Featured Gryphon: Joe Cruz

Joe Cruz

Any Nicknames?
Hibiscus or Guamaniac

How long have you played for the Gryphons?
I was a charter member. I’ve played for seven, but was off for three because i was at school. (laughs) I’ve been with the team for a while.

Prop, Loosehead preferably. I’ve also been known to play second row. You can also put that I have aspirations to play fullback.

What other sports teams have you been a part of?
I played football in high school (Second Team All-Island Center!) and a little bit in college when I was in undergrad. The Gryphons were my first adult men’s team.

What is your personality like on and off the pitch?
13604_10152390044202572_8384679161612324579_nI think I’m the mother hen type of personality. I like folks to feel welcome. I like teaching, mentoring, welcoming. That’s kinda part of who I am.

I think on the pitch I’m much more focused on leadership. I’m much more focused on getting people to do good things and feel good about themselves. Occasionally I’ve been known to fly off the handle, but thats few and far between. That’s only when other people are getting into fights.

What’s your life like off the pitch?
I am a Senior IT Director at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. I am surrounded by infrastructure and learning technology systems all the time. I’m a big nerd!

Why do you play for the Gryphons?

10592769_10154543435400581_9208832937696325265_nI believe in the mission of inclusivity in sport. I play because we support the mission of inclusivity in sport. We break down barriers for people who would otherwise not be represented in sport.

What is your favorite thing about the team?
How the team has matured over the years. Being a member for so long, I can see how we have matured as a social club and a member of the local [rugby club team] union.

What do you do to prepare for rugby?
I try to get a lot of rest, which is hard because when I start thinking about rugby I get very excited! It’s about meditating on sleep… I try to visualize what I want my game to look like ahead of time. I try to think what might be preventing me from getting into the right mood. If there’s something at work that might be holding me back, I’ll try and put it away.

Because I’m an old boy, there’s a lot of icing and wrapping and stretching I’ll try to do as well beforehand.

I’m also very involved on the administrative side. I try to keep a list of that in my head, and make sure I have time to do all that so I can switch into game mode when the time is right. You don’t want to be getting psyched up for the game and worried about who the touch judge is going to be.

Tell us about your first try.
I don’t know how many I’ve scored… I think I’ve scored like two in the time I’ve played. The one I remember was off a penalty play. I wasn’t the ball carrier, but I stripped the ball off a maul. I took a few steps and touched it down. It was awesome!

What was your favorite moment during a game?
The one that comes to mind the most is playing vs the DC Renegades. We were still a very young team so we don’t really know what we were doing. One of their big guys gets the ball off a crash. He comes running at me and drops the ball on a knock on. I get the ball and he just plows over me. I just burst out laughing, and didn’t stop laughing the rest of the game.

Why? What made it so funny?
It was the whole situation – here was this big gorgeous bear, he totally whiffed the play. He didn’t try and even save the ball, he just totally ignores it and goes to tackle me instead.

What is your favorite memory off the pitch?
Crazy-sitting. For the new members of the team, it is similar to Rayisha-sitting.

Take us back to the early years of the team.
205731_10152488476510581_313010728_nI forget who said this, but ten years ago, if you brought a bunch of athletic gay men onto a team, there was bound to be a lot of drama. It wasn’t the drama of being catty queens. It was the drama of very independent people typically singled out because they were gay who were now asked to be part of a team. In the early years, we had to create that gay athletic brotherhood from scratch. We used to get into fights with each other on the pitch all the time. We [the Gryphons] used to be the odd man out all the time. The makeup of the team has changed in such a way that we can now say “I’m here for the team” and it really means something. Now, if you are gay and an athlete, it’s not as difficult as it was back then.

I wasn’t sure about us moving into the [local EPRU] division. We weren’t sure what it would be like to play against straight rugby players. It was somewhat paralyzing because 10-12 years ago it would have opened us up to verbal and perhaps physical abuse that there was no protection for. It’s just such a different attitude now. There was no Bingham cup; there was no commitment to inclusion in sport.

On a different note back then, there was no social media. If we wanted to find each other, there weren’t as many options, and they were seedier. You could go to a bar, or a bath house, or whatever… if you joined a gay rugby team, it was a meaningful way to foster relationships with other gay guys.

What was the competition like?
In the early years we didn’t play against straight teams. We didn’t have a 8-game schedule or a 6-game schedule like we do now. It was sporadic, it’d be three games, a tournament, and that was the season. It was all people that Coach knew.

