My name is Jack, and I am a Gryphon

Jack Keller, Fall 2012 – present

My name is Jack, and I am a Gryphon.  It took me a while to figure out that I was one, but I was glad when I did.

Six months ago, I definitely wasn’t one.  It was mid-August when I drove to the field at 12th and Wharton.  I remember my hands shaking as I navigated South Philly.  I didn’t know anyone on the team.  I wasn’t particularly social, and was a little horrified of meeting an entire team of guys; not only that, but playing sports with them?  The idea was a lot for me.

Arc was the first Gryphon I spoke to that day – he taught me the basics of passing.  I remember he smiled a lot, and that small gesture went a long way towards calming me down.  Arc had been playing rugby for what seemed like forever, and I could tell I had a lot to learn from him.  Later that night, we figured out we both coded for the web – it meant a lot to connect on and off the pitch.

I ended up surviving that first practice, and afterwards, the team formed a circle around Coach.  He took a moment to point out all the rookies: Charlie, Tim, Ray, Luke, Less, Stephen, and I.  There is a special bond that you form with the class of guys you enter a team with – I love those guys, and I really feel like we went through a lot together.  I’m proud that we joined together, and I feel like we forged a bond that will last years.

Six weeks of practices later, I showed up to my first game.  I felt like I knew more about rugby, and was getting to know some of the guys on the team, but was still very, very green.  We ended up short on men, and I got put in during the second half.  I played!  I wasn’t good, but I played!  After the game, I was confused.  Did this make me a Gryphon?  I wore the jersey;  I played in a game.  There was no welcoming committee, no crowd hoisting me above them and cheering.  What now?

The season continued.  Cleats were worn through.  Fingers were broken.  Tackles were made.  Bruises piled on bruises.  We had more late-night practices on dew-covered grass lit by spotlights.  I learned the difference between a scrum, ruck, and a maul.  I can almost describe them to someone else. too.  I learned why Saturday is a rugby day, and why Sunday is just painful.  When I would complain, Matt (my boyfriend) chastised, “You signed up for this!”

I was surprised by how openly and warmly this family of brothers accepted me into their ranks, and encouraged me to continue.  I started to embrace the culture of rugby: the respect of the opposing team (and ref!); the drinkups afterwards, and the organized chaos that ensues.  The singing – oh, the singing.  The crowd that formed at the matches to cheer on the Gryphons, although small, had so much heart.

Late in the season, my boyfriend was talking to me about why I joined the Gryphons.  If he had asked me weeks before, I would have been hard pressed to come up with the exact reason why I wanted to join;  I just knew it was something I wanted.  At that moment though, I knew for sure:  I wanted to be part of something greater than myself.

My name is Jack, and I am a Gryphon.  It took me a while to figure out that I was one, but I was glad when I did.

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God Save the Queens: Memories from Across the Pond

Dante DelVecchio, 2003 – 2006

As much as I’d love to think otherwise, my introduction to the Gryphons was not special or some extraordinary stroke of fate.  I was your typical suburban boy who moved to the city after college, came to terms with his sexuality and then found a group of people who helped him make sense of it.  And even as a rugby player, I wasn’t lighting the pitch on fire.  I was an adequate scrum half with decent ball handling skills – and my passing wasn’t half bad either.  Ba dum dum…

Yet, to this day, there isn’t a day that goes by when the Gryphons, and the memories and friends I have from it, isn’t a part of my life.  Those years that I was a part of the team will go down as some of the most fun of my life, without a doubt.

I could spend pages upon pages reminiscing on all the people, places and things that made my experience on the team the amazing time it was.  But I’d bore half of you to tears, and could potentially incriminate myself and a few others in the process.  There was, however, one event that I feel captured my time on the team better than any other.  A moment in the Gryphons continuum when it felt like all the stars aligned, and we came together as a collective force who brought the world to its knees for a moment – or at least that’s how it felt.  I’m talking about the 2004 Bingham Cup, in swingin’ London.

For me, the trip itself was a very big deal.  It was my first time out of the country, and the Gryphons first appearance at the Bingham Cup, then only in its second year.  But the team was strong, and we had an army of players hungry to compete, and ready to show the world of gay rugby just how Philadelphia does things.  I mean, after all, only a handful of the teams had experienced our patented Fourth Half by then.

Again, I could write a novella about that trip and the ups and downs that each day brought – but thankfully, something like that actually exists already, and God willing, you’ll be able to see that soon.  But more on that later.

Overall, this tournament really crystallized what the team meant to me.  The always-exciting, ever-unexpected series of events that could be nothing else but a Gryphons experience.  The time on the pitch was the most hard-fought rugby I think we ever played as a team during my tenure.  And while we had a rough start and watched our captain suffer a crushing injury in our first match, we ended the tournament with our first piece of hardware – the sorta-but-not-really coveted Bingham Bowl (which only came into existence after the organizers went into the the kitchens at Esher and took one out). I wasn’t a stellar athlete in my past, so I never experienced that feeling of a team coming together and winning something before – but I will never forget that surge of pride and camaraderie when the final whistle blew, amid the hundreds of ruggers chanting our names.

