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Denver flag football provides community and competition


On a warm April night, his Mile High Club soccer teammates brawled at Valverde Park. They practiced running some of their plays while other teammates cheered from the sidelines.

The team competes in the Women’s+ League – including women, trans and non-binary – of the National LGBT Soccer League. Athletes are training for the annual Gay Bowl tournament to be held in Austin this fall. The Mile High Club has an 11-year winning streak to maintain.

When this streak began, the Gay Bowl hosted few women’s teams, and the Mile High Club could barely fill its roster. In recent years, 32 teams have competed in the tournament, and Denver has had to cut potential players.

He taught football It has grown as a sport In recent years it has emerged as a safer alternative to regular football for boys, as an entry point into the typically male-dominated sport for girls, and as a space for the LGBTQ+ community. Last month, after a popular two-year pilot program in local high schools, Colorado became the 11th state to make girls flag soccer a sport. Officially licensed sports. At the professional level, football will become the newest sport to be played Joining the Olympic Games in 2028.

Denver flag football provides community and competition
Nash Albrecht goes to flags for Maddie Krueger as the Mile High Club, a National Gay Flag Football League team, practices at Valverde Park. May 22, 2024.
Kevin J. Beatty/Denverett

One such soccer hopeful is Mile High midfielder Lacy Appel, who recently joined the U.S. National Team and hopes to travel to Finland to represent the United States this summer.

Growing up in Wisconsin, football was always Abel’s favorite sport, but there were no opportunities to play it competitively.

“Of course, we were always playing soccer in the backyard with the kids in the neighborhood,” she said.

Denver flag football provides community and competition
Lacy Appel players of the Mile High Club, a National Gay Football League team, during training at Valverde Park. May 22, 2024.
Kevin J. Beatty/Denverett

Abel found soccer when she moved to Denver a few years ago, where she played tackle before joining the Denver Gay and Lesbian Football League. She joined the Mile High Club, one of the league’s travel arms, where she honed her skills as a quarterback until she was given the opportunity to try out for American football earlier this year.

“It was unbelievable,” Abel said of making Team USA. “That was probably one of the most exciting phone calls I’ve made in a long time.”

While we are four years away from 2028, Appel said the addition of flag football to the Olympics has created some new goals now that she has joined the U.S. team.

Denver flag football provides community and competition
Nash Albrecht tries to thwart Maddie Kruger’s catch while the Mile High Club, a National Gay Flag Football League team, practices at Valverde Park. May 22, 2024.
Kevin J. Beatty/Denverett

Until then, in addition to playing for the Mile High Club and USA Football (and her full-time job as a physical therapist), Appel is an assistant football coach at Arvada West High School. The school was one of three schools that participated in the flag football pilot program over the past two years, and the team that won the girls flag football state championship that year.

“Watching them win the state title was probably as exciting as some of the championships I’ve ever won, if not more exciting,” Appel said. “It was amazing to see them go from being some girls who had never played soccer before to going ahead and winning a state title.”

Appel said it’s exciting to see opportunities for girls playing flag football that she never had before.

Some girls at Arvada West High School have received offers to play in college, where the sport is also growing among women.

Saylor Swanson, a midfielder on the team, grew up playing soccer with her father and brothers in her backyard. She says getting an offer to play a sport in college was a lifelong dream of hers, but she always assumed it would be to do a sport like diving or gymnastics, which she loves, but doesn’t give her the same feeling as community science. Football does.

Denver flag football provides community and competition
Arvada West High School football players Lynley McReynolds (left to right), Alex Antell, Sarah Walker, Saylor Swanson and Alyssa Alberts. April 25, 2024.
Molly Cruz/CPR News

“It’s one [sport] “Which I enjoy a lot and want to try to continue that in my future,” Swanson said. “I think it’s a new sport, it provides a new opportunity for a group of girls, it opens up a bunch of things. People have always thought football was a men’s sport, but it’s not anymore.

Alex Antill, a freshman on the team, said that like Swanson, she also developed an interest in soccer after playing with her father and brothers. For her, she says the best part of last season was seeing her father’s reaction to her and her teammates winning the state championship.

“Once we won, I definitely looked up to my dad just because it was his idea for me to play football,” the freshman said. “He was really cool. ‘Oh, I always wanted a state champion football player, and I never thought it would be my daughter,'” he said after we won state.

Denver flag football provides community and competition
Danny Ordway and dog Miles stand on the sidelines as Mile High Club, a National Gay Football League team, practices at Valverde Park. May 22, 2024.
Kevin J. Beatty/Denverett

At the adult level in Denver, many Mile High Club players came to point to soccer not just for the sport but for the sense of camaraderie.

“I was looking for more friends in the LGBTQ community,” Mile High Club member Frankie Carrera said. “This community is so tight-knit, everyone is so positive, always lifting each other up, making each other better, always helping each other out, and it’s fun to play and get out there.”

Denver flag football provides community and competition
Members of the Mile High Club, a national gay soccer team, put their hands together after training at Valverde Park. May 22, 2024.
Kevin J. Beatty/Denverett

Every Denverite interviewed at Mile High Club practice emphasized the team’s community.

Kelly Wallner teaches middle school physical education and coaches soccer. I found the sport after playing basketball in college.

“I really like being physical, so just being able to get out here and block and push people is great for me,” she said.

But the atmosphere is a big part of it, especially after moving to a new city.

“When I first moved here, to be able to find a team, and find a particularly safe place where the majority of our team is part of the LGBTQ community, it’s a really safe place,” Wallner said.

Denver flag football provides community and competition
Olivia Grabmeyer (left to right) runs with the ball as Shannon Kelly chases Lacey Appel during Mile High FC practice at Valverde Park. May 22, 2024.
Kevin J. Beatty/Denverett

LP Picard helps raise funds for the team by organizing raffle shows in which players participate. She is an associate professor at the University of Denver, where her academic research includes the rhetoric of drag.

“There’s something really special about making friends through these competitive experiences, because winning together feels absolutely incredible because you’re doing it with your favorite people,” Pickard said. “And when things aren’t going well, your friends are there to pick you up.”

As the sport grows, a former Mile High club captain is raising the profile of football at a national level.

Jodi Turner joined the team in 2012, a few years after moving to Denver from Louisiana. She was captain of the Mile High Club until last year, and now works as the tournament director for the National Gay Football League in addition to her full-time job in IT for the Adams County School District.

Denver flag football provides community and competition
Jodi Turner watches from the sidelines as Mile High Club, a National Gay Flag Football League team, practices at Valverde Park. May 22, 2024.
Kevin J. Beatty/Denverett

The National Gay Football League has support from the NFL, and a few years ago, Turner announced a draft pick. Locally, the Denver Broncos have helped fund girls’ soccer at the high school level.

“We’ve been told our whole lives that football is a man’s sport,” Turner said. “It’s very encouraging and amazing to see [women’s sports] Growing, and seeing the attention that you’re getting, not just on the national stage, but on the global stage.

Turner’s favorite moment of her playing career came when she won her first Gay Bowl in 2013. The second is close by: when she met her wife, who played on the team, in 2019. The two are expecting a child this summer.

“For a long time I had difficulty finding a partner who would support this aspect of my life,” Turner said.

She said the community that comes with the Denver Gay Lesbian Flag Football League sets the program apart.

“For me, being an athlete is one thing, but feeling accepted, that you can live your authentic self and play sports and compete at a very high level, it all starts with the community piece,” Turner said. “Everyone should and deserves a place where they can play where they feel they belong.”



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