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Posted on Tue, Jul 16, 2013 : 5:30 a.m.

Ann Arbor man hopes to introduce new sport, Tri-Federation, to masses

By Kyle Austin

Standing on Ann Arbor’s Palmer Field with a foot-and-a-half long torpedo-shaped ball in his hands, Thomas Cieslak kept returning to the same question:

Is there room for another major sport in the United States?

As the new sport development officer of Tri-Federation, he’s betting on the answer being yes.

“I would really like to see sport change,” Cieslak said. “I wouldn’t have come involved in this if I didn’t see some hope for change. It’s not as if I have a mission to overtake football or basketball, but I would really just like to see something new.”

Cieslak, an Ann Arbor resident and Eastern Michigan professor of sport management, is the chief promoter of a seven-year-old sport that’s looking to raise its profile in the United States and around the world.

The sport he’s selling looks similar to rugby or Australian Rules football while played, but has several distinct characteristics. Foremost is the fact that three teams are facing off simultaneously, all playing against one another.

Each five-person Tri-Federation team defends one-third of a 55-yard circular field, and an 18-inch by six-foot goal just outside of it. Players carry and pass the oblong ball, trying to throw it into another team’s goal while avoiding being tackled.

Scoring a goal nets your team a point, and being scored on costs your team one. Teams play three, 30-minute periods of continuous play.

Tri-Federation grew out of a cultural research project in 2006 by Jeremiah Schwartz. Its roots are in bringing cultures together through sport, and breaking down barriers of race, religion and wealth.

“I love the fact that you can simply go out, set up a couple of bags that become goals, and play,” Cieslak said.


Thomas Cieslak holds a Tri-Federation ball at Palmer Field in Ann Arbor on Monday, July 15, 2013.

Melanie Maxwell |

After being founded in Savannah, Ga., the game was relocated to Shanghai, China, partly because playing fields were easier to come by and equipment was cheaper to manufacture. There, the sport gained in popularity, and the league has hosted the Tri-Federation World Finals for three years.

Cieslak, meanwhile, had returned from several years living abroad, and came back to find American sports lacking.

“There’s a lot of timeouts, there’s a lot of stoppage in play,” Cieslak said.

“I’m beginning to sense many people are somewhat frustrated or bored.”

When he found Tri-Federation through its Kickstarter fundraising page earlier this year, Cieslak said he felt he had discovered a sport of the future. He signed on as the league’s development officer, and is now charged with helping to bring the sport back to the United States.

So far, that’s included setting up office space in Ypsilanti and working with Quack Media of Ann Arbor for a promotional campaign.

Soon, he’ll embark on a demonstration tour to introduce the game to youth sports and intramural educators, and begin planning the first-ever Tri-Nationals to be held next year.

Tri-Federation currently has clubs in Georgia, Florida, Connecticut, Colorado. Cieslak is hoping to form a Michigan club, which will likely be based in Washtenaw County.

And he knows he’s starting from scratch. In Michigan, only about 20 people have even seen the elongated Tri-Federation ball, Cieslak said. How many more people handle, pass and shoot that ball in the coming years remains to be seen.

“It’s not necessarily our objective to produce this multi-million or billion dollar sport,” Cieslak said. “I think it’s as simple as maybe the same reason James Naismith made basketball. I don’t think he foresaw it growing into this global enterprise that was in the Olympics and produced billions of dollars. He simply wanted to add something new so people could enjoy it and be involved with it.”

Kyle Austin covers sports for He can be reached at or 734-623-2535. Follow him on Twitter @KAustin_AA.



Wed, Jul 17, 2013 : 3:20 p.m.

"Tri-Federation grew out of a cultural research project in 2006 by Jeremiah Schwartz. Its roots are in bringing cultures together through sport, and breaking down barriers of race, religion and wealth." That's did that enough, though. How about you really embrace that futuristic-sounding (as others have observed already) sport name and instead try to break down barriers of *gender*. That's right: a serious, coed sport. Do it. I'd LOVE to play something like this game (have played rugby), and am already loving the three teams aspect. But that giant lumbering "ball"? Seems planned mostly for men, who have a much larger average hand width and length than women. Way to be forward-thinking...


Wed, Jul 17, 2013 : 2:05 a.m.

With this new kind of game, announcers will reduce their chances to get Alzheimer's. Office pools would be 3-dimensional... Go figure.


Wed, Jul 17, 2013 : 12:51 a.m.

Oh my gosh - did you watch the video? This is the most hilarious sport I've ever seen. This is even more hilarious than rugby league. Also, if played by competitive athletes, this would become comically dangerous. If this guy wants to participate in better sports with less timeouts, he might check out rugby (union not league). I like that some con artist got Budweiser to sponsor it.


Tue, Jul 16, 2013 : 11:33 p.m.

Slow news day?


Tue, Jul 16, 2013 : 11:18 p.m.

Wait a minute. Am I reading The Onion?

Ann English

Tue, Jul 16, 2013 : 10:58 p.m.

It was a good idea to first show a game of TriFederation involving three countries, so we can understand how the name of the sport fits. I thought I detected shoulder pads being worn by the players, shoulder pads similar to American football players' shoulder pads. Less evidence of pads right over their quadriceps; American football players do wear such pads. Is there a season for TriFederation, and if so, how long is it? If it takes on here, I can see it starting out with a season as short as our football season. I remember reading that James Naismith came up with basketball (he worked in Massachusetts) after being asked to develop a sport that could be played indoors, during the winter. Like basketball, a TriFederation ball frequently changes hands. Was Thomas Cieslak referring to other sports when he said, "There's a lot of timeouts, a lot of stoppage"? There IS a lot of stoppage in baseball, a lot of timeouts in football, even during the Super Bowl.

