It has been seven years since a group of pick-up players and their travel teams hosted Gay Bowl IX on the threadbare fields of Carter Barron in Rock Creek Park.
The championship in 2009 was the impetus for the formation of the D.C. Gay Flag Football League, so it’s fitting they’re hosting this year’s event because of the strength of their league.
Gay Bowl XVI will take place on 11 polo fields at West Potomac Park this weekend with the National Mall serving as an inspirational backdrop as the players vie for the three championship trophies. More than 750 athletes and referees on 40 teams from 21 cities across the United States and Canada will be welcomed to a world-class sporting event along with a full social calendar that will showcase the LGBT scene of Washington.
At this year’s Gay Bowl, D.C. will field five men’s teams and one women’s team. These five squads are the travel teams and they are separate from League teams. There is a tryout and selection process that follows strict protocols similar to the league’s draft system. There is currently a waiting list just to try out for the travel teams.
The first season of the D.C. Gay Flag Football League in 2010 consisted of seven teams and though interest was high for expansion, the League carefully created a structure of growth that kept the quality of play at a high level. The growth was limited partially by the grooming of quality quarterbacks, but also with a design on having the most balanced teams possible. Now in Season XIII, the League is at 20 teams with 300 players.
One thing that stands out in the League is its diversity. The League has a “come-as-you-are-and-play-your-heart-out” mentality that draws people from all walks of life.
“We bring people from diverse parts of D.C. and I think it is the best part of the league,” says Chris Comier, founding board member and co-chair of Gay Bowl XVI. “We have players that range from the military to Capitol Hill and we are all sexual identities, ethnicities and genders.”
The league has struggled over the years to maintain a high number of female players and is at close to 20 women this season. It does not utilize the special rules that are put in place for women players in some flag-football leagues.
Former NCAA Division I basketball player Nikki Kasparek says when she started in the League in 2012, the male players weren’t utilizing the female players to their capacity. That has since changed.
“They wouldn’t play defense on us and ultimately the quarterbacks starting throwing the ball to us. I was scoring one to two touchdowns per game,” Kasparek says. “I’m not getting that anymore. We are athletes, we are assets and we are rock stars. If you don’t guard us, we will score.”
Some straight players such as Peter Sima, who has played in the League since 2010, say sexual orientation is a non issue. He’s been on some of the League’s travel teams and played at Chicago’s Pride Bowl.
“There is no thought in this League as to what you are,” Sima says. “There is also no ‘in crowd’ and as a straight player, I immediately felt welcomed.”
The League is also supportive of the trans community and one player (who wishes to remain anonymous) has found support from the league during his transition. He has been a player since 2011.
“I have a really awesome core group of friends in the DCGFFL that I trust,” he says. “My friends have been supportive of my journey and that has made me really happy to be a part of this League.”
The closing party for Gay Bowl XVI will be held at Howard Theater and after a weekend of playing in the presence of America’s national monuments, the players will be sent off in D.C. style just a few blocks from the White House.
“We want everyone to say it was the most enjoyable and most memorable Gay Bowl yet,” Comier says. “And oh yea, we want all three trophies.”