And as amazing as that was, there were just as many equally memorable moments off the pitch that I’ll always think back on fondly.  The bone-crushing hits heard on the pitch were loud, but a far cry from the sound of hundreds of gay ruggers finishing “Into the Groove” a capella down a spiral staircase when the fire alarm cut short the closing party mid-dance.  And in perfect pitch, obviously.  How the team came together was fantastic, both against its toughest competitors in the tourney, and during the most intense game of Jenga on either side of the Atlantic.  The friends we made were many, particularly our Scottish brothers-in-arms – or sisters from another mister, depending on the time of day and number of cocktails.  We got lost in all the madness that London has to offer, and then brought our own bit of chaos into the mix with a house party that shook the walls and echoed through Picadilly Circus.  And then there’s the Bed of Truth, which shall be forever known to those who took part in it – and never spoken of otherwise. Ever.

That Bingham Cup was everything I loved about the team, and all the reasons I was honored to be a part of the Gryphons.  And the person I am today, I owe in part to the players I shared the pitch with.  I might not have laced my cleats up in years, or participated in a boat race lately (undefeated, bitches!), but I know I will always be a Gryphon.

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Our Rugger Down Under – The Tale of a One-Night Stand Gone Awry

Chris Helms, 2004 – 2006

For those of you who don’t know me I was the “innocent” midwesterner (from Wisconsin) who came to Philadelphia in search of a new life. I had moved from Madison to Lancaster to Philly…where I spent my first six months in Manayunk shitting myself because “people spoke funny” and they didn’t find cow-tipping half as amusing as I did. It was a weird time in my life: I was working in a highly stressful job at UPenn and I had all this…pent…up…frustration inside. You see, I looked at things a little bit differently ever since I left that commune of happy clappers in Madison. Fortunately for me I discovered early on in my spiritual journey that I enjoyed being on my knees for an entirely different reason from that of my more pious friends. So, when a job opportunity arose on the East Coast I seized it and left the shame, disillusionment and knee pads to the priest.

And so my adventure began. Sitting in my fancy-schmancy big city loft in Manayunk I munched on a newly-discovered phenomenon called a “cheese steak” pondering the best approach to “getting a gay life” in Philly. I knew that I didn’t want to join the Gay Wrestling Club (because I don’t do lycra), the Front Runners (because that’s just too much work) and was certain that I wouldn’t find my “niche” hanging out at Bob and Barbaras. (Ironically, a few years later I ended up at Bob and Barbaras on the date of all dates with my now husband. I’ve since discovered that anything and everything begins and ends at Bob and Barbaras. It’s like the alpha and omega of the Philly gay community. But I digress…) Anywho, I eventually found an advertisement for the Philadelphia Gryphons and remember thinking to myself “What a great way to beat the shit out of other people and have absolutely no legal repercussions whatsoever!” By the way, did I mention that I’m a nurse?

So I showed up for my first practice, nervous in anticipation of the ridicule and mockery I would endure for my obvious un-atheletacism. It was anything but. I look back at that time in my life and honestly -honestly- believe that if it weren’t for the Philadelphia Gryphons, I would be in a not-so-phabulous parallel universe. They showed me acceptance, respect and allowed me to safely grow into the man I hadn’t been comfortable embracing for all those years in Madison. I discovered self-confidence, independence and brotherhood with the Philly Gryphons. I also discovered that my legs look great in a pair of leopard-print stilettos (thanks guys!). And I want you to know, each and every one of you, how much you all mean to me. Because if it weren’t for you I wouldn’t have had the one night stand that changed my life.

Flash forward a year or so and I am playing at the Bingham Cup in New York. I played like a rockstar that weekend. (Although that could have been the alcohol and Vicks Vaporub talking.) I was tackling, I was CATCHING THE BALL FOR ONCE and, as I remember it, was ON FIRE against the Gotham Knights. Unbeknownst to me , I had an Aussie admirer watching me during that game. Reportedly he was rather impressed with the ferocity by which I chased after and tackled players. As I remember it, I hadn’t been laid in 6 months and was incredibly frustrated. As history tells it, the Sydney Convicts won the Cup that weekend and we all met up at Webster Hall for the after party and some well-deserved ball and chase. I remember being in that club, dancing my tits off wondering “who was the ridiculous geek who danced like he was Danny from the Partridge Family?!” I responded to his enthusiastic thumb pumping with a gracefully composed triple salchow…and as I turned to face him in anticipation of a dance-off he spotted me from across the dance floor and a huge toothy grin split his face. He slowly and coquettishly made his way towards me, all the while bumping and grinding with his thumbs pointed up a-la 70’s disco and all I could think of at the time was “Jaysus I hope he doesn’t dance near me like that….nice…ass…though.” He sidled up to me and said “G’day mate. Name’s Steve…wanna get out of here?”