In that respect, we were introduced in a great way to the game. We were already part of the rugby family through that association. On the field teams were, for the most part, gentlemanly. They understand that the game is more than just who is playing. It is the third half, the songs, the refs always being awful, the old guy who still plays, the ex-player who now coaches, all these things that add up to the culture of rugby. All these things transcend sexuality.

Rugby’s still a very white sport, and that’s probably its last vestige. That’s slowly fading, but the tradition ingrained in it probably holds that back a bit.

What was the team’s first game like?
The very first team we played were assholes. They were throwing slurs at us on the pitch, and we were yelling at each other on the pitch.

Then we played the Air Force Academy, and they were helping us, telling us where to go. We had many more teams like that. They helped us keep going.

Anything else about the early days?
It was really tough on numbers. We had many practices where we had six guys show up to practice for weeks in a row. When we scheduled games, we knew that a straight team wouldn’t garner good numbers. But if it was a gay team, and there was a hook up opportunity… all these faces started showing up.

What aspect of the team has stayed the same over the years? What has changed the most?
We throw great parties. We’re very social, and we like to show other teams a good time. We’re very hospitable as a team.

This might be contentious, especially to our IGRAB fellows, but our team is now 50/50 straight / gay identified. I’m very proud of that. We’re not hiring ringers. Our straight allies are just as committed to the mission of the team as our gay players. That’s a big one for me.

What is something that a new player might be surprised to learn about the early days of the Gryphons?
Okay, this one’s kinda crazy: there was a rugby team that splintered off the Gryphons in our second year. They didn’t last long, and I don’t remember their name. But that was some drama.
Also, our first pitch was the Belmont Plateau in Fairmount Park and [whispers] we didn’t have a permit!

Princess MeiMei Hibiscus is somewhat of a cultural attache for the team. Can you tell us a little about her and what she means to you and the team?
295378_10152789658415581_1642736277_nTo start off, I think she was an amplification of the hospitable nature of the team. She was the social glue, the song singing, insult throwing, cruise director that is the life of the party. Inwardly, we were struggling to figure out if we were a rugby team or a gay rugby team. I was firmly in the gay rugby team camp. I wanted to force that issue, so she was this flamboyant person. She was also the campy gossip columnist. I was enamored with the history of Camp, and its ability to make something simultaneously gay and empowering.

What she means to the team is she is part of the history of the team. After Bingham, a few people said to me “that is the first time I have been in the presence of the Princess Hibiscus! I was honored!” She is the freaky ass sister that comes around every once in a while. [laughs] She reminds us we’re not just any rugby team.

One more story, please!
It was our first game ever in Rehoboth. We had barely enough to field a team. Gene was playing 8 man. The DC Renegades were playing there too, and we went to their house for a social. I was liquored up and around a bunch of gay men, so I was being very queeny and flamboyant and felt very… comfortable.

One of the guys on the DC team was blogging. I don’t think we called it blogging back then, but he was LiveJournaling or something. I later learned that he wrote about me. He said “…there was this one queen who showed up… and I don’t care if he was a huge queen, because he sure could take a hit!”

When Casey showed me that story, I knew that was exactly what it meant to be on a gay rugby team.

For more information about the Gryphons, contact vp@philadelphiagryphons.org.

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Featured Gryphon: Jeremy Sulak

Jeremy Sulak has been playing with the Gryphons since Spring 2013. This interview was recorded before his injury, then edited at his request.


What position do you play?
Second Row Lock. I am also a jumper in the lineouts.

Any nicknames?
Coach Gene sometimes calls me Tall-Boy. I don’t know any others, unless they’re said behind my back!

How’d you find the Gryphons?
I originally never had any intention of playing rugby. A Gryphon [the infamous Charlie Gill] approached me in a bar and said “Hey, you look like you should play rugby!” I had no idea what it was, but I showed up, enjoyed it, and it has been great fun ever since.

What is your favorite thing about the team?
Everyone else on the team. I have met such a great group of friends on the team that it makes me want to keep coming back. Not to mention that the game itself is very fun. When I first started it was kind of confusing, but the more I played it, the more I liked it, and I wanted to keep playing.

What other sports or teams have you been a part of?
Unless you count the military (which I don’t), the last time I was on the sport was Junior High Basketball and Track and Field. Never did any sports in High School or College.

