Dallas gay rugby team wants you to go to Hell(fest)
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
Every tournament has its hook, but for the Dallas Diablos Rugby Football Team, that hook comes at the end of a bloody stump.
Or maybe a fairy princess or Sarah Palin impersonator. Point is, it’s Halloween.
The Diablos didn’t really expect HellFest, their one-day rugby tourney to be held Oct. 30, to be such a hit, even though they knew they had a good idea.
“Originally, what we wanted was to have two or three teams come down, play some games, hang out for the [Cedar Springs] block party,” says Will Padilla, team captain and one of the organizers of HellFest. “We said, ‘Let’s try it out and see if we can get people interested in coming.’”
The interest was there and it grew exponentially. The previous year, an attempt to attract gay rugby teams from around the country resulted in only one attendee: the Minneapolis Mayhem. But word of mouth spread, “and more people asked to come, then more and more,” says Padilla. “I eventually had to cap it because it’s only a one-day tournament and we wanted everyone to get to play.”
Right now, 160 players representing eight teams from as many cities as far away as Atlanta are set to descend on Dallas for what looks to be one of the bigger gay rugby matches going.
“Austin, Houston and Dallas used to compete for a trophy called the Texas Pride Cup,” says Diablos co-founder and president A.J. Tello. But the Houston and Austin teams folded in recent years. “We haven’t had anything like that for a while, other than in Seattle, which has several teams in the area, and Bingham Cup every other year. We’re trying to get that back with an invitational with a national reach.”
“What I’ve found is that the majority of people on these teams have never been to Dallas,” adds Padilla. “Lots of them want to see what nightlife is like in Dallas.”
It’s an astonishing sense of camaraderie for a sport known for its aggressive play. But Padilla says rugby is one of the few sports where teams have no problem socializing with each other after the match is over.
“You play hard to party hard. Everybody who comes out is hyper-competitive and wants to win, but afterwards, we’re here to promote the game. You leave the anger on the pitch. After, you talk war stories and live it up with the guys. A lot of sports you don’t get a lot of commingling of teams; that’s not the case with rugby — not all.”
The openness is also true of the membership. “All of the teams are part of the IGRAB, the gay rugby union, and each is classified as openly diverse, but none of them are strictly gay,” Padilla says.
“We’re all inclusive. It’s not about who’s gay or straight — unless you want to date,” says Tello, who notes the Diablos have several straight players.
Still, that doesn’t mean there’s no difference between a gay rugby team and a straight one.
“We play other [non-gay] rugby clubs. After games, we go to the straight bars and the straight guys come to the Eagle,” Tello says. “We bring a little kick to it: We ask one of the members from the other team to get on the St Andrews cross, we get some paddles out and a whip and ask one of their girlfriends or wives to whip them. They have a ball and laugh.”
The tournament is intended to allow the players to enjoy a competitive round-robin of rugby, but there’s more motivation behind it. The Diablos — both the men’s and women’s teams — want to spread their passion for the game throughout the community. (Although the women’s team is not playing, they have been instrumental in planning the tourney and will be active running it on game day.)
“I’ll judge its success by how well the teams receive the tournament, but we also wanna pull people in the community here, to come out to watch a tournament,” says Padilla. “There’s been nothing like this for rugby in Dallas.”
Those who don’t play are still welcome to come watch or even buy a “participant package” including tote bag and T-shirt, and come by the mixers or meet up with them during the block party.
Whether HellFest continues next year may also depend on the satisfaction of their sponsors, though Padilla says many were enthusiastic about helping out.
“It hasn’t been very hard — we’re promoting deeply within the community,” he says. “The host hotel is Hawthorne Suites and they gave us a good rate and helped us acquire shuttles to go to the venues. The Dallas Eagle is hosting our happy hour after the tournament and MGD64 is donating beer.”
That sounds like a sporting event all ghouls and boils can enjoy.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 22, 2010