My tongue fell out of my mouth (and into his) and 5 minutes later we were headed uptown. And this is the bloody awful truth folks: it was my first – and only – time I have ever gotten picked up in a bar (by someone who danced like they were from the Partridge Family.)

The next morning, blissfully sore, tired and no longer frustrated in the slightest we said our goodbyes as he readied himself for a flight back to Australia. We both knew we would never see each other again. But woo hoo! I bagged a Sydney Convict! Sweet.

As anyone who knows me will tell you, I am most certainly not gifted in the mystical art of one nights stands. Somehow, my “one night stand” went horribly wrong and 8 years later I find myself married to that same Partridge-Family-Loving-70’s-Discothumbs-Dancing-Aussie who first spied me tackling that poor twink from the Gotham Knights so many years ago (sorry, mate! Hope your hair has recovered…) We are living in Oz surrounded by kangaroos (who aren’t all that cuddly, thank you very much) and our life revolves around a capricious, yet adorable Rhodesian Ridgeback who seems to think a queen-sized bed is sufficiently sized for herself and two grown men.

And for that, Gryphons, I thank you. For giving me the love of my life and for helping me grow into the man I am today. I miss you all; be safe, healthy and happy.

Love From Oz,

Chris and Steve Helms-Ryan

PS: Have you guys seen the video called “Walk Like a Man?” It’s from the Bingham Cup where Steve and I met! 🙂

PPS: Get your assess down here for Mardi Gras!

Chris Helms, Bingham Cup 2006 New York City

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Chris Helm v. Emerald Warriors, Bingham Cup 2006 New York City

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Becky’s Tale

David “Becky” Stackhouse – player, 2003-2006, Social Chair (for life!)

For those of you who know me, you are aware of my extreme shyness and how I painstakingly go out of my way to stay out of the spotlight.  That being said, let’s begin!

Now, things are a little fuzzy so bear with me as I take you back to one of my favorite nights as a Gryphon!  It was a cold and rainy night… well no not really, but it sounds good…  It was Saturday evening and we were at the Westbury celebrating Damian’s birthday (or some other Gryphons social event, but I’m going with the birthday… because it’s MY memory, and anyone who doesn’t agree can piss off!)  Well now. The music was loud; the base shaking the room.  Shirts were off; bodies glistening from the heat being produced in the tiny little packed bar.  A few new faces were in the crowd; one being a large Latino with the body of a god and the moves of a bullfighter and hopefully the stamina of… Oh, sorry I was distracted. Hey! My memory, piss off if you can’t follow….rewiniiiind annnnnnd start…

So being the shy, understated mousy type I decide to leave my comfort zone and jump up on the bar to recreate my favorite scene in Coyote Ugly.  Despite the extra attention to the positioning of my Doc Martins (Manolo Blahniks would have been far more appropriate),  my dance moves were not quite as graceful and flowing due to the fact that the bar is no wider than Matty G’s unmentionables.  So two minutes into my daring dance routine I lose my footing and manage a front flip off of my makeshift stage and into the pit behind the bar narrowly missing our dear bartender, Alex.  The gasp emanating from the crowd was quickly silenced by my amazing recovery; I signaled a field goal (what, you think I don’t know sports, I played rugby!) as I popped back into form with the grace of Mary Lou Retton on a 10 point dismount from the uneven bars without spilling a drop of precious cosmo! It’s almost a shame Jason turned off the security cameras as surely I would be a Youtube sensation for this stellar performance!

That night… solidified me as a Gryphon.

Seriously, being a part of the Gryphons was one of the best decisions of my life.  Although I was more into the social aspect I am sure many were surprised by my decision to partake in a contact sport in which there is a severe lack of padding, but I thought what the hell… those scrums look fun enough.  And, after sacrificing a nail (or 10) throughout the seasons, I proved that break a bitches nail and somebody’s going down!  What a great sport and an amazing group of people to be part of my team, not only for a game, but as lifelong friends.

Hot & Heavy History, An Interview with the famed Princess MeiMei Hibiscus

Princess Hibiscus, aka Joe Cruz, 2003 – Present

At some point, I don’t know when, I decided to appear in drag at one of our drink-ups in 2003/2004.  I created this persona, Princess MeiMei Hibiscus, and she was loving, welcoming, and gorgeous.  Well, at least the first two; the latter is debatable.  I hadn’t discovered L’Oreal Paris by then.

Anyway, our first Bingham Cup in London 2004, and by then I had drafted a few write-ups of our various events, tongue in cheek, scathing, campy, lots of fun.  I loved the team, it changed my life forever, and really helped me understand what it meant to be a brother (or sister) in Rugby.  I am thankful to this day.

And to this day, if someone asks, “Where’s the Princess?” I get a tiny bit misty-eyed.  One of my favorite write-ups, a special double-feature with myself and Becky (David S.) is below.  I hope you’ll enjoy and know that you, as members of the Philadelphia Gryphons, come from a long line of…well…Royalty!

Yours in Rugby Brother/Sisterhood,

Joe Cruz

PS: It’s going to sound like a lot of nonsense, so be sure to ask some of the Alumni to tell stories about this awesome tournament at the 10-year Anniversary Dinner!

