Meet Chicago's first pro Ultimate disc team

It’s 5 p.m. at a suburban Chicago bank. Jonathan Helton strides across the parking lot, headed for his 2005 Saab sedan. 

Briefcase in hand, he uncoils his tie as he pops the trunk. Inside are cones, cleats and athletic clothes. He quickly changes, sometimes right there in the backseat.

It’s Helton’s routine. 

But the 29-year-old financial adviser isn’t going to some shirts-and-skins basketball game. He’s off to practice.

After all, he’s a professional athlete.  

Helton is the team captain for the Windy City Wildfire, Chicago’s first professional Ultimate team.

The next time you can see Helton and his Wildfire teammates? That would be at 6 p.m. Saturday at Lane Tech Stadium, at 250 W. Addison St. 

Ticket prices have been lowered from $8 to $2 in advance and $3 at the door. The team will donate 50 percent of profits to support diabetes research at the University of Chicago’s Kovler Diabetes Research Center. The Wildfire also will auction a signed Blackhawks puck and photo and Chicago Fire gear.

“If you come out, I’d say it’s going to satisfy your desire to watch an awesome Chicago sports team for only $3,” Wildfire coach John Hock said.  

The Wildfire belong to the American Ultimate Disc League, one of two pro leagues. The AUDL is composed of a dozen teams, divided into two conferences, with clubs playing 16-game seasons.

It’s the ADUL’s second season and the Wildfire’s first. 

But the Wildfire don’t play like newbies. At 12-1, the Wildfire lead the Midwestern Division.

“Unlike football where you specialize in a particular position, in Ultimate you do everything,” said Helton, the AUDL’s MVP last year as a member of the Indianapolis Allycats. 

Professional Ultimate is no joke. Teams provide players with jerseys, travel expenses and a small paycheck.

Game-play combines elements of football, soccer and basketball. 

The disc, as it’s called because Frisbee is trademarked, is advanced downfield by seven starting players. A player cannot run once the disc is caught. If a disc is dropped or intercepted, the other team takes over on offense. Teams score in one-point margins by catching the disc in the end zone.  

Simple enough, right? 

But there’s more to it than that. Just ask Hock how much time he spends drafting up game plans on top of being a full-time civil engineer.

And there’s certainly nothing “simple” about what Wildfire star Brodie Smith can do with a disc. 

Smith is the most well-known ultimate player around. He travels across the country teaching clinics. He even sells his own line of Ultimate gear.  

Smith also does trick shots. His videos have more than 36 million views and his YouTube page has more than 270,000 subscribers.

For most, garnering fame and a sustainable income from Ultimate is improbable at best.   

But that’s not why Helton and others sacrifice time and sweat for the game.

“It’s a great game and a common theme you’ll pick up from Ultimate is that the community is very welcoming and family-like,” said Helton, who graduated from Wheaton College. “When you go to a tournament, not only are you having an absolute blast playing, but in between games you get to bond. It’ll gain popularity. I promise once you see it, you’ll come back.”

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