Most sports enthusiasts are familiar with ultimate, the flying disc game involving two teams seeking to pass the disc up field in an attempt to reach the end zone. It is commonly played at parks during picnics with family and friends on warm summer days.

What many may not know, however, is that the sport has been codified, with the American Ultimate Disc League, a semipro ultimate league, emerging for its inaugural season back in 2012.

The AUDL has specific regulations and rules, but the game is played similarly to the way with which many are familiar. Teams play seven-on-seven, with four 12-minute quarters, playing on a field the same dimensions as a football field — the only difference being an 80 yard playing area and 20-yard end zones.

The semipro league started with just eight teams but has grown to 25 just 10 years later. The league’s 11th season began at the end of April with the introduction of three expansion teams, one of the new additions being located in Utah — giving birth to the Salt Lake Shred.

Shred head coach Bryce Merrill was a key figure in the new team finding its way to Salt Lake.

“We reached out to the commissioner back in 2019 about bringing a franchise here,” the former BYU ultimate head coach said. “We were sort of waiting for a two- or three-city expansion in the West. That’s why we ended up waiting until 2022 when us, Portland and Colorado, as three expansion teams and the first expansion teams in years for the league, were all brought in together.”

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Merrill is pleased by what he’s seen so far from his team in their first season. The Shred play an exciting brand of ultimate, posting the best per game point total in the AUDL.

“We are a high-powered offense,” Merrill said. “We have some incredible athletes, (allowing us) to match up really well. … We’ve got some cool schemes and systems that we’re running, and we’re really excited about our style of play that we’ve implemented here in Utah.”

The Shred have posted a 4-2 record, good for third in the West Division. Halfway through the season, that puts the team in a playoff position.

 “You’ve got to be really excited to be an expansion team … and even having playoffs be a possibility in your first year,” Merrill said. “A lot of people were sort of telling us it’s going take two or three years to adjust to the speed of play. But we knew we had the personnel and we’re excited that it’s worked out that way so far.”

Merrill and others have shown great commitment to the burgeoning league. Some AUDL players have to travel far, journeying from their homes, where they work their day jobs, to a different state just to compete for their teams. The Shred have such players, some traveling from their homes in Idaho to play the game they love.

Shred team captain Jacob Miller is familiar with that life, having to journey to California nearly every weekend last summer to play for what was then the San Jose Spiders in his first season in the AUDL.

Miller, along with other players, excelled at different sports before making the switch to ultimate. “I played basketball pretty seriously growing up,” he said. “I had the opportunity to play lower-level college basketball, but instead I ended up just coming to BYU. … When I came to BYU, I tried out for the ultimate team here.”

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After making and playing for the BYU squad under coach Merrill, Miller has continued his ultimate career in the AUDL while finishing up a master’s degree in Provo.

Some of Miller’s teammates compete both on the college level and in the AUDL, with a handful of the youthful Shred squad coming from the college ranks. Despite the Shred’s youth, it has played well, turning some heads with their performance in their first season.

“I think our average age is just at 23, 24,” Merrill said. “What’s really exciting for us as a franchise is, A) they’re performing well, and B) hopefully we’re able to keep our core together for the next three to five years and build around that. … As an organization, you’ve got to feel healthy knowing that you have a lot of young players that are going to be with us, and will help steady us in these first few years of the franchise.”

The league as a whole has been steadied by commissioner Steve Hall, who took on that role in 2018. Hall has used technology to help focus on making the sport more entertaining for fans. “I am excited about all of the technology that we are bringing to the game,” he said. “Technology not necessarily for the players, but the technology for the fans, to increase the fan experience.”

Hall and the AUDL have a video game in the works based on the league, with hopes of releasing it near the end of the year. The commissioner believes that the league has much to offer, with great athletes, playing an exciting sport in a fun environment.

 “Our goal is to throw a party,” Hall said when asked why sports fans should watch the AUDL. “We think our sport is great. You’ve got high-flying action. These guys are now jumping out of the roof. They’re laying out. They’ve got some really cool plays. It’s fast action, which everybody loves. But you can still consume it in two hours.”

The Shred have brought that really cool, high-flying, fast action to Salt Lake City. The Shred’s next home game is Friday, June 24, against the San Diego Growlers at 7 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the stadium or on the AUDL website. All Shred games can be viewed live with a subscription from the same website.

Fans cheer as the Salt Lake Shred play the Colorado Summit in an American Ultimate Disc League game at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman on Friday, June 10, 2022. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News