Last year, PGN spoke with our local LGBTQ sports teams to see what their seasons would look like during the COVID shutdown. The answer was less than promising: schedules changed, venues relocated, tournaments postponed, and some didn’t even have a season because of health safety during the pandemic. After all, team sports are best played live with an excited gathering of participants and fans, not via Zoom.
Now that the COVID vaccines have proven effective and life is somewhat returning to normal, it’s time to play ball again, with teams of course following the City of Philadelphia’s guidelines regarding the virus.
“Membership this year has returned strong as we started hosting pickup and putting Falcons teams together to participate in local soccer leagues,” said Karen Liao, president of the Falcons Soccer Club, “last year we really didn’t play any soccer.”
Her group instead improvised by playing “soccer tennis.” The Falcon’s played “tennis” using a soccer ball, a small net, and to keep with the rules of the game, refrained from using hands to serve the ball over the net.
“This was easy to keep socially distanced and super fun! We also sold a trans awareness soccer jersey and donated the proceeds to Morris Home. This year we plan to fundraise with the Attic Youth Center.”
Matt Forrest, commissioner of Stonewall Sports Philadelphia and has been with the group for five years, is excited to welcome back local athletes. Last year, online events such as trivia and yoga replaced live games, events, or meetings.
“This year we were excited to come back in April hosting one day game events for kickball, volleyball, bocce as well as offering running and yoga. We were really excited to see the interest from our members and how quickly spots filled up.”
To keep everyone safe and encourage vaccination, Forrest and Stonewall are “working with local organizations and businesses like the Mazzoni Center and the Tavern Group to spread the word to our members about opportunities to get vaccinated and ensure everyone has the information they need on how to do so.”
“We are excited to be back on the field,” Jennifer Brown of the City of Brotherly Love Softball League shared. “Our season started on April 19th and we have been playing every Sunday since then with the exception of one rainout. We will continue playing through the end of June and are even able to host our Memorial Day Weekend tournament, the Liberty Bell Classic, with teams from a few other cities.”
This stands in great contrast to last year’s softball season, which saw no games. However, one of the league’s teams, Triple Play, did venture out to a tournament in Tampa, FL. For Philly’s queer softball “fanatics” (pun intended). Brown was happy to share the team placed second. The organization has reduced player fees this year to help players who may be struggling financially due to the pandemic shutdown. While they as of yet have not selected honorable causes this year, they plan to look at any remaining funds post-season to see what they may be able to donate.
“We did create an internal scholarship program that allows our players to donate to a scholarship fund for players who cannot afford their fees,” Brown said, adding that “we received a lot of donations that not only helped players this year, but will help us continue to offer scholarships to players in need next year.”
So far there is no schedule, but Brown wants readers to come out to games on Sunday, which take place from 9AM to 4PM. Those interested can visit their Facebook page for locations.
For the Philadelphia Gryphons, Philly’s chapter of the International Gay Rugby Association, normalcy will begin this year. Yet, things won’t be completely back to normal until the 2022 season.
“We not only missed out on our competition with local teams but also any chance of seeing our fellow IGR teams in the Northeast Region,” stated Andy Kinney who serves as Philadelphia Gryphons president. “Going into the 2020 season we were preparing for the Bingham Cup, which is an international gay rugby tournament held every two years, and was to be held August of 2020 in Ottawa and were not surprised, but disappointed, that it was postponed for the next two-year cycle in 2022.”
But Kinney, and other leaders of LGBTQ amateur sports realize this precaution was for the best. “Everything that has been postponed or canceled has been done with the best intentions of everyone involved and with the direction and guidance of local and national government precautions.”
Throughout the year, Kinney and his club have had a variety of outlets to keep themselves united despite social distancing and the like. And, not just virtual get-togethers such as Zoom happy hours, although such events were part of keeping up morale. Kinney reports they had a successful virtual food drive with Philabundance. They worked with other clubs to provide toys for Toys for Tots at a local children’s hospital. They worked with a local charter school to help with their community garden project, a children’s coat drive, and helped their back-to-school program as they returned from COVID virtual learning.
And, yes: there will be rugby games, although the season is not going to be traditional. The Gryphons hope to participate in small friendly matches with other International Gay Rugby teams from nearby Baltimore and D.C. area.
“Dates are to be determined but will be sometime in June,” Kinney said, before echoing what all local players must be feeling this year. “Many of us simply want to get back out there, dust off the cobwebs and play the game that we all love.”