Gryphons v. Washington Renegades – May 15, 2004 with a special guest appearance!

Welcome to another Hot & Heavy, a brand spanking new episode featuring your favorite hairy rug-munchers…I mean ruggers.

Becky: You know they’re not *all* hairy.

PH: Which brings me to my extra-special guest today, Princess Becky? Duchess Becky?

Becky: Oh just Becky, for crying out loud!

PH: Just Becky then. I was feeling a bit piqued the last week or so; the weather was so oppressively humid that I just lacked any amount of creative energy.

Becky: Oh get on with it already, would you? We’re here to talk about the game, let’s talk about the game!

PH: She’s pushy, isn’t she. Yes…well…another brilliant performance from the Gryphons this past weekend, both on and off the pitch, as we hosted the Washington D.C. Renegades. A surlier bunch has never been seen this side of Hillside Camp Grounds when there wasn’t any more lube left in the free lube basket.

The Westbury on Friday night, the prototypical start to a brilliant Gryphons’-hosted weekend. With one minor snag. The Liberty Bears were there in full-force, kicking off they’re own tremendous weekend of treacherous sex and bombastic drinking. Did they cramp the Gryphons’ style? Well, only in as much as they made the Westbury much more cramped. It’s a small place, y’all, and with big bears and big ruggers (and lil’ bears and lil’ ruggers)…well…there was plenty of room for groping.

Becky: But she’s digressing.

PH: Yes, well. Ahem. Let’s get back to the task at hand. The D.C. team came in piecemeal, five or six here, two or three there, so we never really reached critical mass. It was okay though. Coach J and B were adamant about making it an early night. The weather forecast for the weekend was such that lots and lots of liquids would need to pass through our lips.

Becky: Is that like drinking from the tap?

PH: Close. Only the spigot doesn’t usually come with its own natural fiber dental floss.

Becky: Oh no you didn’t!

PH: I did, and I’m enjoying it, too!

Saturday morning…and yes the birds were in the air, the bugs were in the water, and the flippin’ D.C. team was there before us. I don’t know why they thought it was a good idea to show up almost two hours before the game time.

Becky: Whatever. Do they get PAID to play rugby? I want some of that action. Did they at least help Q set up the field?

PH: Now now. They were our guests. They shouldn’t have had to lift a finely lacquered fingernail. We got off to a late start, is all, and inspired a false-sense of security. “Where are the Gryphons? Is this the right place? Why don’t they have Goal-posts?” You could just hear their President, Phil R., rolling his eyes and gnashing his teeth.

Becky: That would have been a sight to behold. <sigh>

PH: He is a big mean delicious man, isn’t he? What is it with you and red-heads, Becky?

Becky: It’s not me and red-heads, darling. You have me confused with DeeDee. And it really doesn’t matter what color their hair is. As long as they’re a top.

PH: Okay! Well, thank you for that, Becky. I’ll be sure the Board of Directors gets an advance copy of this write-up. And a really big fat red pen to mark out all the “objectionable” stuff.

So where were we?

Becky: We were talking about tops. Oh wait. It’s not about me. It’s about the team, and the game on Sunday. Was it Sunday? No. Saturday. The game on Saturday. Sorry, girl, that last shot of Tequila killed one too many brain cells. I’m still recovering.

PH: Recovering. Right. So while Becky is putting a coolly moist towelette over her forehead, the Gryphons finally showed up, bursting on the field with style, panache, and colorful gym bags. A wild assortment of colors, Hooker Dave sporting a Monogram Multicolor original from LVMH(which I covet with every last fiber of my Island Girl being), and Vicious 5 (Damian T.) with a top-drawer Lip Pink Dune Buggy clutch courtesy of Lilly Pulitzer. The last game of season, and everyone was wearing their red-carpet best.

I don’t understand, thought, why the hell do the Gryphons have the drabbest uniform colors on the planet? I mean come on. Moss and Navy? That is *so* Miami Vice.

Becky: Can we talk? On with the game.

PH: The A-side players took to the pitch against a hungry D.C. side. We had pulled a lot of tremendous play together since our last meeting; the Renegades were in for a surprise.

The pitch resounded with grunt and growls (and a few squeals from Captain Joe) from the forwards as they continually fought off the impressively massive D.C. pack. The set-plays were just as competitive as the last game, but the lineouts were night and day. I daresay we won a few of theirs! Way to go Hookers and the rest of the pack.

The backfield also fared really well. Coming off a glorious win over an under-manned Boston team, they were literally on fire.

Becky: Come on girl. What do you expect from a bunch of Flaming Barbies!

PH: No love lost between the Forwards and Backs I see. Anyway, the backfield really pulled it together, providing a ton of opportunity for scoring, and terrific running from Brian V., Styles (Will P.), Apollonia (Derek S.), and Peaches (Herbie S.). The wingers were running their cute little butts off, too. Cool Ray N. and Skinny Matt H., along with our fullback, Matty G., were giving it their all. Scoop (Dante D.) was showing off her stuff, starting out in the A-side game at Scrum-Half.

