One surprising commonality about the back stories of the Team DC college scholarship winners is that, in many cases, the young athletes came out to their teammates before they came out to their friends and family.
Launched in 2008, the Team DC College Scholarship Fund has awarded more than $50,000 to 48 openly LGBT student-athletes in the D.C. area. It was one of the first scholarship programs in the United States to acknowledge the challenges that young students face when they compete as out athletes.
“There is safety, love and acceptance coming from the teammates of these young athletes. Much more than from society as a whole,” says Team DC founder and executive director, Brent Minor. “We knew that there were high school LGBT athletes out there playing and we wanted to validate their experience and highlight them to the coaches, athletic directors and parents.”
The scholarship winners have run the gamut of sports ranging from swimming to baseball to cheerleading. One thing that hasn’t been a surprise about the winners is that they have grown into successful adults with a sense of community outreach. One of the criteria for being granted the award is the potential for that quality of character.
In 2008, one of the first scholarships was given to Danny Martinelli who would go on to become a NCAA Division III swimmer at Marymount University and receive a degree in history. In attendance at the award ceremony in 2008 were two young girls with intellectual and developmental disabilities who Martinelli was mentoring in the pool. Eight years later he is still giving them developmental swim lessons, sometimes as many as four nights a week.
“The drill work I do with the girls requires a lot of time because I am actually in the water with them working toward the goal of building muscle memory,” says Martinelli. “I love instructing them in swimming and it is an important life skill for them to have. They are fearless.”
Martinelli grew up in Vienna, Va., and started swimming at age seven through the York Swim Club program. As a member of a family with a low socioeconomic status, his scholarship was used to pay for swimming gear and a training camp in Florida with his Marymount teammates.
“The scholarship was a tremendous help and I was very grateful,” Martinelli says. “I was so uncomfortable swimming as a gay man. I think the award helps to raise awareness and allows for students to become more comfortable in sports.”
Martinelli is finishing up his master’s degree at Marymount and also taking graduate classes at Johns Hopkins University. He plans to become an educator with a focus on urban, inner city educational reform.
Earlier this year, Martinez travelled to Peru as part of his duties with Virginia International University as an admissions & enrollment officer.
“We did a three-week phase one tour recruiting prospective students in rural and poor communities,” says Martinelli. “It was very fruitful and I loved that I was able to use my Spanish skills. We will be going back next year for phase two to develop partnerships.”
Michael Hull was one of the recipients of the scholarship in its second year. He left for Ball State in 2009 and transferred to George Mason University where he received a degree in kinesiology and nutritional science.
Hull wrapped up his employment as a researcher at Examine.com earlier this summer where he compiled literature on supplements. He will begin his master’s and doctorate work in human nutrition this fall at McGill University in Montreal.
“I am interested in changing my focus to clinical nutrition,” says Hull, “to put strategies in place for patients to be in a better place for post-operative recovery.”
Originally from Reston, Va., Hull played volleyball through high school and when time allowed, played in adult leagues during college. He was unable to attend the Team DC scholarship reception in 2009 because his Mormon parents would not have understood.
“I couldn’t go to the reception because I hadn’t told my parents that I had won the scholarship,” Hull says. “I was amazed that the award even existed and it was like an olive branch was being extended to me. I attended the reception the following year to show my appreciation.”
Hull has had the good fortune to find a group of friends to explore the world with and has traveled to Madagascar, Thailand, Mexico, Europe and Canada along with stateside destinations. During his preparations to move to Montreal this summer, he served for the third year as a student dietician at Setebaid, a Type-1 diabetes camp for kids.
“I am looking forward to the next part of my life in Montreal,” says Hull. “I have traveled there many times and the locals are very welcoming to everyone.”
Becca Stussman grew up in Olney, Md., and played multiple sports, including soccer, softball and basketball. She was part of the pilot program of Best Buddies at her high school serving as president.
The Best Buddies program fosters acceptance and inclusion of those with disabilities. Her work included encouraging participation in sports such as bocce, softball and track and field.
Stussman went on to attend Columbia University where she played club rugby all four years and created a new chapter of Best Buddies for her college.
“Playing rugby at Columbia really defined my college experience,” says Stussman. “As for Best Buddies, I was able to make connections on the administrative levels outside of Maryland to form the New York chapter.”
Stussman graduated from Columbia in the spring with a degree in mechanical engineering and will be working in New York in engineering consulting. Her Team DC scholarship was awarded in 2012.
“I was really excited to receive that award because it directly applied to someone like me,” says Stussman. “I might not have been honored otherwise.”
She is hoping to stay involved with Best Buddies in New York through their citizens program, which includes outings to museums, picnics and social gatherings. Her rugby future may also continue if time permits.
“I am hoping to play with the New York Rugby Club,” says Stussman. “Even if I don’t, I will still hang out with the team. I love the energy in New York.”
The 2016 Team DC College Scholarship Winners
• Jauan Durbin, School Without Walls High School, D.C./Morehouse College
• Adonis Garcia, Cardozo High School, D.C./Marymount University
• Joshua Hicks, Chesapeake High School, Pasadena, Md./University of Maryland
• Jasmine Johnson, Ballou High School, D.C./Delaware State University
• Stephen Lambert, Northern Virginia Community College/George Mason University
• Daja Latten, Cardozo High School, D.C./Virginia State University
• Elaina Perry, Eleanor Roosevelt High School, Greenbelt, Md./American University