Freestyle Disc Hall of Fame Inducts Brian Hayes, the Sport's "Iron Man"
Brian Hayes, the freestyle disc maverick who opted to make his sport a business instead of chasing tournaments and competition, was inducted into the Freestyle Disc Hall of Fame this past November.
In taking a road much, much less traveled, the Lima Township resident has become a notable figure in freestyle disc history, dedicating his life to promoting the sport and entertaining audiences in schools, sporting events, and other shows. He has finally been recognized for his contributions.
The recognition from the Freestyle Disc Hall of Fame surprised Hayes, who had retired as of COVID. Upon receiving the call from Committee Chair Kevin Givens, aka “Skippy Jammer,” Hayes admits, "I was pretty freaked out. I was pretty honored and humbled. Even though it's an obscure Hall of Fame, it's a really big deal in my little circle."
In a sport dominated by tournaments and disc golf, Hayes’ interest in it took him in a different direction. "I was never interested in tournaments,” he explains. “I was never interested in competing because I spent so much energy making a business out of our shows.”
Brian is one of the lucky few who have pursued the thing they love, and providence opened a path for it to become a fifty-year career. In the early 1970s, he and a friend, Mark Hickey, tossed a Frisbee around between classes at Eastern Michigan University. The more they did it, the more inventive they got. The pair got really good. They did a few performances, and their reputation grew. Brian earned a teaching certificate from EMU but added, “My parents just about disowned me when I told them I was going to become a professional Frisbee player.”
The duo dubbed themselves the “Air Aces” and moved to California, ground zero for the nation’s exploding Frisbee obsession. Air Aces got national attention when featured on a segment of “On the Road with Charles Kuralt,” a feel-good report on good things in America. Kuralt opened the piece by saying, “This just might be the freest form of free enterprise that I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Hayes explains his life in freestyle disc was more about the show and the business of it all. It was about balancing two full-time jobs - performing and promoting- leading to friction with tournament-focused players.
"I didn't practice state-of-the-art skills that would win me a tournament, he explains. “I just wanted to be a solid, consistent player so I could fly a good show." He recalls attending tournaments where he received backlash from other players, not because of his skills but because he found a way to turn a hobby into a profitable business.
During his induction, Hayes was compared to baseball legend Cal Ripken Jr., known as "The Iron Man," who holds the record for most consecutive baseball games at 2,632. The moderator declared, "Brian’s record will never be broken," referring to the staggering number of shows Hayes had performed - around 4,500, excluding all the free ones from 1973 to 1977 before he turned his passion into a business.
One memorable moment from Hayes' vast career was a halftime show for the UM Men’s Basketball game. As Hayes and his partner took to the floor, the home team was losing, and the crowd was in a somber mood. Despite their eventual defeat, Hayes' halftime performance enlivened the spectators. However, his memorable performance came with a humorous drawback. He recalls, "We loved your show, but we’re probably not going to have you back because you ruined our concessions."
“I feel like I am one of those people who has been super lucky,” says Brian. “I was lucky enough to do what I like and make a living from it. I’m not a super religious guy, but I feel kind of blessed that I was able to pull this off.”