By Tamara Juarez , November 2017 Issue.
After sharing a field for three years, Arizona’s only LGBTQ rugby team, the Phoenix Storm Rugby Football Club, will be ending its partnership with the Camelback Rugby Club in an effort to reestablish itself as its own inclusive and diverse sport team.
The change comes before the start of the 2017-2018 season and will not impact the team’s ability to compete in tournaments. In fact, the team is confident that the new changes will boost morale and increase its presence within the LGBTQ community.
“The changes that we’re making will have a great impact on the team,” said Marcel Chisum, Phoenix Storm captain. “Previously, when we were combined with our sister team, Camelback, most of our games were played under the Camelback name. Now, with our separation, Phoenix Storm games will be played by the Phoenix Storm. We’ll have bigger representation out in the community and be recognized as an all-inclusive male team.”
Becoming independent and playing games under its own name, Chisum hopes, will help the Storm build a stronger connection between the team and the LGBTQ community, which makes up a majority of their member and fan demographic.
“Over the past few seasons, we sort of lost our identity, he said, “but we want to change that and let people know that Phoenix Storm is here, and we welcome all to come play with us, whether straight or gay.”
The team’s partnership with the Camelback Rugby Club was originally formed to help the Storm compete in more games. As an associate-level team, the Storm would be matched against other fledgling teams, which are prone to many cancellations.
“We would have players come to practice seven out of the eight months out of the year and only get to play a few games,” said Phoenix Storm coach Steve Enteman, “It just defeated the purpose of coming to play the sport. When we joined Camelback, that number jumped to 10 to 12 opportunities out of the year to play matches.”
With amateur sports, Enteman explained, there is a competitive side and developmental side. Under the partnership, the Storm would serve as the developmental side and Camelback would be the more challenging side. The teams would often exchange players to fill each side.
With the new changes, Storm players will still have the liberty of choosing to play with the Camelback Rugby Club if they wish to improve their skill by playing against more experienced players.
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Those who remain with the Storm will also get the opportunity to improve during practice and a guaranteed number of games.
During the summer, Enteman and Phoenix Storm president Stephen Potter, met with the president of Arizona Rugby Union, and requested to have guaranteed play throughout the season. The union accepted their request and has committed to prioritizing and scheduling matches for the Storm.
Enteman, who is entering his third year as coach and has been a Storm member for almost 10 years, said that one of the most rewarding aspects about being part of a LGBTQ team is feeling a sense of belonging, especially now that the team is independent.
“Rugby is the most inclusive sport I have ever seen,” he said. “… I have played with straight teams for the majority of my life and have never felt comfortable coming out, so having that separate identity again kind of gives courage to individuals who are still playing these sports closeted. It lets them think ‘Hey, if these guys can do it, so can I.’ We represent that within Arizona.”
Since its inception back in 2004, the Phoenix Storm has strived to provide LGBTQ members a safe and inclusive environment where they can play rugby and meet other people who share the a passion for the sport. And, moving forward, the team hopes to increase its community outreach efforts by participating in more LGBTQ events and partnering with local charities and nonprofits.
Phoenix Storm rookie Kalen Hamlett said he’s looking forward to being a member of an inclusive group built on camaraderie.
“I’ve never been part of an LGBTQ team before,” he said. “I feel like being part of a team where everyone has a similar background, you get better support and get a better chance of bonding and creating friendships. It’s something that is very important to me.”
Engaging with their main demographics will not only help the Storm increase their team’s visibility within the LGBTQ community, Enteman said, but also allow their players to create life-long friendships and expand their support network.
The Phoenix Storm Rugby Football Club is looking kick off this new chapter by competing in its first tournament at the beginning of December, and is on track to starting the new season with between 18 and 20 members, but aims to increase that number to about 30.
For more information about upcoming matches, fundraisers or application instructions, visit phoenixstorm.org.