at tournaments, but actually being their teammate and getting to know them- while also coming out on the field ready to compete- has been the best part of Soul for me.

The League has made it feel really professional. I’ve been loving all of the highlights, I think the one that really did it for me was the Top 10 from the week. I think there was a week where almost every team was playing, and they did highlights from three or four games which was super cool. It felt like we were actually professional athletes. In talking to a lot of people, they’ve questioned whether to call ourselves professional, and I’ve just gotten to the point where I’ve started to own it. I’ll tell people at work I have a pro game, I’m a professional athlete and they’re like “wait, what?” And I tell them I play for the Soul, that it’s a pro team in Atlanta, we’re playing against the best team in the world today.

I mean hey, if people are paying for tickets and there is production value going into the game, that’s professional, no matter what.

Yeah! The league has been really awesome. And I know it hasn’t been without its challenges, especially coming from last year and figuring out what to work on, but I’m all in for the PUL. I was doubtful about women’s pro, because I don’t really know about ultimate as a professional sport anyway, but I’ve really started to identify as a professional athlete. I get paid to do this and it’s cool to go to stadiums. We were at Silverbacks Park last week, which has a real locker room with chairs and walkup. I like to hang up my jerseys and stage my locker. I don’t know; it’s just really, really cool for me. I follow so many NBA/WNBA teams on Instagram and they always do the locker room walk-in, what outfit they’re wearing - I just stood in front of our locker room this past game because this is cool, we should all get super excited about the fact that we are these women that I aspire to be. I aspire to be Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi - I think all my teammates wanna be seen as that too. Let’s use this stage that we have while we have it.

What’s it like playing in front of a crowd?

It’s been a lot of fun. It doesn’t affect me as much - I think other people get kinda nervous about it, but once you’re on the field, you’re on the field. For me it’s been really cool playing to the crowd, like if they get hype about something I’m going to hype them up even more. Coming off onto the sidelines, this is a big D point, I’m gonna hype up the sideline, but I want to hear the crowd too! One thing I like about the Silverbacks Stadium is that it’s a lot closer… the fans can interact a little bit more. I love the crowd.

Last question. Hannah Leathers once said that the thing she admires most about you is your swagger, the way that you analyze, play, and critique yourself and others with swag and intention. I think that having intention behind your actions, I think that makes a big impact on other people when you’re around ultimate in general. It seems like you do things with a lot of passion and intentionality. So I was wondering how that passion and that intention transfers to projects like Project Diversity.

I try to do everything - I want to put my best effort in no matter what, and if I can’t put my best in and be my best, I’m not going to do it. Just because it would be a disservice to me and whatever I’m doing. There’s a reason people want me involved in things, because how they see men on and off the field. I’m trying to put all that I have into it- and also, for me I take more pleasure in my teammates succeeding than my own success. For that, I feel like if they’re successful, I’m successful. I helped them get that success. Just being able to pump others up, and seeing them perform to their best, helps me perform to my best. If I have a teammate that’s super down, I will do whatever I can to build them up, which, in turn, helps me. It boosts me up to see others feel that same way I do. It gets exhausting sometimes, especially during tournaments, or I’m using all my energy to pump up the team and then realize I’m gassed and have to go play. But when you work that hard for someone else, especially in a team situation, they’ll recognize that and do all they can to help pump you up when you need that extra boost. That’s the best part of working with Project Diversity. We’ve been putting in a lot of work recently for this game, and there are times where we can’t do anymore that day. But we’ll remember what we’re doing it for. If Shanye is pumped up though, and she’s great at that, how can I not be pumped up. That’s kinda the motto that I have. I’m gonna work as hard as I can, and it might make everyone else notice and do the same.

The Color of Ultimate showcase game is this Saturday, June 22nd, at St. Pius X High School. Tickets are free with a suggested donation of $15. Additionally, you can watch the Color of Ultimate showcase game live on Youtube!

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