Recipients

Alan Cook, 2018


Scholarship recipient Alan Cook, foreground, along with his friend and teammate Nick Spina.

Boston’s FLAG Flag Football League is very proud to award its Marc E. Lewis Youth Scholarship to Alan Cook from Methuen High School. Alan will receive $5,000 to begin his first year in the fall as an honors student studying engineering at UMass Lowell.

Throughout high school, Alan has established himself as a leader and role model. Elected captain by his peers on his current spring track team, Alan has also captained his cross-country team, ran winter track, and played both junior varsity and varsity soccer. He has been involved in his school’s Red Cross committee, Relay for Life committee, and has acted, built sets, and volunteered with the Acting Out Theater Company. He has also participated in four Pride Parades, where he has been seen both juggling and riding a unicycle!

Though Alan is the sixth person to be awarded this annual scholarship, he is the first who identifies as a straight ally. Alan sites two formative experiences from early in his life as being the catalysts for his advocacy on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community. Having a transgender older brother who began to transition when Alan was in grammar school “really opened my eyes to the inequality that was happening in our community,” Cook explains. “I have been by my brother’s side throughout his transition, and I will stand by him until I die.” He also recalls how the AIDS-related death of his uncle’s boyfriend opened his eyes to intolerance. “When his boyfriend died of AIDS, the boyfriend’s family blamed my uncle and did not let him go to the funeral.” These early experiences, recognizing that his big brother was simply “born into the wrong body,” and how destructive homophobia and shame can be, have led Alan to say, “My whole life has been about trying to advocate for the LGBTQ community.”

Alan recalls vividly the first time he needed to address homophobic language and the ubiquitous phrase, “You’re so gay,” that poisons too many of our high schools. One day, when hearing the phrase thrown around during a track meet, Alan “felt it was my place to step up and use it as a teaching moment.” Alan told his team about his transgender older brother, Brian, recipient of the initial FLAG Flag Football League scholarship. He explained how Brian had played on their high school’s football team and how his teammates stood up for him on and off the field. He also “told the guys that I was sick of hearing people call each other gay.” As he explains, “Everyone just nodded and went about their business, so I thought nothing more of it.”

What Alan did not realize was just how meaningful that moment was for one of his teammates. Fellow runner Nick Spina listened carefully to Alan’s words. “Alan started talking about his transgender brother and how he looked up to him because he wasn’t afraid to be himself.” Though they had been friends since freshman year, Nick had never told Alan, nor anyone else, that he was gay. “I was actually surprised at how loving Alan was and accepting about the topic, especially since it was around a bunch of teammates who use the word ‘gay’ to make fun of people. I always assumed that everyone would judge me because I wasn’t like them, but Alan gave me hope that maybe one day I could fit into society like his brother does.”

When, this past fall, Nick was “tired of hiding my secret” and “needed to tell at least one person so I could get it off my chest,” Alan was the obvious choice. Even though he was “confident that he would understand,” Nick did not anticipate just how supportive Alan would be and how valuable it was to have such a strong ally and friend. “The first thing he did was hug me and tell me how proud he was that I told him. For the next few weeks, I talked to Alan almost every day about how I was feeling and how I wanted to tell more people. He was my support system as I started to tell more of my friends and family. He kept on encouraging me to not be afraid to be myself.” In recommending Alan for the scholarship, Nick wrote, “He supported me when I felt I was all alone, and he taught me to love myself for who I am. He is an amazing person and an even better friend. I’m so glad that I feel confident in myself now, and Alan is the main reason for that.”

Alan’s leadership and Nick’s openness are a perfect example of how raising awareness and being true to oneself and those you love can change a culture. Alan shrugs off the compliment and says simply of his teammates and their change of language, “Once they found out about my brother and Nick, they have stopped.” While Alan is “glad I was able to help Nick through his coming out process,” he hopes that “someday soon no one will have to think twice about telling people their sexual identity. It should not even be an issue in the first place, especially in sports.”


Chris Morse, 2017

The FLAG Flag Football League is very proud to award its fifth-annual $2,500 youth scholarship to Chris Morse from Lexington High School.

Chris is an openly gay swimmer who captained his team to a Middlesex League championship while being named a League All-Star and a sectional and state championship qualifier in the process. He is also an accomplished musician who has played first seat tenor saxophone in his school’s jazz ensemble, jazz combo, and wind ensembles, winning numerous competitions on the state and national levels, including the Mingus Festival, Berklee Jazz Festival, UMass Jazz Festival, and the Massachusetts Instrumental and Choral Conductors Association Festival.

