Sock It To Me – Austin Gold Stars

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The Austin Gold Stars, the city’s only gay soccer team, prepare to kick off their spring season with a revitalized enthusiasm and a drive to become the No. 1 team in the city and compete for gold at this summer’s Gay Games.

Austin Gold Stars

Scott Rhode of Austin Gold Stars is nothing if not determined. When, in 2002, the government major decided he wanted to get involved in local politics and tried to get on the ballot in Williamson County as an independent, he scoured every neighborhood he could in order to get enough signatures to get his name on the ballot. Later, when many of the signatures were deemed invalid, Rhode didn’t abandon his efforts. Instead, he learned how to become more effective and efficient in campaigning, sought the advice of Round Rock Council members, returned to area neighborhoods to bolster support, and in 2003, won a seat of his own on the Round Rock City Council. Though his victory was a narrow one – Rhode received only eight more votes than his nearest competitor – he held his Council post for six years, and was successful in his mission to help diversify Round Rock ’s economic base.

Likewise, when Rhode  – who had been married for more than 10 years with two sons – started becoming more honest with himself about his sexuality, he did not run or hide from the difficult situation of coming out to his wife. Instead, he had a challenging yet heartfelt discussion with her, and salvaged a dear relationship with both her and their children. Though the two divorced, they are still good friends to this day.

1-3For Rhode, a longtime financial services employee at Dell and a former Army National Guard counter intelligence analyst, honesty and drive are of paramount importance in life, and he rarely backs down from a challenge. Perhaps that’s why, at the age of 35, having not played outdoor soccer since he was 19, Rhode joined the Austin Gold Stars soccer club.

Austin’s only gay soccer team, the Gold Stars were founded four seasons ago and compete in the Austin Men’s Soccer Association League. Thirty members strong, the Gold Stars are comprised of players from all walks of life and backgrounds (they even have a straight member or two) who share a passion for the sport. Rhode, who discovered the Gold Stars through a friend, actually has much soccer experience: he played in high school, got a soccer scholarship to Missouri Valley College before opting for a government degree from the University of Texas, and even recently played in a soccer tournament in Washington, D.C., as part of the International Gay & Lesbian Football Association. Despite his familiarity with the sport, he admits joining the Gold Stars, as a forward when in his mid-30s was somewhat of an intimidating actuality. But, in true Scott Rhode form, he faced the challenge head on, made a few mistakes and has emerged a better player for his efforts.

“Our first season, we were really bad,” Rhode admits with a laugh. “But we hired a coach, focused more on practicing the elements that needed work, and we’re getting progressively better. The ultimate goal is to have multiple teams in multiple divisions, as well as have the Gold Stars continue to get even better. We’d love to be undefeated next season.”

The Austin Gold Stars play two seasons a year, in the spring and fall, and practice at least twice a week, with games on Sundays. It’s an arduous schedule, but one most of the players embrace wholeheartedly. In fact, the guys are a fairly tight-knit group, maintaining a Gold Stars website (www.AustinGoldStars.com), and Facebook and Myspace pages, conducting discussions about how to better the team and encouraging each other to perform better on the field. Rhode says much of the allure of the Gold Stars comes from the team’s fellowship and camaraderie, and he confesses that throughout the course of his three seasons with the Austin Gold Stars, the team has come to mean much more to him than a simple extracurricular activity.

“I love that being part of this team helps keep me active, but this is a great group of guys to be on a team with,” he says. “We really work well together.”

While Rhode acknowledges the team faces some challenges (growing pains and defining what exactly the team should be as it grows, for example), he says he and his teammates are prepared to overcome whatever hurdles they may face, all in the name of love for the sport and the Gold Stars.

Never one to back away from an ambitious venture, Rhode is currently leading the charge to get the Gold Stars in to the 2010 Gay Games, an international competitive event (not dissimilar to the Olympics) fostering support of gay athletes. Held every four years, this summer’s Gay Games will be hosted by the city of Cologne, known to many as the gay and lesbian capital of Germany. Some 40 to 50 soccer teams from throughout the world will compete for the gold, silver and bronze medals, and Rhode and his teammates hope the Austin Gold Stars will be among them.

“I would really love to get our guys there,” Rhode says. “It would be such an accomplishment for the Gold Stars to be able to be at the Gay Games and show the rest of the world what we’ve got!”

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