Tracing the history, growth of Gay Bowl

Gay Bowl XIV, the annual flag-football championship tournament of the National Gay Flag Football League, is coming to Philadelphia Oct. 9-12 for what promises to be the largest Gay Bowl ever.

Philadelphia is the first East Coast city to host the Bowl since 2009 and this year will have 42 teams participating in three divisions. 

Not bad for an event that started out 12 years ago with just three teams competing at Hollywood High School.

NGFFL commissioner Jared Garduno said the annual event continues to grow in size and popularity.

“It’s been slowly gaining,” Garduno said. “Every Gay Bowl has been a record-breaker the last three years.”

Garduno said the growth of the event has allowed Gay Bowl to expand its scope, which in recent years has included a women’s division.

“This [year] will be the third women’s tournament,” he said. “In Denver, when they hosted that was one of their [caveats]. Interestingly enough, they had the biggest participation of females in their local league. They had such a huge following there that if they were going to host, that was one of the things they requested of us as a league, to start that division. I’m glad to see that we are going to be able to now have 10 women’s teams three years later.”

Garduno added that the growth has allowed multiple teams from the same city to compete.

“The luxury is that, since we have found a place that has more fields, we do have the opportunity to bring it to a lot more people,” he said. “D.C. is bringing a third team. Philadelphia will have two extra teams. New York is bringing an extra team. So they are able to bring more people. On the other side, there are a lot of repeat players and teams made up of the same faces year in and year out, which is a pleasure because that brings the camaraderie and friendships that you make throughout the country. It’s always good to meet up once a year and hang out for a big tournament.”

With the presence of LGBT athletes competing in professional sports becoming an increasingly talked-about subject in the news, we asked Garduno if that has brought any added attention to an event like Gay Bowl.

He said that Gay Bowl has gotten some attention from professional sports figures in recent years.

“Last year we had Kevin Grayson, a pretty good athlete who didn’t quite make it to the pros. We have Wade Davis, who is also a big advocate. He played at the professional level. What happens is there’s an awareness and people are becoming more accepting and people are excited to play. So I think it [creates awareness] on every level. It’s bringing more people to our league and our events. We have people wanting to do a reality show. We have people pre-filming for next year’s San Diego tournament.”