There’s a common thread that runs through all the teams in the LGBT sports community of Washington — community.
This week in the Blade’s All Star series, we meet two gay basketball players who found their community with the D.C. Sentinels.
The Sentinels host an open gym for pick-up games up to two times per week for players of all skill levels. For those wishing to compete, they travel to three tournaments per year under the National Gay Basketball Association umbrella.
The Sentinels also run the Washington D.C. Gay Basketball League which is open for registration through Nov. 11. The upcoming season will kick off Jan. 3.
Darien Smith found the Sentinels through a Google search this past spring and showed up at one of their open gyms. Growing up in Clemson, S.C., he played basketball and ran track in high school. After a year at University of Miami, Smith transferred to Clemson University to finish up his undergraduate degree.
He is now a full-time student at University of Maryland pursuing his graduate degree in higher education with a concentration in student affairs. His decision to choose Maryland was based on the quality of their program and a desire to live in an urban area.
Shortly after joining the Sentinels, Smith traveled with them to his first tournament in May at Coady Roundball Philadelphia.
“It was my first gay tournament and the first time in a sports atmosphere where I didn’t have to hide my true self. It was empowering,” Smith says. “I thought I was prepared because I played travel ball and high school basketball when I was younger, but the competitive level of the tournament caught me off guard. It was intense.”
Smith traveled again with the team when they competed at the Minneapolis Classic in October and will enter their league for the first time in the upcoming season.
“This has been fun, and I am enjoying hanging out with my teammates and getting in some exercise,” Smith says. “In fact, I am loving it so much I have joined the board as social outreach chair and I look forward to planning our upcoming functions such as the Christmas party.”
Bryce Roth grew up in Oregon City, Ore., and was focused mainly on soccer playing two years JV and one year of varsity in high school. He found himself gravitating towards basketball and played intramurals while attending University of Oregon.
His older brother, who is also gay, was living in D.C. and Roth spent six summers here before transferring to Catholic University to finish his degree.
“My brother knew I was stagnant and struggling in Oregon, so I moved here and stayed with him for a couple years,” Roth says. “His ex played with the Sentinels, so I joined one of their first leagues.”
Now working as an office manager at a construction company, Roth took a few years off and is now back playing with the team and attended the same two tournaments as Darien Smith this year.
Along with Smith, he has also stepped into a leadership role with the Sentinels as their treasurer and will be playing in their upcoming league.
“This is a safe haven and I really like the camaraderie,” Roth says. “When you have the right balance of the competitive side along with the social aspect, it turns into a community.”