Player Profile: Joe Besser and Andrew Lucarotti

In a dimly lit gym somewhere in metro Detroit, four guys from the Detroit Mechanix toss a disc back and forth in front of hundreds of screaming elementary school students. After the kids are duly impressed (either by the throws or the antics of team mascot Rusty the Wrench), the players break the kids into small groups to teach them how to throw and catch a disc, and try to convince a bunch of seven and eight year olds that ultimate is the best sport ever.

“It’s the coolest experience—the kids get so excited when they make a throw, whether it’s three feet, ten feet or ten yards,” said Joe Besser (#35), a rookie on the Mechanix. “When they see you catch it, their faces just glow. And it’s one of the greatest things.”

“This year we’ve had a couple of Boy Scout troops come to our practices to earn their ultimate Frisbee badges,” added team co-captain Andrew Lucarotti (#4). “And it’s been a really cool experience working with the youth programs. We’re trying to develop youth ultimate in Detroit because that’s something that we don’t really have right now.”

For the players on the Mechanix, community outreach to Detroit-area schools draws them back to the team, year after year. Getting kids excited about the sport helps them power through a disappointing season, and allows them to show how a team can pick itself up, dust itself off, focus on the next point or the next game, and strive to make itself better.

“Throughout the season, I’ve seen a lot of people get disappointed on the field on our team, because we want to win,” Besser said. “And every time I go out there, rule number one is have fun. That’s what we tell all the kids we ever see. Rule one is have fun. Rule two is make sure everyone else is having fun. And then three, is learn and try to get better at the sport.”

The Mechanix see the investment in youth ultimate as a way to build a strong ultimate culture in the Detroit metro area, one elementary school assembly at a time. Detroit lacks the robust youth scene of cities like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, and has seen a number of promising club teams come and go just a few years after being founded.

Primarily, the Mechanix developed the program as a way to raise interest in ultimate and attract more fans to the sport—but in the long-term, it will help create a stronger regional feeder system of ultimate players.

The program is one of the AUDL’s longest-running and largest, and started three years ago during the team’s first season. Now the Mechanix visits more than 10 schools between April and June, and works with thousands of students. Team members and coaches participate in assemblies, attend field days, run after school programs and hold weekend clinics in order to teach the basics of ultimate.
“We go back to the same schools sometimes, and have seen some kids grow from the first year to the second one,” Lucarotti, a three-year team veteran, said. “Just to experience that and know that I had something to do with getting them interested and helping them grow is pretty awesome.”

“We had this one kid that kind of reminded me of me when I was little,” Besser added. “He wasn’t the most athletic kid but he had the most fun. It seemed like he had the most fun out of all of them. He was looking around to make sure everyone else was having fun. And every time he threw it, he laughed, he smiled, he was excited. That’s what ultimate is about.”

For Besser, the key to getting kids interested in ultimate is emphasizing how much fun you can have playing, both on the field on off. It makes sense, given his approach to the game. The talkative and animated Besser—a former standout on the University of Michigan’s MagnUM squad and the Mechanix’s most notable offseason signing in 2014—looks to make an impact wherever possible. As a handler, he looks to make big throws to keep the Mechanix in the game, and on the sidelines he cracks jokes to keep team spirits high.

“If I see someone come off the field and they look a little down, I’ll try to make them smile and laugh, and turn frustration into a positive,” Besser said. “It’s the same thing with teaching a kid. You have to turn that frustration and anger into something positive. It’s about erasing the next point so you can get to the next point.”

Lucarotti takes a different tack. When he talks about ultimate, Lucarotti—the seasoned veteran—tends to be quieter, more contemplative and more reserved. When he handles, he likes to hang back, watch plays unfold, take care of resets and ensure the team progresses down the field, allowing his precision throws to do most of the talking. He leads by example, which makes him a great team captain and a good instructor.

“Ultimately our philosophy as a team is to have a good attitude toward the game and a competitive spirit,” Lucarotti said. “We’re trying to go out and play as best we can. If we get down, we just try to fight back.”

Together, the two hope to see their work on the field and in the schools result in a stronger ultimate community in Detroit, and a larger fan base for the Mechanix and the sport as a whole. But more immediately, they have a much simpler goal in mind.

“Whether we go to a high school, go to meet up with kids in a park, whenever we do anything, it’s just ingraining in their mind that ultimate is the most fun sport to play,” Besser said.

“I just love the game. It’s fun, energetic, get to travel with friends,” Lucarotti added. “I dunno, it’s unique in that I’ve never not wanted to play.” He’d like to see more kids start to think the same.

- Caitlin Cieslik-Miskimen and Adam Ruffner