In the movie “Field of Dreams,” James Earl Jones whispered the now iconic phrase, “If you build it, they will come.”
The phrase applies to many things in life, but doesn’t necessarily apply to building an LGBT sports team. The building of a sports team requires a leader, a driving force, or as some might say, someone to be the mule.
For the past several years, the D.C. Gay Flag Football League has exploded behind the leadership of JJ Johnson. It came into existence in 2009 and has grown to 270 players. On any given day, the backseat of Johnson’s care is filled with field marking equipment, cones and footballs.
In the mid 1990s there was a loose knit group of gay guys playing pickup games on the mall, led by Charles Salem. The organization level consisted of an email blast.
There were also straight guys playing on the Mall, and the two groups ended up merging. In 2003, the group went on to win Gay Bowl III, hosted by the National Gay Flag Football League under the name Washington Monuments.
It continued on as a ragtag bunch until April of 2009 when the national League contacted organizers to host Gay Bowl IX.
“There were many people involved in that mad scramble to get organized including Sean Bartel, John Williams and Chris Cormier,” Johnson says. “Within our six-month deadline, we were able to raise $50,000, get our 501(c)(3) status and have everything in place to host over 500 players from across the country.”
After the championships, the group was physically and emotionally spent from all the hard work. “Hardly anyone was showing up on Sundays for pickup games,” Johnson says.
In the fall of 2010, partly to keep their nonprofit status and partly to inspire the group, the inaugural D.C. League season was launched.
“That first season consisted of 72 players on six teams. We didn’t follow any templates used by other cities,” Johnson says. “We wanted to play by our own rules.”
Those rules reveal the many facets that make up the League. Each season, captain/quarterback pairings are drawn from a hat and followed by a draft. That creates new squads each season and prevents dynasties from being formed.
The group plays on the Carter Barron fields and offer up things such as skills clinics, referee clinics, travel teams, Friday Night Lights (played under the lights at Randall Fields) and a recreational league, which consists of players from the competitive league who are playing different positions within their teams to sharpen their overall skills.
“We are always looking for new quarterbacks or new superstars,” Johnson says. “We are currently at 20 teams with a maximum potential of 24 teams. Real estate is hard to find in D.C. so we are just about at our player capacity.”
To help with fundraising, Johnson also helped launch Ping Pong Madness at Nellies Sports Bar even building the ping pong tables himself. The ads featured Johnson holding a paddle with the tagline, “You need a spanking.”
Johnson has just resigned from the board of the League citing a need to stay focused on his business and the confidence that the organization will continue to prosper.
“There are still some strong leaders on the board such as Brandon Waggoner and Barry Mauck,” Johnson says. “And I will still be involved in some capacity.”
Johnson says there are many things that made him thankful to be a part of the League.
“I am so proud that we created a league for everybody,” he says. “Every year we have more women and more straight guys. On any game day Sunday night, you can find a local watering hole flooded with (our) players. This couldn’t have happened 20 years ago.”
Regardless of what Johnson’s future role is in the League, he will always be remembered as a leader in the local LGBT sports community. Thanks JJ.
The team can be found on the web at dcgffl.org.