Iris Hosts Exhibition Game for Gender Equity

Iris Play First Stadium Game Against Boston’s Brute Squad

Kimberly Morin (#14, Iris) and Kami Groom (#7, Brute Squad) link up in a post-game huddle. Photo Nikolas Litzenberger
Iris make a scoring play. Photo Nikolas Litzenberger
The game was Iris’s first time playing in a stadium. Photo Nikolas Litzenberger

On a cold Saturday evening, Complexe Sportif Claude Robillard saw Boston’s Brute Squad win 15-6 against Iris, an ultimate team comprised of Quebec’s best players. The score, however, was irrelevant—this was more than just a normal game.

For the first time, two women’s ultimate teams joined together to play an exhibition game for gender equity in sport. The huddle both teams formed after the final whistle showed just that.

“Most of what I said [in the huddle] was that we have so much respect for [Brute Squad],” said Iris player Kimberly Morin Coulombe. “The fact that you were willing to come, spend the time to drive all the way up here and stay overnight to play in a stadium against us—for us there’s no greater feeling.”

Brute Squad, the back-to-back U.S. national champions, accepted the invitation by Iris and the Montreal Royal, the professional men’s ultimate team organizing the game. For both teams, playing an exhibition game on the pitch of a stadium in front of 500 fans was an exhilarating feeling.

“Where the sport is currently in, we don’t get to play in this atmosphere very often,” said Brute Squad player and Ultiworld women’s club player of the year Kami Groom. “It’s just great to have a crowd. They were so invested and even though it’s in Iris’ hometown we felt very much at home too.”

The Importance of Video

For Iris, it was the first time they had even played in a game that was captured on camera. The game was live streamed, and is still available to watch on the Montreal Royal’s YouTube channel.

“It’s the first time they got filmed, ever,” said Montreal Royal President and Executive Director Jean-Lévy Champagne, who organized the event. “I was looking for content to promote [the game] but they had no content. They were never shown on TV before.”

In the U.S., Brute Squad—as well as many players in the women’s division—is fighting to get women’s division games streamed on the ESPN platform. For Groom, the athletic showcase of exhibition games will help with the promotion of women’s ultimate.

“I think that the more we have these games and the more that we get on the screen,” Groom said, “the more we’re going to get on [ESPN], the more people are going to be interested and are going to want to play or watch and support.”

One of the important aspects of live streaming games for Coulombe is the inclusion of commentary and play-by-play in real time. Commentary will, in effect, teach new fans the concepts of ultimate as they watch games.

“It’s fun to listen to ultimate that’s filmed and that has someone to say that this was a great play and that she’s a really great defender. Or to look at what she’s doing and how she’s positioning herself,” Coulombe explained.

Step by Step

In a game to promote gender equity in the sport of ultimate, every little step counts. One part of this was to have players from the Royal sell beer in the stands. Something Coulombe described as: “Role reversal! It’s amazing!”

“[Selling beer] was mostly our job when they were playing. It’s such a nice friendship, we do it when they play, they do it when we play,” she said. “I think it’s a great step forward for gender equity and we know they are willing to do it.”

The collaboration between the two teams is a step towards gender equity in the sport and Iris has a partnership with the Royal, who are willing to step in, and organize or sell beer.

For Groom, partnerships are a piece of a “very complicated puzzle with a lot of pieces.” But having men’s, women’s and the mixed division stand together will make things move more effectively.

“All of us joining together and uniting in this one cause, doing whatever we can to voice our opinions and support each other is only going to make this work better,” she said.

As a benchmark team in women’s ultimate, Brute Squad understands that showcasing their talent elsewhere will only help promoting the sport in other cities. Groom believes the team will continue with this trend in the subsequent seasons.

“Things like this are what is going to move it forward,” said Groom. “We are so happy to be a part of it and I hope everyone agrees that it was a great game and a great step forward.”

Another one of those steps was to play where ultimate fans—specifically young girls—could see them. For Coulombe, the score was the least of their concerns. What was important was to show young girls that women can play games in stadiums in their hometown.

“It’s [about being] able to see that women can have that place on the field,” said Coulombe. “For us, the big thing is to know that we have our place in the sport and that people are willing to come watch us play.”

Going forward, Iris will have more opportunities to play stadium matches. Champagne and the Royal already expressed interest in holding similar events with Iris, potentially having two or three games in 2017.

“It’s all things to think about with Ultimate Canada, the Quebec federation of ultimate, all the people that are in the ultimate community,” said Champagne. “We need to brainstorm on what we want to do to bring ultimate at the next step.”

Having more women’s games on a grander stage will, slowly but surely, attract new fans but also make these games a norm in the ultimate community and the sports world in general. For Coulombe, the moment when people won’t be reacting in shock at the sight of a women’s ultimate stadium game will be a
major change in the landscape of the sport.

“In showcase games like tonight, you know that it’s exiting to see women’s ultimate,” she said. “That’s what we like to promote.”