Like many LGBTQ+ youth, Chris did not begin his athletic career at Lexington as an openly gay student. “I spent the first three years on my high school swim team in the closet,” Chris explains, fearing that “sharing this part of me would isolate me from others who would be uncomfortable around me in the locker rooms.” With the confidence that comes from being selected as the captain of his team, and knowing that he had earned the respect of his fellow swimmers, Chris was determined to come out and be a role-model for other students. “After three years spent feeling like I was walking on glass, I was determined in my final year to make sure that other teammates would not have to feel the same way.”

Part of Chris’s self-assurance came from his initiative as a junior, when he, along with a fellow student and school counselor, created Navigating Identity, a group for closeted, questioning, and newly out young men who did not feel that the existing systems of support were enough. While there was a Gay-Straight Alliance at school, Chris felt strongly that there was a need for these male students to have a confidential space for open conversations in which they would not be in the minority. Chris reflected, “From these [weekly] meetings, I gained a sense of community and acceptance that I had never felt before.” This gave Chris the confidence to begin speaking openly about his sexuality to students at the middle and high school, to 9th grade health classes, and at faculty trainings.

Once he came out, Chris soon realized the power that comes from living authentically and the impact it can have on others. He tells the story of his team’s celebrating a recent victory at a local pizza restaurant, as he began to tell a friend “the most recent updates in a long chronicle of confusing interactions with a boy I liked.” This one-on-one conversation soon became the group discussion. “Before I knew it,” Chris shared, “I had everybody’s attention and was receiving boy advice from a group of 20 guys on the swim team. This was strange and unfamiliar to me, but it felt great to be so open.”

Far more important to Chris than any of the advice he received, or how good it made him feel to be able to communicate so openly, is the affect his coming and being out has had on others and the culture of his team. Soon after the celebration at the restaurant, Chris was approached by a younger swimmer who shared that he, too, was gay and had his own “boy problems.” As a result of Chris’s example, he now felt comfortable speaking openly with the other members of his team who embraced and supported him as they had Chris.

As Chris’s school counselor with whom he began Navigating Identity wrote, “Chris’s kindness and understanding approach have helped smooth the pathway for students who face similar challenges to the ones that he experienced just a few short years ago.” He concluded, “The impact he has made is immeasurable.” We, at FLAG Flag Football agree, and are very proud to support the education of this most-deserving young man.


Phil Batler, 2016

PhilBatler

Boston’s FLAG Flag Football League is honored to award its fourth-annual $2,500 youth scholarship to Phil Batler from Newton South High School.

Phil is one of the fastest high school sprinters in the country, having won the 300 meter dash at both the Dual County League and Massachusetts Division I State Championships. During the summer of 2013, Phil won the New England Junior Olympic title in the 100m dash. At the New England Championships his junior year, Phil placed second and qualified for nationals. As a senior, Phil led his team to their first league title in three years. During his four years running varsity indoor and outdoor track in Newton, Phil set school records at five different distances

Phil came out as an openly gay student during his junior year. “I stopped trying to blend into the straight crowd and wanted people to see that athleticism and sexuality are unrelated,” he said. “I made my sexuality unapologetically apparent in the hopes that just one person on the team looked up to me as an athletic role model who is proud of their differences.” To do this, Phil began to compete wearing a pride rainbow-patterned sweatband “to show that my queer identity was present with me in the hyper-masculine world of sports.” He admits to still being nervous at times when he wears it, unsure of how people will respond and what they’ll think of him, “but every time I cross the finish line in first, pumping my fist with a pride flag, I know I’ve made the right choice.”

Off the track, Phil has taken numerous initiatives to make sports at Newton South safer for and more inclusive of LGBT students. Using his platform as president of his school’s GSA (Gender and Sexuality Awareness Club, which he wanted changed from Gay/Straight Alliance in order to be more inclusive), Phil addressed 130 fellow students, speaking about his own experiences as an openly gay athlete and also about stereotypes faced by members of the LGBT community. In order to combat the homophobic bullying in the locker room, Phil worked with his GSA and school newspaper to encourage queer athletes to share their stories in the paper, as he did with his own. “During my time at South,” he reflects, “I have definitely noticed a shift in locker room slang.”

