LGBT athletes will take to the fields, the courts, the pool and many other venues this weekend for a series of events that exhibit the varied sports prospects for the community.
Sports Week, June 5-14, is organized by Team Philadelphia, the umbrella organization that oversees all Philadelphia LGBT sports, which has spearheaded the series since 1992.
“We started this as a way to introduce people to the organizations that were a part of Team Philadelphia and to promote awareness of the opportunities available to LGBT people in athletics,” said Rick Van Tassel, Team Philadelphia board member and director of Sports Week.
Van Tassel said Sports Week additionally functions as a precursor to the quadrennial Gay Games, which will next be held in 2010 in Cologne, Germany.
Soheila Nikpour, Team Philadelphia chairperson, said the week also helps to dispel myths among mainstream athletic communities that LGBT individuals are not interested in sports.
“This week represents that there are athletes in our community who are LGBT and this is an opportunity for us to mingle with our allies and the non-LGBT communities and to just mesh us with the sports community as a whole,” Nikpour said. “As opposed to just being branded with the LGBT label, this creates a very friendly and open environment for us to present ourselves.”
This year’s Sports Week offers sports enthusiasts and prospective athletes the chance to come together as both participants and spectators for nearly a dozen different sporting events.
Before the games begin, the week will kick off with a panel discussion on homophobia in college sports, 7-9 p.m. June 5 at University of Pennsylvania’s Carriage House, 3907 Spruce St. Our Group, a national support organization for LGBT athletes, will lead the discussion, which will feature panelists such as Ted Rybka, Our Group founding board member and director of sports media for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
The sporting events commence the following day at 8 a.m., when Sports Week participants can compete in the third-annual Independence Dragon Boat Festival on the Schuylkill River. Last year, Team Philadelphia’s inaugural team came in second in its division.
At 6 that evening, participants are invited to the Philadelphia Firebirds game at Benjamin Johnston Memorial Stadium, 1000 E. Sedgwick St., where the women’s football team will take on the Pittsburgh Passion.
Also that weekend, the Philadelphia Liberty Tennis Association will host the second-annual Philadelphia Racqueteers Tennis Tournament, with single and double sets, from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. June 7 at Franklin D. Roosevelt Park, 2000 Pattison Ave.
There will also be a series of sporting events throughout the week, such as a soccer scrimmage and barbeque with the Philadelphia Falcons at 6 p.m. June 8 at Edgeley Field, Diamond Street and East Reservoir Drive in Fairmount Park; a chance to hit the mats with the Spartan wrestling team from 6:45-9 p.m. June 8 at the First Unitarian Church, 2125 Chestnut St.; a freestyle Frisbee game at 7 p.m. June 9 at Washington Square Park, 210 W. Washington Square; a pick-up volleyball game at 8 p.m. June 10 at Franklin High, 550 N. Broad St.; and the third-annual Behind the 8-Ball Pool Tournament, which offers a $100 prize for the winner, at 7 p.m. June 11 at The Bike Stop, 206 S. Quince St.
Participants are invited to attend a free question-and-answer session about next summer’s Gay Games with Team Philadelphia board members and Federation of Gay Games volunteers Adelina Santiago and Tony Bono, at 7 p.m. June 12 at Tavern on Camac, 243 S. Camac St.
“We just want to let everybody know about the different sports and events that will be happening in Cologne,” Santiago said. “Usually some people don’t know the qualifications and there are no real qualifications; you can be a beginner and attend this event. It’s a great self-esteem builder. It’s so amazing to walk into the Gay Games at the opening ceremonies and feel the roar of people cheering you on.”
Beginning at 8:30 a.m. June 13, participants will have the chance to learn more about martial arts and their role in next year’s Gay Games during a workshop and seminar at Old Pine Community Center, 401 Lombard St. Participants can also brush up on their swimming skills with a backstroke clinic hosted by the Fins Aquatic Club, at 10 a.m. June 14 at Friends Select School, 1651 Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
In addition to the sports activities, there will also be several social outings designed to bring together LGBT and ally individuals in support of the LGBT sporting community.
From 9 p.m.-1 a.m. June 6, representatives of Team Philadelphia will be stationed outside of several LGBT nightspots throughout the city for “Pass the Buck,” in which organizers will be asking bar patrons for contributions of just $1 as a fundraiser for Team Philadelphia.
Van Tassel said the money collected will be used to defray costs of Sports Week, as well as to fund Team Philadelphia’s trip to Cologne for the Gay Games next year.
At 8 p.m. June 13, Sports Week supporters are invited to The Bike Stop for Team Philadelphia Bar Night, which will offer plenty of drink specials and networking opportunities.
To wrap up the week’s events, local LGBT running group the Front Runners will stage its second-annual Pride Run, a 1-mile timed race to kick off the annual Pride Parade June 14. The run will begin about 11:45 a.m., and participants will have access to the showers at 12th Street Gym before they head to the festival at Penn’s Landing.
Mike Zuzu, who represents the Front Runners on the Team Philadelphia board, said some 20 people participated in last year’s inaugural event. He said attendance was probably low because of the scorching temperatures during last year’s Pride, and that he’s hoping for a larger turnout at this year’s race.
Zuzu noted that all of the Sports Week activities provide the LGBT and ally communities the chance to learn more about the abounding LGBT sports culture in the city.
“This gives athletes, non-athletes and just the general community an opportunity to exercise and do some healthy activities in a gay and lesbian environment,” he said. “This gives us the opportunity to showcase all the different sports and to invite the community to participate.”
For more information on Sports Week, visit www.phillysportsweek.info/.