The WellSpan Spotlight

Bright spots

WellSpan BrightSpot: He plays catch at Pride events, tossing out support and love

2024_INET and Web_Play Catch with a Dad, John Piermatteo, York Pride 2

Who: John Piermatteo, a WellSpan medical equipment delivery technician in York, and the founder of Play Catch with a Dad.

What: John started Play Catch with a Dad in 2019, at the York Equality Fest. A father of two, including a non-binary child, John was familiar with Pride events and the moms who are often on hand to give out free hugs. He wondered what he could do to spread support and love to people in the LGBTQIA+ community.

Several things influenced him.

John grew up playing catch with his own dad in his backyard and knew how important that bonding ritual was to his dad and to him.

He is a father and an ally in the LGBTQIA+ community, who wants both of his children to feel supported and accepted.

And he knows people who, after they came out, stopped getting support from their fathers and felt the pain of exclusion and separation.

So, John got a Nerf football, painted a small sign that said, “Play Catch with a Dad,” leaned the sign against a tree at Equality Fest, and waited. The reaction was a bit tentative at first.

“People would walk by and side-eye the sign, and then they would walk by and look at me,” he said.

Before long, he found himself playing catch with one person and then another, hearing their stories.

“Some of them said, ‘My dad stopped doing things with me,’ or ‘Our relationship just completely changed,’“ John recalls. “Others said, ‘I never really had a dad, so it was nice to play catch with one.’ “

The pandemic put gatherings like Equality Fest on hold for two years. In 2022, John got in touch with the Rainbow Rose Center, a nonprofit organization that grew out of the Equality Fest events and works to foster an environment of inclusion, equity, and health for the LGBTQIA+ community, which was planning a York County Pride event.

The Rainbow Rose Center welcomed John to its event and this time he brought more than a half-dozen other dads with him, including his WellSpan team member Steve Gergle, a communications system analyst and a dad who loved playing catch and kicking a ball around with his daughter when she was growing up.

The group returned to York County Pride event last year. And John went to the Lancaster Pride event by himself, just to try it out.

He returned to both events again this year.


Gary Ayers and John Piermatteo at 2024 Lancaster Pride.

Next month, John plans to head to San Diego, where his two kids now live, and bring Play Catch with a Dad to a Pride event on the West Coast. He also has plans to start a nonprofit organization, with the hopes of making Play Catch with a Dad a national or even international movement.

“Maybe someday,” he says, “it will be all over the place.”

John says what he was surprised by the reaction to what he thought was just a simple idea, particularly at the first event.

Words to live by: “After playing catch, I would give people a hug and whisper, ‘I’m really proud of you,’“ he says. “And there were just tears. Tears from them. Tears from me. I did not quite expect that. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. I just thought maybe I could help someone heal just a little bit. And all I had to do was play catch with them and give them a hug.”

His WellSpan teammate, Steve, said the first time he accompanied John to the York Pride event, “I was thoroughly blown away. I cried. I laughed and hugged many people. It was one of the better days in life!”

Tesla Taliaferro, the co-founder and board president of the Rainbow Rose Center who first met John at the 2019 Equality Fest, says it’s nice to see a group with a paternal focus at Pride events. This year, John and the other volunteers in York wore matching name tags that all said, simply, "Dad."


Tesla Taliaferro (left) and John Piermatteo at 2024 York County Pride.

“I think a lot of people have lost access to a father figure and that is particularly true in the LGBTQIA+ community, where people often face a broken family after they come out,” he says.

“A few minutes of playing catch is a way for these dads to say, ‘I see you, I support you, and I respect you,’ and ‘I love you and I am glad you are here,’” Tesla says. “It’s a very affirming thing. It’s just a really brilliant concept and shows support for the community in a simple and loving way.”

“John is a really great guy for offering that connection to people who don’t have it elsewhere in their lives.”


Dads at 2024 York County Pride (from left) Gary Ayers, Randy Jefferson, John Piermatteo, Jim Mulligan, and Dullan Coates.