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No joke: New Charlotte pro sport features 53-year-old stand-up comic who teaches science

Ed Fox, 53, the Express’ oldest player, teaches science at Charlotte Latin and does stand-up comedy.
Ed Fox, 53, the Express’ oldest player, teaches science at Charlotte Latin and does stand-up comedy. jkomer@charlotteobserver.com

Here we are at the beginning of the baseball season, the end of college basketball and the beginning of the Masters.

And along with the other sports, I’m writing about the American Ultimate Disc League.

I’m writing about the AUDL for three reasons: Until Saturday’s scrimmage I’d never seen the sport and I like new; Charlotte has a team in the league called the Express that opens the season Sunday; it’s cool to watch.

The Express open the season at 1 p.m. Sunday, against Atlanta. They’ll play 14 games, with all home games at East Mecklenburg High, starting with this one. For ticket information, go to www.charlotteexpress.com or email tickets@charlotteexpress.

Teams feature seven players. Fields are 120 yards long and 531/2 yards wide. The end zone is 20 yards long. The team’s website says the sport combines the nonstop play of soccer with the passing game of football.

The discs weigh 175 grams, a little heavier than the one you throw in the yard. Every sport has a money shot and Ultimate’s is the huck. The throw to the end zone looks impossibly deep, but the disc moves with the air and hangs. Players sprint and leap and if an offensive player catches it the goal is worth a point.

Teams often set up the huck with quick throws. If they hang onto the disc more than 10 seconds they turn it over. The disc can’t be advanced by running with it after a catch. A defender can move within a disc length of the offensive player. So the player with the disc looks like a quarterback faking a handoff until he makes the quick throw or pivots.

Steve Hall, one of the Express’ three owners, learned the game in 1985 as a student at Georgia Tech. At 5-10 and 160 pounds he decided he wasn’t going to play rugby or lacrosse. So he discovered Ultimate and made it his.

It still is. “We wanted to grow the sport,” Hall says. “So we’re taking it to the kids.”

Kids started Ultimate at Columbia High in Maplewood, N.J., in 1968. Nine Charlotte-area high schools have teams.

Express players are paid. Hall won’t say how much but describes compensation as modest.

Some of you might question whether Ultimate is a sport. But steady movement and speed, diving in the air or to the ground to make a catch or a stop, attest to qualities a sport offers. So does Jesse Lieberman.

One of the Express captains, he reached to make a throw, committed to it, landed hard on his forearm and broke it in two places. Charlotte’s trainer was on-site, and the ambulance quickly arrived. Lieberman, 27, received an ovation when he rose from the ground and again when he waved from the gurney. With plates and pins in the forearm, he is finished for the season.

Lieberman earned the cheers. Ed Fox undoubtedly will. Fox teaches science at Charlotte Latin and does stand-up comedy. In his spare time, he makes uncanny throws. The trajectory is such that they look as if they come off a tee.

At 53 he is the oldest player on the team and perhaps in the league. Old, new – be interesting to see if Charlotte responds.

Sorensen: 704-358-5119; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen

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