It was another basketball weekend at Sarah Lawrence College just outside of New York City. Teams hit the floor for their pregame warm up as the fans settled in.
But on this particular day, there was more color involved than just the customary hues of the collegiate and high school teams contesting a quadruple-header slate.
Rainbows were especially prominent.
For the third straight year, this small NCAA Division III school hosted Pride On The Court, a large show of support for inclusion in sport and a fundraiser for the Hudson Valley Chapter of GLSEN.
For the event’s founder, the mere sight of a team in rainbow colors makes a large impact. “This could change a life,” Anthony Nicodemo said. “There could be a kid sitting in the audience right now that could be seeing this saying ‘man this is awesome!’.”
Years ago Nicodemo was that person in the crowd, and in the closet. A respected high school basketball coach at Saunders Technical and Trades High School in Yonkers, N.Y., he was wrestling with his own truth, until coming out to his team and his school in 2013.
Since coming out, the coach has been a winner on the court and off at Saunders and in his current position at coach and athletic director in the neighboring Greenburgh-North Castle school district. Part of his impact has been this weekend of inclusion. The idea for Pride On The Court came in part from a special moment that happened with the first team he coached at Saunders after he came out.
“Nike had sent us a bunch of their ‘Be True’ t-shirts from that year and my team decided to wear them for the pregame without telling me,” Nicodemo recalls, “I was blown away by it.”
Since the first Pride On The Court event in 2018, Nicodemo has honed it into a growing tradition with support from Nike and an affirming athletic department at Sarah Lawrence.
A centerpiece of the event happens the Friday before the games. The competing teams, along with other area coaches, administrators and student athletes, take part in a teach-in luncheon which features LGBTQ sports notables. Past speakers include the NBA’s first player to come out as while still active, Jason Collins, and transgender duathlete, triathlete, race walker and advocate Chris Mosier.
This year, the special session was a morning panel discussion moderated by Outsports co-founder Cyd Zeigler.
Rising professional wrestling star Anthony Bowens, along with former college football player Connor Mertens and Sarah Lawrence softball standout Zoe Kim led a discussion on building inclusion by encouraging student leadership in creating a positive environment.
“Having an ear for someone to talk to as a team leader is important,” Bowens noted. “Keeping all that stuff bottled up is torture so if you can provide outlet for someone to release all that and get it off their chest, please do it.”
For Kim, who plays in the outfield for SLC and is a women’s basketball reserve, the panel was the first time she spoke publicly about her experiences coming out and being out as a student-athlete. She said the environment of encouragement and acceptance as a Sarah Lawrence Gryphon was a catalyst for her. “If I could’ve shown myself this in high school, it would have made all the difference,” Kim stated. “Coming to Sarah Lawrence and seeing this changes my world.”
Such change is considered an organizational mission to Sarah Lawrence athletic director Kristin Maile. She noted that the current climate makes efforts such as Pride On The Court even more essential. “The community has taken some step back because of some of the things that are happening nationally and politically,” Maile pointed out. “It's important that we build support at the grassroots level. It's the little things we can do by being active and being allies.”
Grassroots support showed itself on the court through two Sarah Lawrence home games, and two high school games, both involving the boys and girls teams from Nicodemo’s former school.
The Sarah Lawrence women’s team took a harsh 76-47 loss to the United States Merchant Marine Academy. The Saunders girls lost 41-22 to Pelham. The Saunders boys lost 49-33 to Briarcliff Manor.
There was one game that provided some competitive spark. The Gryphon men and the Mariners from USMMA both needed a win to stay in contention for a place in the upcoming Skyline Conference tournament. Their contest was nip-and-tuck, but the Gryphons pulled away late to win 71-58 to keep postseason hopes alive during Pride On The Court weekend. “We got the win and it was important to show the we support everybody,” Gryphon guard Chris Torres said. “It’s a special day today.”
A special day which has come long way from that first year where Nicodemo and an opposing coach were suspended by district officials just for holding the events and playing the games. Now, there’s plans to expand Pride On The Court, including a push to bring perennial powerhouse area high school teams in to play.
Those plans take a back seat to the primary goal, to provide a similar opening to the one Anthony Nicodemo found seven years ago.
“This means a lot to closeted people and to the people who are embracing their identity,” Nicodemo said, “to see that they have support from allies and from the community as a whole.”
Watch our video of the panel discussion featuring Anthony Nicodemo, Cyd Zeigler, pro wrestling star Anthony Bowens, former college football player Connor Mertens and Sarah Lawrence softball standout Zoe Kim by clicking here.