By the end of the first period (we played four twenty-minute periods), the score was flat, 0-0. The Gryphons were defending their home territory from those barbaric renegades.

Becky: Aww…Isn’t it romantic?

PH: What kind of wicked, twisted world do you live in, girl?

The second period saw some tremendous breakout runs from the D.C. backfield. Those boys can really ruck over! Lil’ Moo (Mike M.) had to come out in the second period after getting belly-bucked in the ruck.

Becky: Is that why I got in on the A-side squad? She should have sucked it up!

PH: We were definitely sucking something that day! Wind. It was very hot and humid, and the light breeze only brought partial relief (and simultaneously played havoc with my hair!) Luckily, there was a free-form sub policy during that game, enough to spice up the A-side game with a little flava.

Let’s not forget the third-period, where we saw that wonderful display of Gryphonly love from Veezeebee and Wilma…

Becky: Ooo! Ooo! Is that where one threw the ball at the other? Will must have been auditioning for Wrestlemania V!

PH: Not to be confused with Apoll’s attempt at a drop-22 where she neglected to put the ball on the ground, took a knee and looked something like a…what did he look like, again?

Becky: A cheerleader raising her pom-poms.

PH: That’s it exactly. What he really needed to do was touch the ball to the ground, ending the play and soliciting a nice blow from the referee.

And by blow, of course, I mean whistle.

There was lots of great rugby played by both sides. The Renegades really pushed us to perform at the highest competitive levels, and really showed them and ourselves just how much we’ve improved as a team since we last met them in March.

Gryphons A – 0, Renegades A – 30

B-side game was refereed by the reverential Coach France from the Renegades, called fairly, astutely, and pedagogically.

Becky: Just so everyone knows, Princess H. had to lookup that last word on the internet.

PH: Bite me.

Becky: Bring it!

PH: Whatever. Madd Dogg (Ed R.) had some tremendous runs, Evan with spectacular tackles, and Peaches showed no fear. We want to welcome Chollie, a transplant whore from the Division I who just can’t get enough of the Gryphons. He’s the *second* straight guy to play for us.

Becky: <gasp> Who’s the FIRST??!!??

PH: ‘Risha. ‘Risha was moving his ass on the field! Good for you ‘Risha! I would make a comment about his boyfriend having Mono and him all of a sudden having all this energy…but that would just be mean.

All around a great game was had by all. Except maybe the Renegades Chuckie. He busted open his third eye and needed to get stitches. He says it was one of us, but I’m convinced there’s someone on his team who just wanted to clean his clock. None of the Gryphons would dare smash up such a pretty face!

The Gryphons proved, once again, that great teams are built on a foundation of heart and soul, and the score belies the tremendous effort and enthusiasm that we bring to the pitch.

Gryphons B – 5, Renegades B – 10

Drink-Up. Not much to say here. The D.C. guys are, well, a little less enthusiastic than the Gryphons. But that’s not to say that they didn’t have a good time. They can chortle a drink down with the best of them, and the best, of course, is the Gryphons. Do I hear the undefeated Champions in the Drink-up Beer Chug Boat Race? Thank you very much!

Becky: Where were all the partiers? Did they stay in D.C. for the weekend? D.C. partiers? Hmm…isn’t that some kind of oxymoron?

PH: Becky! You are simply Homo GENIUS!

Becky: There’re those SAT words again, girl. Does that mean we’re all incredibly smart?

PH: Something like that. If you’re done wearing the pink banner? Ahem. Men of the Match went to Brian Kelly and Ray N., for the A and B sides, respectively. For the Renegades, Lance C. andChuckie B. took home the A and B side honors. It was a tough choice, since everyone proved to be tremendous players all day. Kudos to you lot, tap and chug those Jagers. You’ve earned them.

The drink-up closed down, but not before Madd Dogg got thrown in “jail” down in the Pit Stop. Turns out the Liberty Bears were having a fundraiser where someone would pay to throw someone else in jail, and they’d have to be bailed out. An intriguing idea, but really, Becky? Was it necessary to scare him silly?

Becky: What??? I was distracted by the hotties!

PH: That’s Gryphons Family love for ya.

The bar crawl was in somewhat sparse attendance. I can’t really blame the girls; it was ascorcher outside that day, and it would suck the energy out of even the hardiest of party animals.

But, we just can’t get enough of the Westbury and their Jell-o shots. There was so much Vodka in them, they couldn’t even congeal! It did help put that little extra jiggle in your swing set; the Gryphons’ anthem came on the sound system (Lady Marmalade) and we tore up the dancefloor.

Becky: There’s no dancefloor at the Westbury!

PH: You’re right. When I say dancefloor, I mean barstools, booths, and the bar itself. When the dance number ended, the patrons actually applauded! That was just incredible.

We continued on to Tavern on Camac, with our new favoritest DJ ever, spinning some hot retro tracks that really get the blood pumping.

