Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 47 / 23 November 2017
 

Spikes peak

Sports


The San Francisco Spikes A team. Photo: Courtesy SF Spikes
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The first team that played soccer in Gay Games I eventually became the San Francisco Spikes. And while some of those original surviving members still played as recently as 2004, most who will play in Chicago will be younger, but many have an equally rich soccer past in their own lives.

John Kiladis started playing soccer at age 8 in Lexington, Massachusetts. Even though he knew he was gay at a young age, he never let that prevent him from becoming an athlete.

While he's competing in soccer at Gay Games VII, his partner, Michael O'Neil, will be playing tennis.

Kiladis said he grew up gradually realizing he was gay as he continued playing sports. "I never viewed the two in the same way. I love playing sports. I never thought I'd be looked upon differently. But as I grew older, I knew I had to hide being gay.

"When I saw homophobia in sports, it made me sad," he added. "We didn't have role models growing up." Yet, when he played soccer in Boston, while not completely out, it was more difficult to be closeted at work. "With sports, you have practice for a few hours and leave. You hang out but you can choose your sports friends."

An advertising account director, Kiladis, 33, said, "It was hard coming out to my family. Part of the reason for moving from Boston was to get away from my friends and family, in order to come out. But now they love me and my partner just the same."

Comparing his earlier sports experiences with Gay Games, Kiladis said, "That's one thing that's different. You can be yourself on and off the field. You feel more comfortable becoming friends, unlike in high school or college."

"Besides," he added, "I couldn't see my high school soccer team doing a Miss Spikes Pageant!" Kiladis was referring to the fabulous drag talent and beauty show the Spikes frequently hold at International Gay & Lesbian Football Association tournaments.

In 2004, the pageant reached a height of camp when the Spikes hosted the IGLFA tournament at Golden Gate Park.

But after taking second place to a Fort Lauderdale team, are there rivals the Spikes want to again take on? "With the whole Montreal thing, it's making things a bit difficult," said Kiladis of Outgames, which will take place a week after the seventh Gay Games. "Some teams are splitting between the events."

The Spikes will send two teams to Chicago, one in competitive (as one of eight teams) and another in the recreational league (14 teams will compete in that category). Along with Ft. Lauderdale, Kiladis hopes to take on New York and London's teams.

He's also playing softball in Chicago as an outfielder with the Spitfire, which won B division in the Gay Softball League this year.

Of his dual sports goals, Kiladis said, "Someone can pick up the slack if I'm not there. In both instances, you have substitutes. But I committed to soccer first. I'm a captain, so I'll make sure I'm there. With soccer I get my exercise. Softball I play for the love of it. It's a great group of guys. We're friends on and off the field."

Like many of his teammates, Adele Berrachdi played soccer since childhood. Born in Marseilles, France, he's been with the Spikes for four years, and also plays on an indoor team at UCSF during the winter season.

Ranked first place in the Marin league, the Spikes are among eight teams in their division. Including all other divisions, the league comprises nearly 30 other teams. For the week of Gay Games, the Spikes will forfeit two matches. "Every time we do a tournament elsewhere, we forfeit."

Now with the Spikes for four years, Berrachdi plays forward. This past March, Berrachdi, 36, was one of several Spikes payers who competed in the New York Indoor Soccer World Cup. "New York's is a huge tournament," he said, as he explained the differences. "We play with only six on the team, versus 11 in outdoor soccer. Everything plays, including the walls. It's very fast, and there's lot of scoring. You need to have a lot of substitutes. It's almost like ice hockey."

The quick weekend tournament, with more than eight games playing over 12 hours a day, ended up a first time indoor cup victory for SF Spikes, who also won last year's outdoor tournament in Philadelphia.

Asked if some of the teams they had recently played will be their competition at the Gay Games, Berrachdi said, "We know the U.S. teams will be there. I don't know how many internationally will be there, but we know most of them."

Aside from playing soccer in Chicago, Berrachdi said," I'm planning to see other sports like swimming, but most of the time, I'll be on the field. We're a very organized team, we have a lot of fun."

Chris Jansen, who plays forward, is in his second year with the Spikes. Jansen, 23, played soccer since childhood in Lebanon, Connecticut.

"Everybody did it. But once I graduated, I didn't have any place to play."

After moving to San Francisco in 2002, Jansen heard about Gay Games VI, which had just taken place. This led to his discovering the Spikes. Chicago will be his first Gay Games.

"I'm looking forward to competition the most," said Jansen. "It's tough growing up doing something your whole life," he said, having taken a few years off from soccer before joining the Spikes.

