Profile: David Kelly

Professor David Kelly is a respected man in the world of economics. He’s had numerous papers published, received multiple grants and now heads the economics department at the University of Miami.

But there is another side of Kelly, a side that involves flying discs and fast-paced action. Kelly is an Ultimate Frisbee player – and a damn good one.

Ultimate Frisbee is a sport popular in colleges, which is where Kelly picked it up – at Wake Forest getting his undergraduate degree. His hall mates regularly played and he got curious.

“I went out with them and just played,” Kelly said. “It was a very aerobic, very athletic sport. You got a great workout, so that was part of it. And part of it was just hanging out with my friends.”

The love affair extended beyond his college years, and Kelly played for a club team in every city he’s lived in. From Pittsburgh to Santa Barbara, he’s found a way to continue his passion.

“It’s just a great sport,” Kelly said. “It’s a subculture, everybody knows everybody.”

His teams have always done well, showing at the sport’s national tournament multiple times. However, his big break came in 2004 when the right place, the right time and the right age came together to give him the chance of a lifetime.

After competing in the open division for a number of years with his Miami squad, Kelly and his compatriots realized they all qualified for the masters division, which comprises players over 33 years of age, in 2004. The team, which had been declining in open competition, was suddenly the young blood.

The 2004 season was their chance. The world championships, held every three years, were taking place in Turku, Finland. A furious run through nationals landed the team in the middle of Scandinavia.

“I don’t know if [the natives] knew what to make of us, but I think we won them over by the end of our time there,” Kelly said. “Finland is a beautiful country, so it was just great on so many levels.”

Even the best from countries like Great Britain, Sweden and Finland couldn’t stop Kelly and his squad; the professor even picked up two assists in the team’s final game. The team from Miami had won it all.

“It’s not every day you win a world championship,” Kelly said. “It was just a great, euphoric feeling… They put on a big show for the medals and everything.”

With the upcoming college season, Kelly will begin to focus on his role as faculty advisor of Miami’s college team. The five-year-old squad is slowly growing as the sport grabs hold in Coral Gables.

“They’re doing quite well and improving,” Kelly said. “They went from a point where they had six or seven guys, when there are seven guys on the field at once, and [had not won] a game at the state championships, to winning a few games at the regional championships.”

For Kelly, Ultimate Frisbee has become more than a pastime; it’s an obsession, and he doesn’t see leaving it anytime soon.

“If I stopped playing I would have to find something else to do, other people to hang out with. I don’t have an exit strategy,” he said.

Matthew Bunch may be contacted at