This week in the ongoing All-Star series on the LGBT sports community, we meet two long-time Stonewall Dodgeball players.
Stonewall Dodgeball launched in the spring of 2014 and is currently running multiple seasons of its league at the Washington D.C. Jewish Community Center. Its winter season will kick-off Jan. 21 and this weekend members will field teams at the Sin City Classic in Las Vegas.
Mark Covington didn’t play sports growing up in Winston-Salem, N.C. He says he was a big musical theater nerd all the way through receiving his first degree at Wake Forest University. He moved to D.C. in 2014 and a friend suggested he give dodgeball a try.
“Dodgeball can be a tough space and it takes a lot of courage for a black LGBT man to maneuver through it. Even though I am one of a very few, I have found acceptance and have learned a lot about the community,” Covington says. “I come from a small town and it feels great to be out and proud in this space. It normalizes everything.”
Covington received his graduate degree from George Washington and is working in mental health counseling. After four years of playing dodgeball he has found a correlation between his profession and his sport.
“Dodgeball is very fast and it keeps you on your toes. You always have to know where the ball is, and which way people are moving,” Covington says. “I develop awareness with my clients, so it fits in with my work and forces me to be present.”
He is currently working on his Ph.D. at George Washington University and often leans on his fellow players as a source of support.
“I have met a lot of new friends and developed friendships that help me get through life,” Covington says. “I am still learning how to be comfortable in my own skin.”
Derek Jansante had a decision to make when facing his college path. He had an opportunity to play college baseball as a pitcher at a Division III university, but was uncertain that he would be accepted in a rural setting as a gay athlete. Jansante decided instead to attend Stetson University with the hope of being himself.
Growing up in Bentleyville, Pa., Jansante played sports year round including baseball, basketball and golf in high school. While he was at Stetson, he served as student body president and played intramural volleyball, dodgeball and baseball.
He moved to D.C. in 2011 to work with the Victory Fund and joined Stonewall Dodgeball in its first season as a free agent. Along the way he has also played with Stonewall Kickball and the D.C. Gay Flag Football League.
“Throwing hard in a small space is one of the skills I acquired from being a baseball pitcher,” Jansante says. “Playing dodgeball allows me to tap into that skillset.”
Jansante is now working as an academic advisor at American University and wrapped up his graduate work at George Washington University in 2016. His love for his sport almost interrupted that path.
“I love dodgeball so much, that I almost took a semester off grad school to play,” Jansante says. “There is broad acceptance and an incredible community aspect. My dodgeball teammates are my best friends.”