Stonewall Kickball in DC provides a place for LGBT camaraderie

By : Kevin Majoros OF THE WASHINGTON BLADE, COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL LGBT MEDIA ASSOCIATION
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Above: (Upen (L) and Vic Jones, members of Stonewall Kickball.) (Upen photo by Ian Foulk; Jones photo courtesy Jones)

The Washington Blade All Star series continues to spotlight the journeys of members of the LGBT sports community in Washington. This week we meet two LGBT players who have found their place in Stonewall Kickball.

Everyone has seen the packs of Stonewall Kickball players walking through the streets of D.C. on Sunday afternoons. With their colorful team shirts, they’re hard to miss as they make their way to the post-game events. After moving into the District, Upen noticed them and a quick Google search showed an upcoming registration for the Spring 2018 season.

Upen’s work with Amazon had brought him to the area in 2010 and he had been living near Dulles Airport. He was finding many challenges to making friends, especially gay ones. He showed up to a Stonewall Kickball new player event not really sure what to expect.

“I walked in and it was a really warm environment. I ended up joining a new team that was forming,” Upen says. “This was a chance for something different. I had nothing to lose and potentially a lot to gain.”

Growing up in Mumbai, India, Upen played soccer until middle school. He began to distance himself from sports when he realized he was different from other boys. That awareness made sports feel intimidating.

After receiving his undergraduate degree in India, Upen moved to Austin in 2003 to pursue his graduate degree and Ph.D. in computer science from University of Texas at Austin.

Before coming to America, Upen had never heard of kickball. First up in his Stonewall Kickball experience was learning the rules and nuances of the sport.

“I really had to play catch-up on terminology and strategy. I’m still learning in my third season and I love the game,” Upen says. “There is a lot of specialization in various positions with different skill sets needed to excel. I feel like I have found my spot in right field.”

Upen has also played in Stonewall Dodgeball and Stonewall Yoga, both of which have added to the many life lessons he has learned along the way.

“Stonewall has provided me with a sense of community and I like that we are all working together towards a common goal,” Upen says. “One good thing about sports is that they are also a mechanism for growing as a person. I’ve discovered you can be friends with anyone and it feels really great.”

Vic Jones played a little bit of everything growing up in Lake Elsinore, Calif. — basketball, soccer, karate, baseball and football. He ran track and cross country in high school along with being a band kid as a drum major and saxophone player.

Band and sports taught him a lot about leadership and balancing multiple things in life, but he would leave both behind when he arrived at Howard University at 18.

“I thought I would walk onto the track team and join band, but everything was different,” Jones says. “I was intimidated by going to a black school. I was used to being the only black person.”

Jones did join a step club at Howard but focused on his studies to earn his Ph.D in clinical psychology. He is now working as a postdoctoral fellow with the DC VA Medical Center.

He joined Stonewall Dodgeball in 2015 with a friend before moving on to Stonewall Kickball the following year. The kickball league sparked a competitive streak and he fell in love with the sport.

“I made some amazing friends that made me feel comfortable,” Jones says. “I never realized that losing could be so fun when the loss comes from a good competition.”

Jones started meeting other players who were just as competitive and began joining other leagues. He is currently playing on three kickball leagues and is a member of a travel team.

One of his Stonewall Kickball teams, Alpha Q Up, has won the title at the last two Sin City Classic tournaments in Las Vegas. This summer members are hoping to continue their success at the Stonewall Sports National Tournament in Raleigh.

“It’s great to be branching out and playing people who are better players. Each team I have been on has been unique with its own vibe and culture,” Jones says. “It’s nice to reach that level of confidence and trust and know that everyone is just as dedicated as you are, giving 110 percent. We all put in the work and it pays off.”

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