Monday, August 15, 2022 Aug 15, 2022
87° F Dallas, TX
Sports

The Local Couple Who Bought a Pro Sports Team

Ivy and Young Byun are doctors with three kids under the age of 6. So of course they needed to get involved in a professional Ultimate Frisbee league.
By |
Ivy and Young Byun
Bret Redman

The short version of how Ivy and Young Byun became the most interesting sports owners in North Texas goes something like this: Boy meets girl. Boy coaxes girl into playing Ultimate Frisbee. Boy and girl become good friends, and then best friends, and then get married—without, they insist, ever truly dating. Boy and girl buy Ultimate Frisbee team while working as a neonatologist and an adoption specialist, respectively, pursuing advanced degrees, building a house, and raising three children under the age of 6.

You know, standard love story. 

The tale begins sometime around 2006 in St. Louis, where Young was doing his fellowship and residency in neonatology through Washington University. He would unwind by playing on an intramural volleyball team with other medical students, which is how he met Ivy Chiang, a Wash U undergrad and member of the women’s club volleyball team assigned to referee one of his games. Another year passed before they ran into each other again, but, from there, they kept finding their way into each other’s orbit—first through volleyball and then through church—and eventually became friends.

It didn’t take long for Young to introduce Ivy to another sport. Years earlier, as a Harvard undergrad, he had played his first game of Ultimate Frisbee—Ultimate, for short. (For the unacquainted: think football without kicking, tackling, set positions, or running after the catch, and you’re on the right track.) According to USA Ultimate, the country’s governing body for the sport, more than 18,000 student-athletes compete at 800 colleges nationwide. Young’s attraction to Ultimate sprang from the sport’s egalitarian spirit—the way everyone on the field can fill every role, that the players officiate themselves, how the only equipment necessary is a disc and a field. So while he enjoyed volleyball, it never stopped him from badgering his friends—Ivy very much included—to give Ultimate a try. And, sure enough, after going in “slightly resistant,” she wound up falling in love with it, too. 

Their own romance was much less straightforward. “We kind of skipped the dating part,” Young says, though not for lack of trying on his end. Ivy was hesitant. “I believed the purpose of dating was for marriage,” she says, “and so I was just very judicious.” Then Young accepted a position in Orlando in 2008. Faced with the prospect of being apart, Ivy came to a realization: “He slowly became my best friend, and I wanted to marry my best friend, and that was it.” 

They married the following year, and Ivy joined Young in Florida. Life as newlyweds was simple: work, church, travel. They set a goal of seeing all seven continents before having children; they made it to all but Antarctica. They also found their way into the Orlando Ultimate scene. Ivy made a name for herself with endurance that let her play entire games in the sweltering humidity without subbing out. 

“She was always in high demand,” Young says with a smile. “They didn’t really care if I played, but they always wanted Ivy to play.” 

Then, in 2012, the scene changed. A new professional league called the American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL) emerged, with designs on elevating the sport from a pastime to a vocation. Neither Young nor Ivy was good enough to compete on a team, but they could do the next best thing: own one. An attempt to buy into a Florida team was rebuffed. Fate intervened when Young relocated to Fort Worth, and the league announced plans to expand to North Texas in 2016. He reached out to territory rights holder Jim Gerencser—“kind of hounded him,” he admits—and the Byuns eventually paid about $10,000 for a 10 percent stake in what would become the Dallas Roughnecks, which later increased to 25 percent. Last December, they bought Gerencser out and rebranded the team as the Legion.

In the five-year interval, the Byuns built a life in North Texas. Young continued his practice, and Ivy earned her master’s in marriage and family therapy, then a Ph.D. in counselor education and supervision to augment her career as an adoption specialist. They had their first son, Kepler, in 2016, then two more boys, each two years apart, Riesz and Escher. The kids are named after Eastern European mathematicians. All throughout, there was the Ultimate team, “a passion project that’s taken over our lives,” Ivy says. The Byuns would accompany the team on road trips, book practice fields, set travel itineraries, process ticket refunds. For a while, Young ran the team’s merchandise store out of the couple’s home office. Ivy, ever the counselor, made it a point to sit down with players on each trip to hear their stories. 

Something changed for the Byuns during the 2022 season opener, in April, when 602 people piled into the stands at Colleyville Middle School to cheer on a team named by the Byuns and wearing a logo designed by the Byuns. “It truly felt like it was ours for the first time,” Young says. He’s seated at a high-top table in an outdoor pavilion in Arlington’s Viridian neighborhood, wearing black Legion gear with that same logo. Across the street, carpenters bang away at the home the Byuns are building and hope to move into within the next year. Ivy sits to his right, bouncing Escher on her lap. Kepler and Riesz, sporting the same topknot as their little brother, pad around the area picking rocks and chirping to one another. 

Winjie Miao, a close friend of the couple’s, describes their parenting approach as “totally tag team,” which mirrors their approach to the Legion. He is the idea man, the dream chaser, the one who stays up past midnight every night to communicate with the league, brainstorm marketing ideas, and design new merchandise. “He pushes me in some ways of, like, I don’t think if I were on my own or if I weren’t with him, I’d be really seeking this venture out,” Ivy says. 

She is the realist, the one who grounds those big ideas in something solid. When Young latched onto the idea of buying a pro sports team, she was the one who insisted that he get an MBA (which he’d earn at TCU). When he gets overwhelmed by the day-to-day minutiae of the team, she is the one who reminds him of their values, the legacy they hope to leave in the world and for their children. “She always helps me to reorient myself,” he says. 

“They just work,” Miao says. “You talk with them and see how they have this rapport with each other and this deep respect for each other.”

Already, half a year into majority ownership, their vision is taking shape. The Byuns are building a culture of diversity, from an ownership group that’s five-sixths minority and a coaching staff that is half Black down through the roster. They are also prioritizing a core of local players—along with a few select players from South Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas—over the high-priced national talent that defined the team’s early years.

Most of all, they’re working to create something sustainable. A team whose players can earn a living wage instead of working day jobs and that employs a real operations staff so the Byuns can scale back some of their hours. A team that helps North Texans learn about and embrace the sport they love even in one of the most crowded sports markets in America. And, when they get starry-eyed, perhaps even a team one of their sons could play for someday. 

It’s ambitious, but they don’t need to get there alone. They’ve recruited friends to join the ownership group, to help on the training staff, to help spearhead in-game entertainment. They’ve encouraged players to take ownership of off-field roles that interest them, including league affairs, community relations, and social media. They do it not for financial reward but because of the couple running it. 

“The amount that they care about the people who they’re talking to, that’s what draws people to them,” says Melissa Battis, the Legion’s general manager and a full-time math teacher at Greenhill School.

The Legion didn’t win that opening-season game. As of this writing, in early June, they were 0-4. But betting against them feels unwise. As the Byuns know better than most, love will find a way.  

Author

Mike Piellucci

Mike Piellucci

View Profile
Mike Piellucci is D Magazine's sports editor. He is a former staffer at The Athletic and VICE, and his freelance…

Related Articles

Local Government

Leading Off (2/19/21)

The warming begins, just as we begin to assess the damage.
Local Government

Leading Off (12/11/20)

Expect a chilly, rainy Friday morning.