Stevenson wrestler Dylan Geick: ‘I am not alone’ as a gay high school athlete

 

Last May, Dylan Geick was having lunch with some friends at Stevenson when the talk turned to the news that a fellow student had just come out as gay.

Track and cross-country runner Konrad Eiring, now a sophomore competing at Illinois, also came out as a junior at Barrington in 2014.

He and Geick are part of a small but growing number of out athletes at the high school and college levels. They are the new face of LGBT sports as the number of out athletes in the major North American male pro leagues has dwindled to one: Robbie Rogers of Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles Galaxy.

Geick isn’t exactly sure when he first realized his sexual orientation. But he also can’t recall not feeling comfortable with the idea of being gay.

“You always kind of know,” he said. “But I didn’t start taking it seriously till high school. Probably by sophomore year, I knew and had come to terms with it by junior year.”

That was also when the train of events that led to the lunch-table conversation got rolling.

One night, Geick was in his kitchen when his sister was watching an Instagram video. “She was going, ‘This kid is so amazing at singing,'” Geick said. “I very absentmindedly said, ‘Who is that?'”

It was Grant Mower, another Stevenson student in the same grade whom Geick had never met.

“She said, ‘Too bad, he’s probably gay,'” Geick recalled. “My ear kind of perked up like, ‘Oh really?'”

Geick messaged Mower, the two became friends, and they started dating. That got Geick to thinking about how he wanted to live his life.

“Once I accepted myself — which was the hardest piece — I knew I was going to come out at some point,” he said. “But meeting Grant and then starting a relationship with him, it definitely gave me a reason to.

“I really didn’t like feeling like I was hiding something, especially a relationship that was important to me.”

It was just a matter of time before he would come out. But how would it be received beyond his family and immediate friends?

“The only thing kind of still holding me back was being nervous about the (reaction of the) wrestling team,” Geick said.

As it turned out, there was no cause for concern.

The news traveled fast. The next class period after lunch, Geick got a text from teammate Nikita Nepomnyashchiy.

“I was writing out this long, frenzied text: ‘Don’t worry, nothing changes, I’m still the same’ or whatever,” Geick recalled.

But before Geick could hit the “send” button, Nepomnyashchiy sent another text, cracking a joke to ease the tension and show that, indeed, nothing had changed.

Nepomnyashchiy’s message was simple: “We’re still just as tight as we ever were. It doesn’t matter, your sexual orientation. Your friends, we’re still there for you.”

Like Geick, Nepomnyashchiy has had an interesting journey, emigrating from Russia to the United States when he was in sixth grade.

“There, people aren’t as accepting, I guess,” Nepomnyashchiy said. “Once I came here, I never had a problem with gay people. But it was hard to imagine one of my best friends being gay.”

What is equally hard to figure, he said, is why anyone would care about his friend’s orientation.

“In the 21st century, people are so open with each other,” Nepomnyashchiy said. “We are finally at that point where everyone is so accepting.”

Geick’s orientation also was a nonissue for Stevenson coach Shane Cook.

“He was surprised but said it didn’t matter to him,” Geick said. “Everything stayed the same. We were still going to do the same stuff, and he was going to be pushing me to accomplish the same things.”

The low-key reaction to Geick’s announcement was good news for Dan Lebowitz, executive director of the Center for the Study of Sport and Society at Boston’s Northeastern University.

“We are in the midst of a social evolution,” Lebowitz said. “Sports is compartmentalized from all that. When you think about (former NBA player) Jason Collins (and others) coming out, these are just normal outgrowths of that social evolution.

“What really stands out is the courage of a high school kid coming out and doing that. It took Jason Collins a really long time to make that statement.”

Collins’ coming-out story was big news from the start because he played in the NBA. It was different for Geick, whose orientation was known around his school but less so away from Stevenson.

But his Instagram account, which features photos of him and Mower at last summer’s Chicago Pride Parade and at Stevenson’s homecoming, did come to the notice of another wrestler just before this year’s Class 3A state tournament.

The other wrestler hit the “like” button for an old photo of Geick and Mower. “At the time, it kind of (ticked) me off,” Geick said.

But he channeled his emotion into his wrestling and won the match en route to finishing fourth at 160 pounds.

“It didn’t bother me at the end of the day,” Geick said. “I saw him later on in the tournament; no harsh words or anything like that, just competitiveness, so it’s all right.

“I don’t think he’s a bad kid and I don’t think he’s homophobic. That’s not what I got from it. He was just poking.”

The week after state is when Geick’s status as a standard-bearer for LGBT athletes started to take off. It came almost overnight after Outsports.com, a website covering LGBT athletes, posted a profile of him.

“The Outsports thing was insane,” said Geick, who estimates he added about 8,000 Instagram followers in the week after the story broke. He now has 25,000.

Columbia wrestling coach Zach Tanelli was among those who learned Geick was gay from the Outsports story. That surprised Geick, who thought an earlier conversation they had about the diversity of New York City in general — and Columbia in particular — was Tanelli’s way of saying he was OK with the recruit’s orientation.

In fact, Tanelli called Geick the day the story broke.

“He said, ‘Dylan, I had no clue,'” Geick recalled. “He was super supportive, said, ‘I’m proud of you, can’t wait to have you here in the fall,’ which made those (previous) conversations more genuine.”

Geick also heard from current and former wrestlers, some asking on advice on how to come out, others telling him how they couldn’t have dreamed of doing so 10 or 20 years ago.

“It opened my eyes to, ‘A,’ I am not alone in this, and, ‘B,’ there are other really successful athletes who are in the closet,” he said. “It was even more important to me then to take on that mantle and show that support.”