Next week, my university, Monmouth University, hosts its first Pride Night. I never thought that I would be excited about a Pride Night. I never thought I would attend a Pride Night. I never thought that I would have planned a Pride Night. I never even thought I was gay.

That last line is a lie.

I thought about it a lot. I just silenced those thoughts and that was the end of the conversation. It wasn’t until my junior year of college that I really allowed myself to explore the idea.

I used to love seeing people, especially athletes “come out” to the public. It didn’t matter who they were, I felt so proud to be reading and listening to their stories. I had so much admiration for them.

I thought that I admired them because they were amazingly athletic, when in reality I admired them because they were being true to themselves. I wanted to be like them in more ways than one.

My university was taking part in the NCAA Diversity and Inclusion Week campaign during my junior year. My coach had this idea that she would record all of us identifying ourselves as something different. Two of my teammates were Swedish, one was Russian, one was Muslim and then there were four.

My coach started suggesting things that the rest of us could say. I didn’t like how any of the suggestions fit me. I wanted so badly to say what I was feeling inside — I’m Caroline of the women’s tennis team and I’m gay. But what I was feeling was still so confusing.

In the recording, I stated that I didn’t yet know who I was becoming and that that was OK. Luckily, this footage was never seen by anyone but my coach.

But that voice inside of me wanted to sneak out and be heard. What was I afraid of? Who was I afraid of? Maybe it was my coach, maybe it was my teammates, but really, I think that it was just me.

Caroline Mattise started to come out after revealing a crush.

I discussed this internal struggle with the professional counselor that I began seeing the year before. While I started seeing her due to tennis issues, life and personal obstacles soon came into play. She told me that the thoughts and confusion I was experiencing were beyond common.

She said that there were so many LGBTQ athletes, coaches and faculty members at my school, many who had faced the same dilemma. She then told me to let myself delve into these thoughts that I had tried to suppress for so long.

Then the spring semester came around. I grew closer with a girl that I had met my freshman year. Apparently, sitting next to her on a bus headed to the Women’s March of 2017 was a “bold move.” Regardless, she became my best friend and then the feelings followed.

In April I was driving with one of my teammates and we somehow got on the topic of crushes. She asked me if I currently had a crush on anyone, since I normally never talked about that stuff. Oh no. What do I say?

I said no and we changed the subject. But avoiding the topic hurt. So I circled back and brought up my friend, Sophia. My teammate knew who I was talking about. Then I said, “Yeah, I actually have a crush on her.” My teammate let out a quiet scream and then smiled really big.

Since coming out to those closest to me, I have felt more myself than ever.

Smiling is contagious so I found myself grinning from ear to ear. Then we continued our talk. Since coming out to those closest to me, I have felt more myself than ever. I can see it in the way I talk, the way I walk, the way I dress, and my whole identity. I found the perfect fit and I was feeling myself.

Obviously, not everything was easy, or positive. There was some resistance, but the athlete part of me used that resistance to grow stronger. Here we are, days away from my school’s first Pride Night. I feel proud to be a part of it.

I hope that there are young athletes, and individuals of all interests, who can look up to people and know that there are people like them. Because sports are for all.

Everyone just needs to find their perfect fit.

Caroline Mattise is a senior Journalism and Sports Communication student at Monmouth University. She is a captain of the women’s tennis team, the social media director for the Student Athlete Advisory Committee and the Editor-in-Chief of the student newspaper, The Outlook. She can be reached via email [email protected] or Twitter (@CMattise) or Instagram (@cmattise).

Monmouth will have Pride Night at the women’s basketball game on Feb. 27 and men’s basketball game on March 4.

Story editor: Jim Buzinski

If you are an out LGBTQ person in sports and want to tell your story, email Jim ([email protected])

Check out the men’s and women’s basketball Pride Nights at Monmouth on Feb. 27 & March 4.