Nonprofit amateur adult league the Philadelphia Falcons is heading to the Gay Games in Cologne, Germany this summer to play some soccer.
A soccer ball soared up and down the indoor basketball court of the 12th Street Gym. Using swift passes, clever footwork and powerful clashes to capture the ball, team members of LGBTQ soccer team the Philadelphia Falcons looked as though they were components of a professional soccer team.
Through their love of the sport, Falcons players have made long-lasting bonds. Whether it’s sponsors, supporters, athletes from other teams or the teammates themselves, bringing people together is what the league is all about.
“I like this team because you get to go to so many places, and you meet so many people who become part of your family,” said Raed Nasser, a Temple alumnus and vice president of the Falcons.
This local, nonprofit amateur adult league is a member of the International Gay and Lesbian Football Association. Started in 1992, the IGLFA currently heads soccer involvement at the Gay Games in Cologne, Germany, where the Falcons are headed for the sixth year.
Founded in 1980 to recognize the athletic talent and dedication of the LGBTQ community, the Gay Games are modeled after the Olympics. Games are held once every four years and feature numerous sports and events with thousands of athletes in participation.
While the Falcons were largely founded and are currently coordinated by gay athletes, the team comprises members of all ages, genders, ethnicities and sexual orientations. Aside from an array of demographics, the team’s most distinguishing attribute is the family that’s been formed through the Falcons’ love for the game.
“I like soccer, but it is also a community,” Pepe Gimenez, a calculus professor at Temple, said. “You belong to a group of very nice people. We go out and travel together. They are very much my second home.”
Originally from Spain, Gimenez came to Philadelphia to earn his master’s degree in mathematics from Temple. He said he first heard about the team after a quick Google search three years ago.
“I always wanted to do something gay-related. I went online and typed in ‘soccer,’ ‘gay’ [and] ‘Philadelphia’ and pressed ‘I’m feeling lucky,’” Gimenez said, “and it was the first thing that came up.”
The Falcons were founded 21 years ago by Drew Adair. In the past two decades, mainly through word of mouth, the team has grown rapidly from a handful of players to 140 active club members. Year after year, the Falcons’ mission keeps people coming back.
And that mission is simple: to play soccer.
“First and foremost, [the Falcons’ mission] is to play soccer well and to develop ourselves as players,” said Perry Monastero, a member since 1997 and former president of the Falcons. “Secondarily, it is to create a home for people who want to play in an open environment.”
The team keeps busy year-round between practices, games and fundraising. During the winter, they practice every Sunday at the 12th Street Gym. Once the weather warms up the team moves practices to Edgely Fields in Fairmount Park. The Falcons compete against amateur leagues from around the globe in pickup games, cups and both national and international tournaments. While generally playing against other LGBTQ-affiliated teams, the Falcons go head-to-head against all kinds of teams.
“We don’t exclude anybody because we don’t want anyone to exclude us,” six-year member Shaun Gilderson said.
Although the Falcons spend most of their time on the soccer field, they never forget about the city that has supported their friends, families and themselves. From participating in local pride events to holding community soccer tutorials and lessons, the Falcons are dedicated to giving back to Philadelphia.
But the team cannot survive on camaraderie alone. To keep the team going the Falcons rely on open-bar nights, barbecues, outside sponsorship and various fundraisers to help pay for equipment, practice space, tournaments and scholarships.
“Our members are very dedicated to the team. Many of them volunteer their free time to manage games, tournaments and fundraisers,” Monastero said.
As the team continues to grow, it is always looking for new and interested players. To become a member, a player must make it through three scrimmages. After the first practice, players immediately become a part of the Falcons.
“It’s quite miraculous the different people who come out to play with no experience,” Gilderson said. “From people who have played professionally and who have coached college ball, both male and female, it’s always a good mix out on the field.”
Stephen Rose can be reached at email@example.com.