“Ask us about gay rugby.”
After arriving in Ottawa, Carl Pilon and partner Jay Smidt whipped up some T-shirts with this slogan and headed out to Pride 2007 in hopes of bringing a little San Francisco to Ottawa.
That day, they collected 50 email addresses and began their quest to start a gay-friendly rugby club in Ottawa.
Pilon was on assignment with Foreign Affairs in San Francisco when he discovered rugby. As part of a SF team and the International Gay Rugby Association and Board (IGRAB), Pilon discovered his passion for the sport.
“In 2007, my assignment [in San Francisco] ended, and I came back to Ottawa and looked for such a team in the Ottawa area and we didn’t find one,” he says.
Pilon found an online group with the same goals. They’re now trying to further promote the team, named the Ottawa Wolves, using Facebook and a new website.
“The activity was passive. I think a lot of people were waiting for somebody to take control of it,” Smidt says. So the couple grabbed the reins of the Wolves and are now hoping for a response from the people of Ottawa.
Once they gather enough players, the Wolves will likely compete against gay-friendly squads from other regions, as well as local straight rugby clubs.
One goal of the team is to avoid the exclusionary practices of competitive sports, an experience that Pilon knows all too well.
“By the time I [turned] 35, I had never really experienced team sports,” Pilon explains, recounting his frustration with hockey and baseball as an adolescent.
“When you’re in your mid-30s in North America, and you want to try a new sport, it’s hard to find one where you won’t be at a horrible disadvantage,” Pilon says. “And I wasn’t really interested in the traditional gay sports.”
“The [appeal] of rugby, is that, in North America, it’s still pretty new. So as an adult, you won’t be at such a disadvantage.”
A long-term goal for the Wolves is to send a team to the Bingham Cup — an annual tournament organized by IGRAB.
The tournament is named after Mark Bingham, a member of the Fog who was killed in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Bingham was a passenger on United Airlines flight 93, and is believed to be among the passengers that fought back against the highjackers, causing the plane to crash in Pennsylvania.
Bingham has since become an icon of the gay rugby movement.
Ultimately, the Ottawa Wolves represent another option for people who haven’t found their niche in the Ottawa’s gay sports scene — and the Wolves will welcome all candidates.
“The nice thing about rugby is there’s no specific shape or size of person,” Smidt concludes. “You need the big guys in the block, but you need the little guys to run like hell — no matter what your body type, there is a place for you on the field.”