Phil’s school counselor, James Medeiros, describes these efforts with the school newspaper as “one of [Phil’s] most outstanding examples of making the community safer for LGBTQ student athletes. In his own quiet, confident way, Phil teaches us all to accept ourselves for who we are and to always remain positive. He is an outstanding role model for all students, no matter why they are.” Medeiros explains that Phil “goes about his business without a lot of fanfare. Quietly confident about his many achievements, he possesses an enviable and careful work ethic that has enabled him to develop a profound capacity for knowledge, observation, and leadership.”

Bob Parlin, a Newton South history and social science teacher who co-founded his school’s GSA in 1991, describes Phil as “a superb activist,” and “one of the most eager student GSA leaders we have ever had.” He explains that “whether he is putting together a plan of action for the GSA to talk with middle school students about LGBT issues or fighting for a gender-neutral bathroom for our transgender students, Phil has been the leader who oversaw all of the GSA’s initiatives of the past year.” In addition to being the GSA advisor, Parlin has taught Phil in both his freshman and senior years and describes him as a “curious, diligent, and independent student who is capable of tremendous insight. His outstanding achievement in the class speaks volumes to what he is capable of as a bright scholar, a dedicated citizen, and an advocate for social justice.”

Phil speaks powerfully about the importance of being out and living authentically. “You can lecture people for hours about ending homophobia, but it is the presence of a queer person, on the team and in the locker room, that truly encourages acceptance. I hope that because of my actions there is an athlete somewhere inspired by my success and pride to be comfortable with their own identity.”

Phil plans to attend Brown University in the fall and major in Gender and Sexuality with hopes of becoming a civil rights attorney. All of us in FLAG Flag Football are thrilled to support the education of such an outstanding young man.

 


Joseph Piemonte, 2015

JPiemonte

Boston’s FLAG (Friends, Lesbians and Gays) Flag Football League is thrilled to award its third-annual $2,500 youth scholarship to Joseph Piemonte from East Longmeadow (MA) High School.

Joe is an openly gay student-athlete, perhaps the first to participate on his school’s cross country, swim, and track and field teams. He faced his share of obstacles on the way to becoming captain of his swim team and making it to States each of the last three years, including one indelible incident shortly after he came out his freshman year. As he walked onstage during his school’s pep rally, in front of his entire school community, two classmates yelled out, “Faggot!” Joe describes the experience as the worst in his life, but he refused to let that stop him from being an openly gay student and athlete. Throughout his years at East Longmeadow, Joe encouraged other LGBT students to join sports teams, and he is no longer the only openly gay athlete at his school. As Joe says, “I had the courage to join a sports team and be proud of who I was, showing other students it was okay to be yourself and that there was no reason to be scared.”

Recognizing that change needed to occur at his school, Joe created a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) during his sophomore year and has been president ever since. Under his leadership, the GSA has grown to over 50 members, held a Parent Information Night, and students have observed the Day of Silence, a Compliment Day, Anti-Bullying Week, and No Name-Calling Week. The GSA marched in the Pride parade in Northampton, and the GSA created a video to explain gender identity to the East Longmeadow student body. Additionally, Joe presented a workshop at the GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network) Massachusetts conference titled Running a Successful GSA. His GSA advisor, Jennifer Faulkner, credits Joe with personally convincing more than 90% of the school’s faculty to put up “Safe Space” stickers in their classrooms and getting an impressive number of local businesses to contribute to the GSA’s fundraising efforts.

According to his principal, Dr. Gina Flanagan, “Joseph was instrumental in the development and leadership of our school’s Gay Straight Alliance. This organization has been instrumental in helping us create a safe and positive school environment for all students. Joseph has initiated many activities that have brought awareness to a wide variety of LGBTQ issues. As a result, our school is much more accepting and supportive of our LGBTQ students.” She goes on to praise him for his leadership in coordinating several school-wide initiatives and for his willingness to always step forward to serve his school community.

The achievement of which Joe is most proud is a professional development presentation he made this year for the teachers and staff at his school. He taught his teachers how to handle anti-gay name-calling and include LGBT voices in their classrooms and curricula.

Joe explains that while he has not yet determined where he will be attending college this fall, his goal for the future is “to help LGBT people, especially teens. I would like to come into schools and create a better environment for students to come to learn. I believe we can create a world where LGBT students will want to go to school, and play sports, because they feel accepted and comfortable in their own skin. In order to create this world, we must start one step at a time.”

