Meet the Portland High senior who’s playing in a pro sports league

 Meet the Portland High senior who’s playing in a pro sports league

Ben Horrisberger, a senior at Portland High, found ample time to play the first two games this season for Boston Glory, a professional American Ultimate Disc League team. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

With just two games under his belt, Portland High senior Ben Horrisberger doesn’t boast that he’s a pro athlete.

“Not really, I don’t tell people,” he said.

That’s in part because the well -spoken teenager knows that his game will always fly – floats can be a better description – under the radar.

Horrisberger, 18, is a rookie defensive specialist at Boston Glory, one of 25 professional teams in the American Ultimate Disc League. He is the youngest of about 40 men listed on the team’s roster, and just one of four high schools playing in the league this season. AUDL, formed in 2012, has teams based in most of the largest metro area across North America.

Ultimate is a 7-on-7 field game played using a flying disc-a Frisbee in popular parlance. The goal of the game is to pass the disc from player to player until it reaches the opposite end zone. Players will not be allowed to run after they have removed the disc. The game has been popular for the past 20 years at the high school, collegiate and club sport levels.

Horrisberger started playing the game at 12, mostly against older players. He plays soccer and is a Nordic skier at Portland High and is an avid rock climber. His speed sets him apart from the Ultimate field.

“Ben is an amazing, amazing player,” said teammate Noah Backer, 28, of Cape Elizabeth. “He’s an athletic specimen that’s hard to get. He’s smart, athletic, seems to have no pressure and he’s also a good kid. … There are very, very few 18 -year -olds who make his or her impression of the club or pro. ”

Glory opened their season on April 30 with a 25-24 win at their home field, Hormel Stadium in Medford, Massachusetts, and then 0-2 on a trip to Canada last week, losing to Ottawa, 21- 19, on Friday night and in Montreal, 21-17, on Saturday afternoon.

Horrisberger registered a lot of action in the first two games. He did not play in the Montreal game due to a shoulder injury, but Glory coach Sam Rosenthal expects him to return to the lineup against the New York Empire this Saturday.

In his first pro game, Horrisberger was the starter on the defensive line, the 7 -player team that would take the field if the opposing team received a “pull” – Ultimate’s term for the kickoff.

He was on the field for 16 defensive possessions, the team’s sixth most, and played a total of 18 minutes. Backer, who stars at the University of Michigan, has 19 defensive possessions and 20 minutes to play. Cole Moore of Cumberland, a University of Maine student and the third player from Maine on the Glory roster, saw limited opening time. Moore has played more in two Canadian games, on the defensive line as well.

“I had no idea I would get so much playing time,” Horrisberger said of the start of the season. “It’s something my name is called a lot of times in front of a lot of people. I mean 600 people, that’s not in other pro sports but I feel like a lot.

When the starters were introduced, “it’s kind of a quick run from the tunnel under the bleachers and everything like‘ Bos-ton. Bos-ton, ’and all the people there so you can see that play. The pressure is on to make a good performance. ”

“They informed the starters and there he was, Ben Horrisberger. And they were right about his name,” said Horrisberger’s mother, Erin Brennan, who attended with her father, Michael Horrisberger.

In Ottawa, Horrisberger led the team with 16 defensive possessions and scored his first professional goal. He also made a Twitter-worthy highlight defensive play, dropping a long throw in the fourth quarter using a diving, one-handed deflection.

Rosenthal said the 5-foot-8, 135-pound Horrisberger is one of the youngest players on the team, but his speed and ability to stick to opposing receivers-called “cutters”- in nearby areas pro caliber already.

“He’s not usually fast, even for this level of athlete,” Rosenthal said. “He’s still learning the angles and concepts of the team’s defense. He wanted to learn though. You just put him on a guy to run and wish the guy on the other team good luck. ”


Defensive line players will join the offense if they cause a turnover in a free-flowing game that, at the pro level, is played on an 80-yard field with 20-yard end zones within four 12-minute quarters. Horrisberger said his throws were “definitely the weakest part of my game” and what he focused on while playing with friends and Forest City (a combination of Portland, Deering and Casco students). Bay) in the local Maine Ultimate high school league, which this year has 24 boys and 13 girls teams.