Kyle Austin

Wed, Jul 17, 2013 : 10:21 a.m.

Tri-Federation has more information about their vision for a season on this section of their web site: Yes, Thomas was referring to other sports when he said there's a lot of timeouts and stoppage. He equated Tri-Federation to soccer in that aspect, with continual play.


Tue, Jul 16, 2013 : 10:47 p.m.

It has zero chance as a professional sport. Why? How the heck to you do an over/under?

Local Yocal

Tue, Jul 16, 2013 : 9:19 p.m.

Check back in a year or two, ain't gonna happen around here.

Nicholas Urfe

Tue, Jul 16, 2013 : 5:19 p.m.

The ball is long enough to be used as a bat. Or batton.

Usual Suspect

Tue, Jul 16, 2013 : 1:35 p.m.

Why do the players wear pajamas?


Tue, Jul 16, 2013 : 1:32 p.m.

Seems overly complicated...but I'd still watch it cause at least it sounds like high action, and I like the 3 way battle aspect a LOT. Australian Football League.....look it up. We should be playing this. Not American Football....not Association Football.....not even RUGBY comes close to the level of action and skill found in AFL. Some of the marks they pull of are amazing.


Wed, Jul 17, 2013 : 12:53 a.m.

You're kidding. AFL is for athletic cross country runners. It's cool to watch "top tens", sure, but the dynamic gets pretty bland - sorta like American Football - a highlight every so often, but no poetry.


Tue, Jul 16, 2013 : 1:19 p.m.

Sorry, but this just looks dopey to me.


Tue, Jul 16, 2013 : 1:16 p.m.

Too much contact. The panty waist are trying to make football a non-contact sport.

Kyle Mattson

Tue, Jul 16, 2013 : 1:11 p.m.

This is interesting. Having three teams on the field is a unique aspect of the game, but take that away and it seems similar to Ultimate Frisbee and Lacrosse, both of which have similar groups pushing them to become 'professional' level sports. It does seem to be a good recreational alternative to rugby which has yet to really catch on here in the US. IMO lacrosse will unseat baseball in the next 50 years as a major sport in the US, but who knows maybe it will be 'Tri Federation'...

Kyle Austin

Tue, Jul 16, 2013 : 3:45 p.m.

Speaking of sports being unseated, Thomas made an interesting point that since Tri-Federation was conceived recently, it can better tailor its rules based on what we know now about concussions. Compare that to football, where trying to change the rules to lower concussion risk will be not so easy.


Tue, Jul 16, 2013 : 3:31 p.m.

Baseball will never be unseated by Lacrosse. Two completely different sports. Not to mention look how multicultural baseball has become. A very healthy mix of Caucasians, African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, a few Middle Easterns. Where else do you see such a diverse population in not only ethnicity but also body types?


Tue, Jul 16, 2013 : 1:34 p.m.

Baseball won't let itself be unseated because it's the "american passtime." Personally I think cricket is pretty cool of a sport...I mean how many professional sports are there that have matches that go WELL over 24 hours?


Tue, Jul 16, 2013 : 1:03 p.m.

I see the Kickstarter campaign expired. Is it possible to get a ball? Is there any hopes of trying another kickstarter campaign, I saw that there was a level to get a ball.

Craig Lounsbury

Tue, Jul 16, 2013 : 12:29 p.m.

what the world needs another sport mucking up the lines on a soccer pitch. and its the world championship, what happens if the game is 6-6-0 at the end of regulation?

Craig Lounsbury

Tue, Jul 16, 2013 : 2:40 p.m.

ah yes the ever popular shoot out. I know hockey fans and soccer fans love a good shoot out....

Kyle Austin

Tue, Jul 16, 2013 : 1:21 p.m.

My understanding is that there's some form of a shootout between teams that are tied at the end of regulation

Craig Lounsbury

Tue, Jul 16, 2013 : 11:39 a.m.

"I love the fact that you can simply go out, set up a couple of bags that become goals, and play," Cieslak said....... the game was relocated to Shanghai, China, partly because playing fields were easier to come by and equipment was cheaper" Is there a bit of a disconnect there?


Tue, Jul 16, 2013 : 11:35 a.m.

Looks fun, and the idea of three teams is great.But the 'ball' looks ridiculous. Can you even call it a ball? A football and rugby ball are functionally made for both passing and kicking. What is the purpose of that shape? In addition, why the goofy and pretentious name? These two aspects act as hindrances to engaging in this sport.


Sat, Jul 20, 2013 : 3:32 a.m.

I was a student in Thomas' classes and participated in some intense TRI discussions as well as throwing and kicking the Squib around outside of class.It is easy to lateral the ball with a backhand throw. Kicking the ball is also easy, aim for the middle of the Squib. The design is to help distribute the force applied to a certain point of the ball by distributing it across the ball.


Tue, Jul 16, 2013 : 11:10 p.m.

The name sounds like a video game that would be played by the guys on The Big Bang Theory.


Tue, Jul 16, 2013 : 5:50 p.m.

The name is goofy, I agree. Reminds of something from Star Trek...Tri-Federation

Kyle Austin

Tue, Jul 16, 2013 : 1:24 p.m.

I had a chance to throw the ball around a bit yesterday, and it does take some getting used to. But the overhand tomahawk throw that Thomas demonstrates in the video is something I don't think could be done with a football

Elaine F. Owsley

Tue, Jul 16, 2013 : 10:59 a.m.

"Ann Arbor's" man? Is that the same as Ann Arbor man?