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The Sun Devils who aren't: Arizona State's club sport identity crisis

Many of Arizona State's club teams are trapped in nowhere land when it comes to their affiliation. Talk about a pitchfork problem.

The ASU ultimate team's new jersey, complete with knockoff pitchfork logo.
The ASU ultimate team's new jersey, complete with knockoff pitchfork logo.
Brendan Capria

The Pokémon named "Sandslash" was on the ballot for its play-on-words. No.

The club needed something different - not to be renamed with an anime cartoon. It needed to buck the devilish antics and party-boy reputation. The Arizona State University (ASU) men's ultimate club wants to be a team that shines in primetime when they throw the disc.

"Yeah, it wasn't ‘prime,'" said Nathan Bridges, whose cheeks became rosy. "Some stupid Pokémon name. It was voted upon, but after the meeting we were like, ‘Yeah, that's not the team name.'"

He put his head down, almost ashamed of the shoddy proposal.

The ASU men's ultimate team, originally named the Diablos, was having an identity crisis. Last year marked a new beginning. They are now ASU Prime Ultimate. Fictional characters did not make the cut for the team - and neither did the Sun Devil name. It couldn't.

"We kind of want to show we are a part of ASU," said President Dylan George-Sills, who wants to be recognized for the team's new initiative. "It can be frustrating that (the university) is not supportive."

They even have new uniforms; they're playing the part of a championship-hopeful team. The total revamp "embodies the spirit" of the new image.

"...Caring how we perform and not getting drunk at the parties and stuff," he said.

The uniforms are modernistic: a white dry-fit shirt with script font that reads "Welcome to the show..." at the lower-back and shorts with quality, bolded numbers. But the shirt could not be "Dri-FIT." It was dry-fit - another way to distinguish that it wasn't Nike apparel. And the logo: years old.

The club was supposed to have a deal to use the Pitchfork; the retracted deal forced the club to Photoshop outdated logos into its "modern" jerseys. You know, the ones passed trademark that aren't relevant. The logos people forgot.

"Maybe at some point," said George-Sills about representing the Sun Devil brand. "I guess there are higher-ups and whatnot that don't think we should represent the school. It would be nice to have a big pitchfork, but it's all right - for now."

No, ASU would not support dysfunctional teams - like the Diablos nearly two years ago. But since then, it has been different. Prime Ultimate wins tournaments. It won sectionals in the Desert Conference for the first time in school history. The Southwest Regionals is this year's target; qualifying for Nationals is in the club's sights.

"When our captain Travis was here our ‘A' team was losing to ‘B' teams," George-Sills said. "Some people expect it to be a pick-up game but we take this seriously."

The club went 6-0 in its first tournament of the year.

Captain Travis Dunn, a fifth-year player and strategist, drew up a play with an Expo marker. He carefully marked the "x's" to stand for each player and purposefully drew lines to where each of them needed to be by the end of the play. There were about 20 other players gathered around him, intensely watching.

He said he started seeing the shift by his third and fourth year on the team, when newcomers replaced the old regime.

"When I got here we struggled to get into tournaments and when we did they were pretty low-end ones. We were shooting for one win a weekend," Dunn said. "But we've now been going to some quality tournaments. I mean we still like to have fun but do it while we work hard to win."

The players practice three times a week for two hours. They lift outside of practice. The club has three tiers of players; roster size has risen to where they need to cut players from the "A" team.

Players are trying to legitimize their sports clubs. When some NCAA-licensed sports fail, some clubs succeed. It goes both ways. What is incomprehensible is the divide. Athletes are athletes and Sun Devils are Sun Devils, but that's not the way it is. It's clear-cut: lower sports systems can't represent the school, even when teams train just as hard or succeed just as much.

George-Sills looked frustrated. He took long pauses talking about it. He said he understood there is a lot of "political stuff to it," but the general fact that the club is forbidden to sport its Alma Mater makes it seem like the teams aren't even associated with ASU.

"It has been a topic between sports clubs and athletics and the school," said Sun Devil Sport Clubs President and rugby team captain Adam Sandstrom. "Like we're going to the Pac-12 Championship in November and we can't rep a pitchfork..."

That detachment may be causing the dysfunction; it is now the motivator. Whether it is a club beating Division I programs like rugby or a team trying to re-purpose its existence, clubs are finding ways to bridge the gap.

"We have to step up, we have to change what we're doing," Bridges said. "We chose a name we wanted to be."

It just wasn't the Sun Devils. They can't be.