“What’s great about still playing for my high school team, I can throw a lot and I can throw very dangerous throws that I would never throw in the bigger leagues,” Horrisberger said.

American Ultimate Disc League players are paid per game basis. Rosenthal, Horrisberger and Backer were hesitant to peg the exact amount because some players were paid more than others. Rosenthal said Glory players earn about $ 75- $ 125 per game. The team has 12 regular-season games. Creating an all-star team, coming into the playoffs (Glory didn’t participate last year in the inaugural season) and winning a championship can earn salary incentives.

But all expenses are taken care of by the group, including food, travel expenses, and housing on road trips.

“We took off our jerseys. I got free clothing, sweatshirts, pants, hats, as well as travel, ”Horrisberger said.

That’s a big difference in the club team structure run by USA Ultimate. The level of play is the same between elite clubs and the AUDL, Backer said, but the cost burden is entirely on the players. Horrisberger experienced that last summer when he played for Boston DiG in national tournaments in Colorado and California.

“That’s just up to myself and my family,” Horrisberger said.

While the player’s salary is small, in other ways the AUDL operates similarly to other professional leagues. It has a Game of the Week contract with Fox Sports 2 every Saturday with live and tape-delayed broadcasts. Boston Glory gets TV time this Saturday when it hosts the New York Empire. The league has an agreement with DraftKings to allow betting on games in states that have legal gambling. A litany of statistics is kept, in large part so that fans can create their own fantasy Ultimate leagues.

The AUDL also uses referees to call fouls and violations. That got a lot of criticism from Ultimate purists. USA Ultimate promotes the “Spirit of the Game” code where players call and enforce the rules. Club games are also played on a shorter field and end when a team reaches the set number of scores, usually 15.


Earlier this year, Horrisberger was one of 20 players selected from about 200 tryout camp guests to represent the USA Ultimate at the under-20 World Junior Ultimate Championship in Poland this summer. Ten of the 20 World Junior players are in the AUDL, including Horrisberger’s teammate Declan Kervick of Burlington, Vermont, a freshman at the University of Vermont.

The world games are in doubt because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“They told us not to make any plans, which was not good. It doesn’t seem to be going to happen, ”Horrisberger said.“ I hope we can go because it’s like my big goal is to make the team and try to win gold for the USA because I think everyone is playing a class that game idols to play for their country. “

This fall, he will enroll at the University of Oregon in Eugene and play for its Ultimate club, an established team that is one of the best in the Northwest.

Horrisberger still remembers the first time he played Ultimate, as a 12-year-old in 2016.

His brother, six years old, was playing for the Casco Bay co-ed team one night at Deering High’s Memorial Field. Ben tagged and met Alex Pozzy, the team’s coach and founder of the Portland Ultimate League in 1993.

“It was under the lights and I just showed up and (Pozzy) gave me a shirt and put me on the field and it was really fun,” Horrisberger said.

Pozzy was happy to retell the story.

“I’ve been saying this since that day,” said Pozzy, 54. “I coach the Portland middle school team and every year we run a Friday under the lights with about 150 kids from four or five schools.

“We were outside in the heavy rain. Someone approached and said, ‘This is my brother Ben and he is one of the best soccer players in New England for his age group. Can he play? ‘”Pozzy continued. “I said,‘ You’re on the team and it’s a game with athletes. Let’s see what you have. ‘ And immediately he was amazing.

As a seventh grader, Horrisberger played several games for the Forest City high school team. As an eighth grader he was a perfect player.

A year later he was playing for the Portland Red Tide, a midlevel New England adult club team originally formed in 1988.

“When I started playing with them, the next youngest person was like 25,” Horrisberger said. “But really what it did was that it got me so involved in the adult scene for the Portland Frisbee community.… They took me under their wing.”

From his connections to Red Tide, he got a Boston DiG trial and made the 2021 team as a practice player. Within a few weeks, he was on the farm as a regular. Several Boston DiG teammates, including Backer, expressed Horrisberger’s skill set by Rosenthal, Glory’s coach.

“Where he is now and looking at his hunger to learn, in a few years he can be a real superstar,” Rosenthal said. “We have a great future harvest here in Boston and he will be a part of it.”

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