A little bird tells me that at Tavern, Hooker Dave (Dave W.) re-enacted a gay-version of Goldilocks and the Three bears. Well, actually, there were four. Two from Baltimore, and two from West Chester. I wonder which one was juuuuust right? <wink>

Close out the night at the Bike Stop, and some mean honey-dipped fried chicken at the MidtownDiner, and you’ve got yourself the makings of one FABULOUS weekend.

Becky: Is that it?

PH: Yep. That’s it for this edition of Hot & Heavy. You might not see me again until after the team comes back from London, but I have it on good authority that I’ll be collaborating again, and sending you little missives and photos as the week progresses.

Becky: Thank God. Let’s get a cocktail, honey.

PH: Absolutely. Kettle One, on the rocks, splash of soda?

Becky: You got it, girl.

PH: It’s on me. Until next time, my beloved rugby brethren.

Crouch and Hold. ENGAGE!

– Princess M. Hibiscus

Quotable consumables:

  • “It look like he had just gotten a size 4 dress from the sale rack and she was making her way to the dressing room” – Randy about Becky with the ball in her hand
  • “Did you hear that Nate’s wife’s name is Becky.” – Becky
  • “I hope he doesn’t get you two confused in the dark!” – Arnie
  • “Girl this is not a circuit party. Put your shirt back on!” – Becky to Coach Brian
  • “LEAVE THAT SHIRT OFF” – half the Gryphons
  • “When did you guys get so good?” – Renegades Matt at the Half
  • “The Renegades definitely win for their fans’ age range.” – Becky
  • ” I *love* playing prop. Disney makes me horny.” – Cap’n Joe
  • “Undefeated! Undefeated! Undefeated!” – the Gryphons after winning the last boat race of the season
  • “I’m eating. It’s a Forwards sport.” – Mike Mooney (?)
  • “There are only two sports. Rugby and Not-Rugby.” – Mark Q and Renegades Mattie
  • “I’m passing the torch. You have to Gay it Forward.” – Scoop 9

Princess Hibiscus appearing in Toronto, April 2005

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Going Out with a Bang

Mike Martino, 2005 – 2007

I joined the Gryphons in the fall of 2005. I saw a great film at the gay film festival about a gay soccer team in Germany and headed to the Westbury afterwards for a beer. I saw Jim Pitts who I haven’t seen in years and went over to say hello. He was out and about with some rugby people recruiting and encouraged me to join the team. Still intrigued by the Euro sport camaraderie I just witnessed at the movie and jazzed to reconnect with an old acquaintance, I agreed.

I showed up at the first practice not really knowing what to expect. I didn’t really know anybody on the team and knew absolutely zero about rugby. I had a new pair of cleats, some workout clothes and a desire to learn. Turns out that was more than enough. I soon found out what my skill sets were (aggressiveness, speed) and weren’t (ball handling, catching). I enjoyed the athleticism and physicality of the sport. There is nothing, and I mean nothing, better than blocking some charging queen who outweighs you by 70 pounds and laying her out on a field.

I was picked as a wing forward. The scrum is the place to be in my opinion. Backs have fun too, but there is just something about being in the herd when the game commences. It feels primal. Raw energy coursing through your nervous system as you crouch…hold….ENGAGE. I still get goosebumps thinking about the anticipation of that moment.

The final event of the season was a tournament hosted by the Gotham Knights in NYC. It was a typical all day affair with 2-3 games being played out at a park on Randall’s Island. I remember it was a freezing cold day. I also remember it was the day everything finally clicked in my head as to how to play my position. Everything that I attempted just seemed to work. Tackles were made. Lineouts were delivered flawlessly. Passes were completed. I got a lot of ball time and was having the time of my life.

During one of the lineouts I was accidentally dropped and plunged to the ground into some mud. My right knee bent and shifted. There was no pain, but everything just seemed a bit…off. I did what any rugger hopped up on adrenaline would do, I jumped back into the next scrum and kept playing.

Shawn Kulp, the other wing forward and I hatched a plan to kick the ball under the scrum to me. I would pick it up and then run. Seemed simple enough, I was wondering why we never thought of it before. The first time it happened it worked flawlessly. I got the ball and ran. I only got about 15 yards or so before I was shut down and another scrum ensued. Shawn and I locked eyes indicating we would try it again.

That time nothing was stopping me. I ran as if Satan himself was on my heels. I crossed the try line and even had the presence of mind to head to the center of the zone before I touched the ball down.

There aren’t really many words that can do justice to the feeling of exhilaration one feels when scoring one’s first try in rugby, so I won’t try. Suffice it to say that my awkward inner child grew up to be a man that day. Many gay men know the demons they carry around with them in their adult life. The stigma of being a gay kid in school is one that sticks with you. Always being picked last in gym class. Always feeling left out when the other boys were talking sports and you would rather listen to your Madonna cassette. Being called sissy or faggot. All of that became the life of a different person who no longer existed the minute I felt the energy of the cheering crowd wash over me. People go their entire lives without feeling a catharsis that pure. I’ll never forget it.

