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Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Birdie In The Hand


A Birdie In The Handby Jeff Kagan

Shuttlecock. No, it isn’t a term to describe a sex act in outer space, but rather, it’s the small, feathered object used in the game of badminton. The shuttlecock, also called a “birdie” is smacked back and forth by racquet-wielding opponents, each hoping the other misses the birdie, as it falls, lifelessly to the Earth. Badminton has been an Olympic sport since 1992, although it was first introduced in the mid-18th century in British-occupied India as a pastime while trying to avoid getting Cholera.

Suman Chakraborty started playing at the age of seven in a suburb of Montreal, Canada, where he was raised. He and his classmates would attend Sunday school at the local junior college where they learned to speak in the family’s native tongue, Bengali. While the kids were in school, their parents would pass the time playing badminton. As classes ended, the kids came out to join their parents on the court. Suman recalls, “It was part of my childhood for as long as I can remember, and one I cherished. My friends and I spent our formative years trying to get good enough to beat our parents. I do remember the amazing feeling I had the first time I beat my father on the court; it was like I had finally grown up.”

And having grown up, Suman moved to New Jersey to attend college, and then eventually settled in New York City. But sadly, the badminton birdie was no longer in his life. He carried on. Some years later, he joined the local gay basketball league to expand his social circle. But after only one season, he had the opportunity to go abroad, to London. “When I first arrived in London, I didn’t know a single person. I had been playing in the NYC Gay Basketball League before my move and met some great people. I figured joining a sports team was a good was to make new friends in my new city.” Upon searching for a group, Suman was pleasantly surprised to learn that there are four gay badminton clubs in London.  He immediately contacted one called Goslings and within four days of landing in London, he bought a cheap racquet and headed to his first session. 

Being on the badminton court always brings back wonderful memories. He says, “Every time I get on the court, I feel like I’m going back to a place where I’m comfortable. I always think about my days as a kid playing with my dad; I think about my days as a teenager playing for my high school.”

After a year in London, Suman returned to New York, wanting his life to include the friendships and fun that Goslings of London brought him.  He didn’t have an inkling of how to find others who were interested in badminton, but he tried some unconventional methods. He sheepishly says, “I’ll admit that in my profile on a certain iPhone app (which shall remain nameless), I suggested that anyone who played badminton should contact me.”  That didn’t turn out to be a great source of leads (for badminton, anyway).  But after setting up a page on Meetup.com, things started to roll, and the organization mailing list grew from a handful of “smashers” to 175 potential players, which helped Suman to successfully launch New York’s first gay badminton club. And as an homage to the group which inspired him, he named the club Goslings NYC

Suman hopes that the people who come to play will see Goslings NYC as a community within the gay social scene -- a place where they can make new friends in a positive environment to share in the enjoyment of the game that he holds in his heart. Suman has many plans for the group, including participation in the Gay Games in Cleveland in 2014. He smirks and says, “And if I ever get my American friends to stop giggling like a schoolgirl whenever they hear the word ‘shuttlecock’, I’ll consider that a major accomplishment too.”

Learn more about Goslings NYC at www.meetup.com/GoslingsNYC.

In and Out of the Locker Room


In and Out of the Locker Room
by Jeff Kagan


Upon hearing the quick rhythm of Truett Lee Vaigneur, Jr.’s speaking voice, one might place him as an auctioneer from Baton Rouge or perhaps a fast-talking city official from Atlanta. His southern twang has a twist of what sounds like Cajun. As difficult as it is to pinpoint exactly where he’s from, the avid tennis enthusiast hails from Barnwell, South Carolina. Truett was born in the same hospital as the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, also known as “the hardest working man in show business” which is quite fitting, as Truett just might be “the hardest working man in academia”.

Truett is an adjunct professor and counselor at several of the City University of New York campuses and he’s currently working on an Educational Doctorate (EdD) degree in Interdisciplinary Studies at Long Island University’s C.W. Post Campus. “I research subcultures within the mainstream campus culture, for the past few years it’s been gay male college athletes, specifically athletes playing non-team sports. The focus is identity formation,” he says. And he’s channeling his extensive research into a documentary on the subject entitled The University Pool which showcases three gay former college swimmers and how being athletes has influenced their individual development, helping to turn them into the successful young men they are. He says, “I wanted to create conversations with gay athletes that was not focused in a locker room environment. While the locker room seems like a great place to start, the subjects aren’t always in a relaxed state, walking around in towels and taking showers, especially young men who are still discovering themselves.” Truett’s work follows the logic that an athlete is gay both inside the locker room, and when they leave it. “Every athlete — college or pro — identifies with athleticism, but how strong the identification is will actually be a result of what happens away from the playing field. There are family influences, religious influences, etc.; researching athletes is not a brush-stroke technique.”

