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Professional Frisbee Team In Washtenaw County Continues To Entertain After Decades Of Performing

Aug 12, 2019

For decades, Frisbees and other flying discs have entertained one generation after the other.  Two local men have spent most of their lives doing that professionally, right here in Washtenaw County.  89.1 WEMU's Jorge Avellan met up with them and has their story.


It was 1973, and then-24 year-old Brian Hayes, who now lives in Lima Township, wanted to keep playing Frisbee during the winter months in Michigan.  So he, along with his friend Mark Hickey, decided to use the Bowen Field House at Eastern Michigan University.  Hayes says other friends started to join in on the fun, and then, something unexpected happened.

"The basketball coach saw us in there every day and saw that we were getting better and better and asked us to do a halftime show.  And everything else evolved after that," said Hayes.

Out of that came the “Air Aces," a four-member professional Frisbee disc team that eventually performed during halftime shows for the Detroit Pistons.  The group is now known as the “Flying Aces.”  In addition to sporting events, the team did and continues to do shows for school districts and libraries in Washtenaw County, as well as private events.  I met up with the two remaining members at the Ypsilanti District Library’s Whittaker branch.

"That’s a dog disc, here’s the whistler, this is a chameleon."

Sixty-two year-old Jay Moldenhauer looks through a bag of discs and selects a couple of “Sky Stylers.”  Those are usually used for freestyling.  We’re inside the library’s community meeting room because the team prefers to perform indoors to avoid wind issues.  Moldenhauer starts off with a trick called “Nail Delay.”  It’s similar to spinning a basketball on your finger but with a disc and on your nail. 

To help with the nail delay, both Hayes and Moldenhauer use fake nails that they attach with crazy glue.  Moldenhauer, who joined the team in 1979, describes his set.

Jay: My middle here on my left hand, is flesh-colored and if I lost this in the grass, losing any of these in the grass is tough, inside is kind of hard.  But the one on my left finger, my index finger here, is kind of a peach color almost see through.  And then on my right hand, on my index finger I’ve got one, and the guy who made this, Danny Arnell, he likes to experiment so he put a little heart in there. 

Jorge: That’s your party one right?  Because it sparkles. 

Jay:  That is the party one.  Good call.  I wasn’t even sure how to describe that part.         

The duo then stands about 15 feet apart from each other to perform a trick called “Triple Fake.”  Hayes explains what they’re doing.

Brian: Jay is going to start off facing me, and then, at the last second, he’s going to pivot around and catch it on his blind side.  You can bend over and catch it behind your back.  And you can try the Pretzel Catch.  Now make sure on this one, especially the adults, that you’re stretched out. 

Jorge: The Pretzel Catch?

Jay: Yeah, you put your hands right down between your legs, your right hand down, lift the right leg up and then you tuck your hand behind the heel of your foot and your hand will be out in a pretzel or figure four configuration. 

Brian: If you’re really careful, you can catch it with your knees.

Hayes says flying disc tricks increased in popularity around 1974 during Frisbee tournaments.  That was shortly after he graduated from EMU with a degree in Speech and Broadcasting.  But since the “Flying Aces” had enough paying gigs, Hayes made that his full-time job.  Meanwhile, Moldenhauer performed part-time while working on the assembly line at General Motors.  He retired from that job 10 years ago.

Both of the men are now playing catch with a disc called the “Whistler.”  Hayes explains why it’s called that. 

"This one has little notches in the rim so when I throw it…(whistle sound)...great novelty disc, fabulous tool for blind athletes.  We had a blind high school student come-up about 20 years ago in Buchanan Michigan, had us throw the whistler.  It took him about seven or eight tries.  First ones bumped off his arm, hit him in the chest, but on about the seventh try, he had such a fine sense of hearing that he was able to nail that thing," said Hayes.

The Flying Aces have performed over 7,000 shows around the country, Puerto Rico, and even Saudi Arabia.  Their goal is not only to entertain but motivate others to live a healthier life by being active.  The duo is not ready to retire just yet, but when they do, they would like to become physical education consultants for local schools.

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— Jorge Avellan is a reporter for 89.1 WEMU News. Contact him at 734.487.3363 or email him javellan@emich.edu