Unfortunately that was to be the last rugby game I ever played. When practices started back up in the spring it was clear that my knee was not going to be up to the challenge. It was frequently and loudly snapping out of joint. A doctor confirmed that my ACL was torn and would need surgery to repair. Jumping back into the game afterwards seemed risky. I reluctantly said goodbye to playing rugby and have watched the team from the sidelines ever since.

But nobody will ever take that moment on a chilly day in New York away from me.

PS – we won the game.

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Proud and Thankful

Christian Alicea, 2008 – 2012

I joined the Gryphons for the fall season in 2008 after seeing a flyer at one of the bars. I always had an interest in the sport of rugby but never had a team accessible to me so this was the perfect chance to get to know the sport. I also wanted to make new friends as I was new to the Philadelphia area. From the minute I walked out on the pitch for my first practice I was impressed by how welcoming and encouraging the other team members were.

One of my favorite team memories was when we hosted the Atlanta Bucks in the Spring of 2009. We played a pretty hard fought match versus the Bucks and won, but more importantly we shared an awesome weekend with our brothers from the south! The memories and bonds you build through this sport are beyond anything I ever expected.

I am proud and thankful for all the memories I’ve built with Gryphons and look forward to many more to come!

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The Right Pitch

This article was originally written for the LGBT Center at Penn’s newsletter. It was published in Dec 2003, Vol 14, No 2. It is very of-its-time and reflects many of the founding principles of the team. In it Phil talks about what the team meant to him, and his family’s support meant to the team. It has been edited from the original form for style.

Phil “Lil Phil” Cochetti, Gryphons 2003-present

It was a cold windy day when we took the pitch. We were playing hard and winning the game, but oh how sweet those extra points would be if I could take the ball over the line. I stood there poised to get the ball and run into a line of defenders who watched me anxiously eyeing the line. The whistle was blown and the ball was handed off to me. Tweet! Whistle blown. Play stopped. Redo on the penalty play. Same signals. I eyed up the competition again. They knew the play as well as I did at this point. Whistle blown again. Ball handed off.

I recently found myself on Randall’s Island in New York City. Here many a little league soccer and football game have been played. Recently, it saw an invasion. Hundreds of men, their friends, and some families crowded a small field under the Triborough Bridge as the East Coast Rugby Invitational began. Yet, there was and still is something special about that day. It was an invitational for gay rugby players. Teams from Boston to Atlanta traveled to New York City the weekend of November 15, 2003 to participate. And a week later, I still felt the effects of Gryphons v. Gotham Knights and Gryphons v. Bucks.

For me, the team has provided a great opportunity as a social and physical outlet. I notified my parents to their fearful faces that I intended to go to a rugby practice. A warm August evening I was anxious about whether I would be fit enough for the game and wondering how much blood could be lost and stay conscious. I came home a little bruised and exhausted, but I was hooked. My parents were now anxious. The weeks went by and I came to understand the game and quickly loved the new social opportunities opening up. I had not been on a team before where I was not tokenized or too nervous to think of participating. Every week, I hated getting back in my car, first for the soreness I was sure to feel pressing down the accelerator, but also because it was a community feeling that I had never felt before.

Once home, I was physically exhausted and yet I still had to tell my dad and stepmother about what had happened at practice. My dad, an avid football fan, listened. Although we had spent all summer together, after a cross-country drive and having rugby, I felt I had something to talk about with my dad. I ordered rugby boots (cleats) and waited with baited breath while checking UPS package tracking all day so I could wear them at practice two nights before our first tournament. They did not arrive before practice. Dejectedly, I left for work late and disappointed that I would not be able to use the boots at practice that evening.

I arrived at the pitch after a long evening at work and still disappointed at not having my boots to break in. The feeling invaded practice. Fifteen minutes in however, I saw a familiar figure at the sidelines. (Having astigmatism means wearing glasses, but for rugby I play without the glasses – good thing the ball is so big!) I ran off the pitch and there was my father with the box and my new Gilbert Hi-liner boots. I laced them up excitedly, thanked dad profusely and ran back onto the pitch. Questions abound about who the person was and why my father had come to the pitch. It seemed monumental to others on the team; to me, the youngest on the team, it was embarrassing. Practice went on with that familiar figure standing guard silhouetted by the dusky sky. At the end of the evening, walking off the pitch, dad ventured a question, “and all those guys are gay?” “Yes,” I emphatically responded missing the significance of questions from the team and my dad.

As time went on, the team became more used to the presence of various parents, dad, stepmother or mother, at the pitch. Dad and Mary, my stepmom, showed up at our Rehoboth tournament in August. Teammates came up to me to tell me how great their support was and amazed that they knew it was a gay team. They, the team and my mom, were all thrilled to take photos and to see photos that my mom took at a November practice. At the same time I got used to various comments about how great that was. It was something that I, being the youngest member of the team, took for granted.