You were in the military?  What branch?
I was in the US Marine Corps, the best branch!

What’s your personality like on and off the pitch?
I see my personality the same on and off the pitch. I consider myself to be pretty laid back on and off the pitch, which Gene yells at me because he thinks I’m too laid back in the middle of a game, and he wants me to toughen up and play meaner. But I don’t consider myself a mean person!

521540_10152694714660581_62423662_nWhat’s your life like off the pitch?
My life off the pitch has been pretty hectic since I moved to Philly three years ago. I’m getting another Bachelor’s and a Master’s right now in Architectural Engineering and Civil Engineering at Drexel. Plus, I started dating someone about six months ago so that takes up a lot of my time. Any other free time I get I try and just hit up the gym and get a workout in. Or go to the beach if it’s ever warm enough!

What do you do to prepare for rugby?
I don’t really have a set routine. The only thing I do is wake up fairly early to be sure I’m awake. Don’t wanna be sleepy or yawny. I put on sunscreen when its sunny. That’s it! I like to just have fun with it out there. I play the best I can, but it’s just a game.

Tell us about your first try!
It was the 3rd or 4th game in a sevens tournament. I was really, tired because I was playing as a back that day. I felt like I was running as fast as I could, but in reality, I was probably barely chugging along. Either way, it felt great to cross the try line.

What is your favorite memory off the pitch?
Having some of the guys from the team come and visit me in the hospital after being injured in a game. I had surgery on my head when I took a knee between the eyes in a game this spring and completely broke my face. Although I would still like to recover enough to play in Australia later this summer, (I have already bought my plane ticket and paid my deposit) the injury is most likely going to sadly force me to end my rugby playing days.

What was your favorite moment during a game?
My favorite moment was probably my scariest moment was my first game because I started that game. I hadn’t seen or played in a game, so my only experience was practices. I didn’t know that much about rugby, but there I was starting. It was really intense.

For more information about the Gryphons or to suggest a featured player, email vp@philadelphiagryphons.org.

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Featured Gryphon: Jumper Joe Ciesielski

253224_959785450443_426206795_nOur featured player is a veteran of the team;  Jumper Joe has been a very active player for the past five years, and is currently team captain.

Jumper Joe (for a while I jumped in the lineouts)

I have played lots of different positions, but mostly flyhalf and inside center lately.

Why do you play for the Gryphons?
As many people have expressed to me over the years, from your first practice you really feel like a part of the team. I think that’s what really makes this team unique. I couldn’t imagine playing this game with any other group of people.

What is your favorite thing about the team?
The spirit and brotherhood of the team. I’ve seen a lot of people come and go through this team, but that camaraderie is always there. There’s a sense of mission and purpose that you don’t get with a lot of sports teams.

What other sports or teams you’ve been a part of?
I’ll try pretty much any sport that anybody suggests. Growing up it was mostly baseball, but I just enjoy being outside and being active with friends. I actually started playing rugby because I wasn’t good enough to make any of the other high school sports teams. But rugby is my first love now.

10155848_10153980416675581_820199239_nWhat else do you do with your time?
Mostly watch replays of rugby matches on youtube. Sometimes I try to do home improvements. Oh, and I’m in grad school.

What is your personality like on and off the pitch?
Oh boy. People tell me I’m pretty competitive on the pitch. A little too much sometimes. I couldn’t tell you though – I usually black out at the first whistle and come to half way through the drink-up. Off the field I’m usually pretty laid back, but it depends on the situation.

What do you do to prepare for rugby?
Mostly I just try to visualize what I want to do.

Tell us about your first try!
It was well into my time with the Gryphons. It was a broken play off a lineout and I picked it up an ran it in. We were losing by a lot so it was pretty anti-climactic.

What was your favorite moment during a game?
Probably the time that I made an ill-advised cross field kick into the try zone and Dave Liebert went up and got it and touched it down. Also the one time coach told me I had a good game. That was nice.

What is your favorite memory off the pitch?
So many. The 10th anniversary party was really great to meet so many people that have been instrumental to this team over the years. Also, the first Gryphons event I went to was at the Bike Stop and the bouncer sent my friend and I down to the den. It’s a good story that I’m happy to tell anytime. I’m hoping that in a few months I’ll be able to say, “our trip to Sydney,” but we’ll see.

For more information about the Gryphons or to suggest a featured player, email president@philadelphiagryphons.org