Joseph Piemonte is a leader and role model who has dedicated himself to making high school sports, and high school itself, safer for and more inclusive of LGBTQ youth. We honor him with this award and all of the attributes that led his GSA advisor and Latin teacher to say he “is one of the most amazing young people I have had the pleasure of working with in 13 years of teaching.” She went on to say, “I have personally witnessed other LGBT students coming to him for support, which he gives unstintingly…The legacy he’s left for our school is truly amazing, and I know generations of students will have cause to be grateful to his efforts to make our school more accepting.”

 


Elizabeth Foley, 2014

The FLAG Flag Football League is very proud to present our second-annual scholarship to Elizabeth Foley. A senior at Quincy High School, Elizabeth has accumulated a long list of academic honors, achievements, and extra-curricular activities. A member of the National Honor Society, Science National Honor Society, Massachusetts State History Bowl team, Relay for Life high school team co-captain, Boston Youth Environmental Network Youth Environmental Leadership Team Member, and Rotary Youth Leadership Award recipient, Elizabeth has a distinguished high school career and a strong commitment to her community. Her commitment to service is evident by her many volunteer hours for the American Cancer Society, Quincy Youth Soccer TOPS program and the Summer Camp Program at the YMCA.

Elizabeth is the epitome of what this scholarship recipient should be. As an openly LGBT student athlete, voted by her peers to captain both her high school soccer and softball teams, Elizabeth is a role model and leader who has made sports safer for and more inclusive of LGBTQ student athletes. She has been there for friends and teammates who have struggles with their own identities, and she has helped homophobic friends and classmates realize that the stereotypes they’ve held and ignorant comments they’ve made about the LBGTQ community are anything but true. As Elizabeth wrote, “We must stand for acceptance and appreciation of the differences of others. We must take pride in being ourselves. In doing so, we’ll move towards a bright and fearless future where everyone can compete with pride in their hearts. That future is one that I will do anything in my power to strive towards for as long as I am a coach, as long as I am an athlete, and for as long as I am a human being.” In college, Elizabeth plans to major in Secondary Education and English so that she can become a high school English teacher. How fortunate her future students will be! The FLAG Flag Football League is honored to present this scholarship to such a deserving young woman.

 


Brian Cook, 2013

Boston’s FLAG (Friends, Lesbians and Gays) Flag Football League was thrilled to award its first-ever $2,500 youth scholarship this spring to Brian Cook from Methuen (MA) High School. The scholarship was established to recognize and honor a student who has made high school and/or community sports programs safer for and more inclusive of LGBTQ student-athletes, as either a role model or ally. In line with the mission of our organization, students of all athletic skill levels, contributions, and achievement were encouraged to apply. Our mission is to foster and augment the self-respect of members of the LGBTQ community through the positive enjoyment of flag football and other community activities. Through education and the promotion of sport, we strive to refute traditional stereotypes against members of the LGBTQ community, increase diversity and tolerance within athletics, and engender respect and understanding within the larger community.

The over 300 men and women who play with us during the spring and fall are incredibly honored to present our first scholarship to Brian. A senior at Methuen High School, Brian has played football as an offensive lineman for the past three years. He has also been a member of his track team as a shot putter for all four years and played baseball for two seasons.  Brian’s journey has, as he readily admits, not always been easy. As a student who transitioned from FTM at the age of nine, he has faced his share of challenges along the way.  Many “experts” advised his parents to switch Brian’s school in order to make his transition easier. Brian, however, enjoyed his school, had a strong group of friends, and knew that he should not need to leave the people and community he knew and loved in order to be his authentic self. By his sophomore year, Brian knew that he wanted to play football. Though he didn’t know of any other openly FTM high school students who attempt to play such a male-dominated sport, Brian would not let that deter him. If he did not have any role models himself, he knew that he could become a role model to others to follow. When he’s not on the athletic fields, Brian speaks publicly with Dr. Norman Spack about transgender medical care and transgender rights, participates in the Acting Out Theater Company in Lawrence, and speaks regularly for Greater Boston PFLAG along with his mom.

Brian is not just a role model, he is a trailblazer and inspiration. We honor his courage, his leadership, his passion, his sportsmanship, and all of the attributes that led his athletic director to say that Brian “truly epitomizes what we all want in a high school student athlete.” Most importantly, we honor Brian for simply being himself.