Volleyball makes me feel vertically challenged. I spike a Molten in v-ball about as well as I dunk a Spalding in b-ball. Of course, when minutiae hinder me from playing, I’m taking a sport (and myself) too seriously. For a low-maintenance athlete like me, the Volleyball Association of Metro Philadelphia is the place to play.
According to VAMP coordinator Tony Iero, the amateur league is organized for friendly competition. Open league play is on Wednesday nights at Ben Franklin High School, 550 N. Broad St., from 7-9 p.m. during September to May. A $25 registration fee entitles a player to a season of weekly volleyball and there is always room for new players. This season’s league had 50-60 registered players ranging from college age to 50 years old, with an average age of 33 or 34.
Iero has played volleyball for several decades, making the rounds on the competitive circuit. Competition in tournaments and the Gay Games afforded him the opportunity to travel the country and abroad to destinations such as Amsterdam and Sydney. Taking a break from the fiercely competitive volleyball circuit, Iero turned his attention to VAMP, which was founded about 15 years ago. Like most LGBT amateur sports organizations, the primary purpose was to provide a safe space where gay athletes could play and be out of the closet. (Most straight leagues shunned gay athletes.)
VAMP was originally comprised of almost all gay men. Women eventually joined the league — and not just lesbians. Many gay men — somewhat predictably — were accompanied by straight female best friends. The league now also enjoys the membership of several heterosexual men and at least one opposite-sex couple. This ever-changing membership exemplifies the diversification of LGBT athletic clubs.
The volleyball league is hardly the only club to welcome players of all orientations. As highlighted in this column in April, the Falcons soccer club has long fostered an environment of inclusion. Likewise, the Fins Aquatics Club welcomes and encourages swimmers of every ilk.
Integration is the norm for urban sports organizations — and not just among the LGBT clubs. Philadelphia Sports Network — a mainstream Center City recreational adult sports organization — actively recruits in the Gayborhood and in LGBT-owned establishments. Under the network’s auspices, the players of the co-ed dodgeball league don spandex and glitter and sport a trademark flare. You do the math.
While there is marked progress, which should not be diminished, there is a level of acceptance and expression only found in LGBT organizations. The desire to play with other LGBT athletes — as well as the comfort to cavort around their own — sparked the creation of groups such as VAMP and maintains their prosperity.
With all of the options available, no matter your skill and commitment level, you’ll find the group that’s right for you.