There’s one simple fact about Pittsburgh that everyone knows to be true: This city loves sports. While some people stay on the sidelines and prefer to just cheer for their favorite teams, many Pittsburghers also take an active part in the sports scene.
Pittsburgh is filled with a variety of sports leagues from kickball to soccer to basketball. Name a sport and you’ll find a group to join, like the Pittsburgh Tennis League or the Pittsburgh Flag Football League. Pittsburgh Sports League (PSL), started by Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project (PUMP) in 2000, is one of the city’s biggest sports leagues. Instead of offering one specific sport, they have a plethora of different sports to choose from, including pickleball, flag football, and bowling.
Softball is PSL’s most popular sport, with volleyball and kickball not far behind. PSL aims to be inclusive by offering both skilled and unskilled sports; they also don’t require any prior experience to play any of their sports.
“Kickball is one of our most inclusive sports because everyone played it in gym class. You don’t need any special equipment to play. You don’t need any special skills to play. It’s an opportunity for everyone to just get out there and have some fun,” said Greg Mitrik, PSL director.
Pittsburgh Ultimate (PHUL), which started in the 1980s, also doesn’t require any previous knowledge of ultimate frisbee to participate. There are a variety of leagues ranging from casual to more competitive, with the casual leagues catered toward new players. Located in North Park, South Park, and Moon Park, PSL is strictly 18+ and attracts many young professionals ranging from 20-40 years old. PHUL also offers elementary summer camps, middle school, high school, and adult leagues. The middle and high school teams are typically associated with a school and operate separately from the adult leagues.
“We’ve had people start at age 7, then continue to play in middle school, high school, and now college. We are hoping to continue building that pathway so that if people love the sport, they can invest in it. There’s always that opportunity, whatever age they are,” said Christie Lawry, executive director of PHUL.
PHUL’s main goal is to champion the sport of ultimate frisbee, but Lawry says that they are also there to build leadership and communication skills while working toward gender and racial equity in sports.
PSL is similar to PHUL in this way. While sports are at the forefront of the operation, the goal of PSL is to bring people together and to be more than just a sports league, said Mitrik. When you join a PSL sports league, it’s a chance to network, make friends, and explore a new area of the city.
“PSL affords participants more than just an opportunity to run around the bases,” said Mitrik.
He added that PSL encourages its members to participate in service projects that benefit the area where they play. A PSL league goes beyond just giving adults a fun stress reliever, he said.
Both PSL and PHUL work to make their leagues as accessible and inclusive as possible. All of PSL’s sports are mixed gender, as are all of PHUL’s casual and competitive adult leagues. For PSL, the cost can vary depending on the sport; PHUL has a pay-what-you-can scale, which allows a wider variety of people to play. Mitrik added that location accessibility, such as having bus stops nearby and access to elevators, is something PSL always takes into consideration.
“All of our sports—and all of our programming in general—is viewed through that inclusivity lens,” said Mitrik.
PHUL created two committees within their organization to focus on gender and racial equity. These committees have built relationships with other organizations throughout the city that have helped them reach people they haven’t previously served, said Lawry. “Ultimate frisbee as a whole is very white and male-dominated, so we focus our time on people outside of those two groups,” said Lawry.
Both PSL and PHUL have built strong reputations in Pittsburgh, and both attribute their growth to word of mouth. PSL also has a signature t-shirt design in a variety of colors that players love to wear on and off the field. “Our players collect different colored shirts from season to season, so that’s definitely our biggest recruitment tool,” said Mitrik.
Both organizations have made it easy for anyone to join by simply going to their websites: https://pittsburgh-ultimate.org and http://pittsburghsportsleague.leaguelab.com to sign up. PHUL allows you to sign up alone or with a group of up to six people. For PSL, it depends on the sport, but registration is mainly team-based. Captains will create a team and then invite teammates to join. PSL does accept free agents, and teams that need members can choose from this list of players. This is yet another way that PSL builds community, said Mitrik.
“New people come to the city and they’re looking for an opportunity to meet people,” he explained. “They join a team as a free agent and the next thing you know, it’s five years later and they’re still on that same team and they’ve made new friends.”