Ball in hand, I ran hard into the defenders. Turned. Passed the ball off to my teammates as I pushed against two defending bodies a meter within the try line. We feel to the ground and through the engulfing pile of men all I heard was “Run Phil! Yeah…” as my dad bellowed from the sideline and my teammates scored above me. As I was pulled up from the ground and my dad’s gleaming grin was there on the sideline, it finally sank in the privilege I had with the support of my parents every step of my way.

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Ten Years – How Did We Get Here?

Casey “Risha” Ryan, Gryphons 2003-2008

It was January 24, 2003, the night of the Blue Ball. Since the party attracted a lot of the usual bar clientele out of the gayborhood, I thought that it would be a good time to explore the change in the dynamics of crowd that night. Little did I know that my life would change.

I was going to hold a personal mini bar hop and I started my night at the now closed Key West.  I had a drink there but the crowd was sparse.  So I moved on to the Bike Stop and mingled with the patrons, most of whom were from out of town due to a big conference in the city. After a few beers, one of them asked if I was with the group of rugby players in the bar.  “No,” I said, “but there are ruggers in the bar?” I was informed there were some organized players upstairs talking about the sport.  I was intrigued, so I excused myself and went to find the crowd.

When I got to the Sports Bar, I saw a dozen men in a variety of jerseys, drinking, chatting and being gregarious.  I asked one of the jerseyed men, “What’s all this about rugby?”  I was delivered over to the ring leader of the expedition, Lars, from Gotham Knights.

Lars explained that the Renegades and Gotham Knights had planned to come to Philadelphia to see if they could seed a gay rugby team.  Cities were ready for rugby teams that focused on gay men and the City of Brotherly Love was one of their targeted outreach projects.  He asked me to sign up for the Yahoo! group that they were starting.  I filled out my name and my e-mail address.

I was excited. I never played football since my parents thought that it was too violent (and in hindsight with all these stories about concussions, I’m glad that I didn’t.)  Yet, I was aware of rugby as the most popular sport in Irish and British culture. Plus, I had played soccer and missed the camaraderie on being on a team sport.  This was could fill a need that I didn’t know I had until I signed up on the contact list that night.

I never finished my bar hop that night. I stayed at the Bike Stop, meeting ruggers from DC and New York as well as some of my fellow fascinated city dwellers. That’s when I first heard “Jesus Can’t Play Rugby” and watched guys shoot the boot.  The bar closed, much to the chagrin of the New Yorkers at 2am, and we poured out into Quince Street and played a drunken game of touch rugby.  I didn’t know what I was doing, but it didn’t matter.  I was thrown into a line out in the middle of the street.  “What? Lift him? The jumper?” It was all surreal, but also encouraging that there were Philadelphians who wanted to learn and other ruggers to teach us.

After the impromptu match, the crowd started to thin and I bid good night to the crowd.  Lars ran over to me and handed me a Gilbert rugby ball, telling me to take it for the team.  I protested, but he told me that he knew that I would make this happen.

A few days passed and I got a notification from Yahoo! that I had been signed up for the group, PGRugby.  E-mails started to fly out, “It was great to meet all of you” and “I can’t wait to start to play.”  I knew time was of the essence and I sent out an e-mail to the group to meet at Fadó at 6pm on February 2 to talk rugby. Holding the rugby ball that Lars gave to the team that night, I felt empowered to start this team.

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Alumni Stories – Ted Panczyszyn

ted_joeTed Panczyszyn (player 2005-08; board member ’07-’08, ’10-’11, ’13-present)

When I look at the pivot-points in my life I still find it fascinating that meeting the Gryphons in 2005 would be one of the most important ones! That summer I was working with some friends to put together Philly’s first LGBT&A Ice Hockey Team so we registered for a table at the PrideFest and figured we’d start networking there. Wedged in between The Galaei and The Gryphons on what turned out to be a 95-plus degree day, “Gay Hockey” made a few allies as we fought off the oppressive “Disciples of Price” to get canopies raised over “too small” sites. A few of the hockey guys knew a few of the rugby guys so some conversations got underway and I started flirting with this hot island guy. We swapped numbers, dated for a bit, and realized that there was some chemistry after a few weeks! Of course, most of our friends knew that it was there that day but they let us figure it out on our own. The best line of the day (outside of me taunting of the Pride Volunteers) was the following: Me: “I live in NJ.” Joe: “I have EZPass.” Wayne Knaub: “Ted IS EZPass!”.

I started going to practices with Joe that Summer and Fall, getting into a few games and really enjoying the strategy of the game and camaraderie of the team. I curse myself for starting at such a late age, but I’m glad I had the chance to play. Some of my favorite Gryphons moments come from the Bingham Tournament in NYC in 2006. I got in all 6 games at Lock or Loose Forward and enjoyed meeting players from all over the world! The best thing to come out of Gryphons Rugby for me, however, is meeting Joe and creating the partnership we’ve enjoyed since then. Life is full of opportunities and they often come from where you least expect it. It is a pleasure (most of the time) to contribute my time and effort to the organization that has meant so much to Joe and I and look forward to a memorable trip to Sydney next year!