Jansen said he's also looking forward to meeting people from all over the world. "I have some friends in other sports that I want to see. I'm still figuring out the logistics of where our field is and what time other events will be."

While he has no favorite professional or national team, Jansen said he's been enjoying watching some of the World Cup matches for inspiration. "It's always good to watch how they play."

With the next IGLFA tournament set for Buenos Aires, Argentina, Jansen said he's excited to go. "Everyone gets a stipend. The team also provides scholarships to apply for. It's all based on our fundraising. That's really key for someone like me. It's not something I could regularly do."

Although there is a gay community in Buenos Aires, there isn't a well-developed sports community. "With anything there'll be glitches," said Jansen. "But by the sheer fact that it's in a new country, different teams will show up, and that's exciting."

Before Brian Burns moved to San Francisco two and half years ago, he already knew about the Spikes as an opponent when he played for the Boston Strikers.

Born and raised in Boston, Burns played soccer since age 6. His mother and aunt became coaches when no one else would. "They didn't know a single thing about soccer, but they needed coaches, so they stepped up."

Burns, 29, is a certified emergency room nurse whose skills come in handy on the field. "People come to me with problems sometimes," he said. Burns also compiled a list of emergency rooms, since injuries do occur. Only a few weeks ago, when veteran player Ed Center recovered from a cleat injury on his head, Burns helped him remove the surgery staples.

An unusual part of Burns's employment history is having worked one summer for Disney World, where he performed in the daily parades as Tigger from Winnie the Pooh or Peter Pan's nemesis, Captain Hook.

The uniform he wears now is that of the Spikes. "I'm usually stopper or defensive halfback. We have a really strong defense. There's always someone who can step up to the plate."

Burns's family continues its enthusiasm for his efforts as a defense player. His straight brother is planning to travel to Chicago's Games to watch him play. Burns's boyfriend Sam Rodriguez [featured in "Tri hard," in the June 29 Bay Area Reporter] is competing in the triathlon. Burns will also foray into triathlons this fall.

With the World Cup finishing up, I asked the players if they see advances for soccer in the U.S. But it seems a cultural divide remains.

"The sports media here don't like to cover soccer," said Berrachdi. "In Europe, it's on TV every single minute. The presidents of countries go to watch games." Berrachdi is rooting for his native France.

Burns said, "The U.S. is such a football- and baseball-motivated country that it's tough. Other countries have days off for the World Cup. The Brazilian Congress divided their sessions to accommodate people watching it. That would never happen in America."

Upcoming events

Rainbow Run in Golden Gate Park

Join Team San Francisco as it participates in the International Rainbow Memorial Run when it rolls into town, Thursday, July 6 at 7 p.m. at Stow Lake Boathouse in Golden Gate Park.

Runners and athletes can honor the memory of those lost to AIDS and breast cancer. The International Rainbow Memorial Run is a series of events held around the world to bring the rainbow flag as a symbolic "torch" from San Francisco, the "Athens" of the Gay Games, to Gay Games VII in Chicago.

The event will include a run with the flag around Stow Lake as others walk to the National AIDS Memorial Grove for a memorial service and AIDS quilt display. Info: www.teamsf.org.

Softball benefit

Those sexy, saucy Hustlers – the men's softball team, not escorts, I think – will have their last pre-Gay Games VII fun fundraiser Friday, July 7, from 9 p.m. to midnight at the Powerhouse bar. Guest teams include the Lone Star Grizzlies, the Knights, and the Coasters. Enjoy "no-no" dancers like the fascinatingly tattooed Joey, plus raffles, a silent auction, a "dildo toss," and more. $5. 1347 Folsom Street. (415) 552-8689.

Tsunami Polo benefit

Help send off Tsunami Polo team in style at a very special Lum Lum Lounge, Sunday, July 9 at 7 p.m., 3246 17th Street. (415) 279-1441.

Admission is $30 per person. The Lum Lum Lounge will feature cocktails, appetizers, music, and some very special guests. Don't miss this evening of new friends, smooth songs and talented polo players.

Want to contribute more? Gold medal, $500 (10 tickets and recognition); silver medal, $250 (five tickets and recognition); bronze medal $100 (two tickets and recognition) packages are available. All contributions are tax deductible.

Tickets can be purchased online via www.PayPal.com by going to the Web site and entering following e-mail address: stevenaronowitz@hotmail.com. There will be a limited amount of tickets at the door. Info: (415) 279-1441.

Read more columns at www.sportscomplex.org.






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