When third-year digital management major Nicki Lovizio stepped away from their middle school soccer team, they told themselves it was because they just didn’t like playing it anymore. Now in college, after distancing themselves from sports, they had a stark realization: they didn’t hate the game, they just hated the heteronormative culture that often surrounds athletics in general.
At the start of the fall semester, Lovizio along with fellow third-year general studies major Kristen Annabi founded New Paltz Queer Sports, an organization with the goal of giving LGBTQIA+ individuals in the town a place to feel safe playing games.
The group is not school-affiliated, meaning everyone in the community can partake in the open environment and meet new people who share their experiences. After creating an Instagram page, @npqueersports, establishing a playing field at Hasbrouck Park and getting rained out the week before, Queer Sports finally held their first match on Sept. 17.
“We both played soccer growing up and both quit for the same reason, so we knew we wanted our first game to be soccer,” Annabi said. “Nicki made a really cute flyer, printed out copies and put them all around campus. We handed them out to people everywhere we could.”
The co-organizers were impressed with the turnout for the soccer match, with around 30 people showing up to the park. When players got to the field, they were divided into teams by birthdays — those celebrating theirs in the next six months were on one side, while everyone else went on the other. The organization does not pick team captains before the games in order to ensure that no one is ever picked last.
Even though the majority of attendees wanted to play, some chose to hang out on the sidelines, cheering players on and displaying homemade posters from the bleachers; one read “Yay Queer Sports!”
“We sort of just gauge it by how many people show up,” Lovizio said. “If more than 10 people show up, we’re like, ‘Okay, this is a real game.’ We do [teams] by birthdays because we don’t want it to just be a friend group versus another friend group. We want it to be about making new friends.”
The games go on until one team scores a certain amount of points, or as the weather gets chillier, until everyone gets cold. The organization is currently searching for an indoor space to use so games can continue throughout the winter. Some games that Queer Sports attendees want to play next include ultimate frisbee, football and “nuke ‘em.”
Lovizio was pleased that others felt the same way they did as participators finally got to play sports in an accepting environment. “I remember someone saying after the first game that they felt like they had also played soccer for their whole life and they were like relearning how to love a sport that did them dirty. Most sports do queer people dirty, and we end up quitting around middle school or high school.”
“I think [the goal] for both of us is just a sense of queer community,” Annabi said. “It’s never about winning the game, but just the idea of going and playing with a bunch of people in your community. We’ve had a lot of people that we’ve never met come to our games and it’s nice, because we didn’t know this person. We would not be playing with this person, but we gave ourselves a space where we could.” For more information about the next Queer Sports match, follow @npqueersports on Instagram.