Our Players’ Club column recognizes DC Fray players who make the leagues what they are, and Tarik Pierce was a beloved leader in this space and beyond.
Imagine you’re at a party alone and don’t know anyone. A man with an infectious smile and clever banter cuts through the noise and walks up to you to start a conversation. After 10 minutes, you’re chatting like old friends.
“Tarik had this way of making you feel like you’d known him forever, and making you feel so comfortable and welcomed,” says Mike Glasser, a friend who met Pierce 15 years ago while vacationing at Gay Days at Disney World before moving to D.C. “There’s a reason people from all walks of life are so impacted by his loss.”
On July 7, 2023, Pierce unexpectedly passed at just 45 years old. The cause of death is still unknown. Without his charisma, kindness and genuine interest in others, the world has become a little dimmer.
Four of his close friends — Glasser, William Dennis, Camille Lanaia and Ryan Maddock — met up a month later over beers at Red Bear Brewing Co. to share their favorite memories of Pierce and carry on the light he brought to the community.
“Tarik was so unbelievably good at bringing people [together] and finding the good in people,” Maddock says. “He would be like, ‘I’m going to come over and talk to you and introduce you to other people.’ And then, he’d get your Instagram and phone number and bring you out with the rest of his friends. He connected and gathered people together so naturally well.”
“He was the biggest influencer to not be an actual influencer,” Lanaia adds.
Pierce’s friends became accustomed to never worrying if they would have something to do on the weekends, because he always organized plans and, to a fault, made sure everyone was included.
“If you were planning a brunch for like five people and he was coming, you needed to add at least five more people to that brunch,” Glasser says.
Originally from South Carolina and a proud graduate of Clemson University, Pierce made D.C. his home while working at the U.S. Department of Veterans of Affairs as the curriculum and competency manager for 13 years.
When not working, per his extroverted nature, he joined multiple LGBTQIA+ social sports leagues and was pivotal in the growth and prominence of these spaces. Dennis, the senior operations manager at DC Fray, played on the same team as Pierce for many Stonewall and DC Fray seasons. It was 2018 when they cultivated their friendship.
“His team JTT won the [Marsha P.] Johnson Conference, and my team at the time, TSA, also won,” Dennis says. “I remember us being onstage. It was me, him and another captain. It was a beautiful moment because we were three queer men of color, who all won our league championship for Stonewall. I remember Tarik pulling me aside and being like, ‘Sis, we’ve known each other socially for so long, but this right here is going to solidify and bond us for eternity.’”
Pierce played 23 out of 24 seasons of Stonewall kickball over the past 12 years. As of last season, he, along with Dennis and another player, Taylor Wallace, were the longest-standing league players across the nation.
“To say he [played with] Stonewall is an understatement,” Dennis says. “He was Stonewall. He helped on the national level and built this foundation.”
Pierce also played 29 seasons of kickball with DC Fray, and played dodgeball, cornhole and dart leagues intermittently with Rogue. Through the kickball teams, he helped organize and start an annual holiday charity event, Pub Crawlin’ for Tots, a spin on Toys for Tots where people were encouraged to raise money and donate toys while bar crawling at participating bars.
“He was fortunate in life; he wanted to make sure others had the same opportunity,” Lanaia says.
In 2022, Capital Pride Alliance awarded Pierce the Heroes Awards for his dedication to helping create uplifting organizations, events and spaces for the LGBTQIA+ community. Maddock notes Pierce was surprised and humbled to win the award.
“[It was never] about getting the award,” Maddock says. “It was about the impact.”
However, Maddock says his humility had nothing to do with self-esteem.
“I’ve never met anyone with more confidence,” Maddock says.
Whether Pierce was sweet talking a waiter to make a cocktail that wasn’t on the menu or asking his friends after they complimented him the rhetorical question, “Do I look cute?”, Pierce was self-assured in who he was and would pass this confidence onto his friends.
“Tarik had a way of sharing life lessons and you [didn’t] even really know it,” Dennis says. “One of the biggest things he taught me was owning your agency, reaffirming that agency and not being afraid to express [yourself].”
Glasser agrees, sharing that when he was too shy to approach a guy at a bar, Pierce would cheerlead him until he gained the courage and confidence he needed.
“Tarik would tell me, ‘You are attractive. You are smart. You have an amazing personality, and you don’t need to be a fan of him. He should be a fan of you,’” Glasser says. “The reason I am the way I am today confidence-wise is because I had him in my life doing it for me.”
All four friends got or are planning to get tattoos in Pierce’s memory. Lanaia got the phrase “Don’t be scared,” a repeated saying they used with each other since meeting at New York Pride 15 years ago.
To celebrate their shared love of college football, Maddock plans on getting a tattoo of both their college mascots intertwined. Glasser already got the phrase “Let’s go” tattooed on the back of his calf, which was a popular Pierce saying that Dennis also plans to get.
As for what the simple saying means to them?
“Pierce loved life and being out with his friends,” Glasser says. “He would say, ‘Let’s go! This is going to be a night. We’re going to do this. We’re going to live it up.’ That’s the theme: Love yourself, love life, love your friends and enjoy every minute — because that’s what he did.”
The Tarik S. Pierce Celebration of Life event will be at the Howard Theatre on September 16 from 12:30-4 p.m. To register, visit tarikspierce.ticketleap.com/lifecelebration. To learn more about this year’s Pub Crawlin’ for Tots, dedicated to Pierce, follow them on Twitter @pubcrawl4tots.
Want more insight on the best locals and guides to follow? Join the District Fray community for exclusive access to recommendations. Become a member and support local journalism today.