As an academic, Truett studies the developmental aspect of gay athletes, but his interest in participating in sports began many years ago, when he was younger. Sports were a source of great enjoyment for him in junior high school back in South Carolina, where he played baseball, volleyball and tennis, the latter being his favorite. “I played a lot as a child, but my family moved from one small southern town to another when I was in high school, and there were no team sports other than football and basketball, so I stopped playing altogether.” he says. Sports can play a very important role in our lives, but the sport itself isn’t the defining aspect of who an athlete is. Being a tennis player is a major factor of how Truett identifies himself, but he says that the sport itself hasn’t done much to change his life. The key is participation, which leads to further development of his self-esteem and a positive self-image as an athlete. He says, “It enhances who I am, however, it is my involvement with tennis and the various LGBT sports leagues that has really changed who I am by showing me I can just be myself as a gay man — and an athlete.” In The University Pool, Truett hopes to show that it is possible for young gay men to be athletes and also be out of the closet. The three young men who we featured in the documentary may have had difficult times in the past, but the reality is that athleticism was there. It was a positive factor that gave them confidence and a sense of self-awareness that they might not have had otherwise.

Taking A Dive


Taking A Dive
by Jeff Kagan

There is an old joke asking why sharks don’t attack lawyers. The answer is: professional courtesy. Attorney Eric Heller knows this first hand, as he's met quite a few sharks. Eric is a member of the Village Dive Club, New York City’s LGBT scuba diving club. He has traveled to the four corners of the Earth finding thrilling underwater adventures or a remarkable inner peace. During a night dive in the Turks and Caicos Islands in the West Indies, Eric slowly descended about a hundred feet down a sea wall and then turned off his dive light. Gradually, the water began to glow with bioluminescent phytoplankton. He hung off the wall, alone at night, looking into the deep and surrounded by what looked like glowing fireflies. He explains, "The experience of diving itself is transcendental: you are weightless, floating, flying, and even diving with a buddy, you are alone with your thoughts, isolated except for the sound of your breathing, the fish chewing on coral and the waves. It is almost meditative."

Eric’s interest in scuba diving derives directly from Tae Kwon Do (a form of martial arts). As a pre-teen he took Tae Kwon Do classes, but he would beg his parents to drop him off early or pick him up late so he could spend time in the scuba diving shop next door. “I talked the scuba shop owner's ears off, looked at all the cool equipment and waited patiently until I turned 13 and could get certified,” he says.

Every October the dive shop would host an underwater pumpkin-carving contest at the lake. Eric quickly learned the trick to winning after watching people struggling to drag a very buoyant pumpkin to the depths below, saying, “Bash a hole in the pumpkin on the surface. And avoid cutting yourself while fumbling with a dive knife and a pumpkin at 30 feet in murky water!”

As the president of the Village Dive Club, Eric is happily joined by his partner-in-brine, Christopher Spivey on most excursions. The two met almost 15 years ago in Oklahoma. Within a few months of meeting, Christopher realized he would have to get his scuba certification if the relationship was going to work. “He braved the cold waters of Lake Tenkiller in Eastern Oklahoma for me!” says Eric. That’s love. Although Christopher has made it clear to his beau that he would not partake in cold water dives anymore, he has no objections in accompanying Eric on an upcoming trip to Bali next month.

Eric gets all bubbly thinking about the many dives he's taken, exploring the glistening landscapes under the sea, encountering so many unusual creatures: from the bioluminescent phytoplankton to the 30-foot long whale sharks who feast upon them. Talk about a light meal…

Eric’s only scare was on a dive in Fiji when a tiger shark joined the group along with some smaller reef sharks. "The dive guides tensed up and started paying attention when this huge shark approached, I knew it was serious.  But I still tried to get as close as I could to see it." he said. Not to worry -- nothing happened. As we said earlier: professional courtesy.

Learn more about the Village Dive Club at www.villagediveclub.org.

Pretty In Pink


Pretty In Pink
by Jeff Kagan


Comedian George Carlin said that all racquet sports are simply derivatives of ping-pong, and he even went so far as to suggest that tennis is ping-pong played while standing on the table. Wolfgang Busch might agree with that sentiment as ping-pong is his passion.

The paddle-wielding, German native competed in a variety of sports (including tennis) in his home town of Heppenheim, where his father was the right-hand to the town mayor. Busch says, "I was a semi-professional soccer player and tried out track in field. I was a roller-skater, swimmer, tennis player and played table tennis with my brother at my uncle's table in his garage and at my best friend’s house." However, playing ping-pong, also known as table tennis, was the one activity that sent his ball(s) flying over the net every time. And due to excessive wear and tear to his body from all of the other sports, it was his saving grace as he now plays as a form of physical therapy. "By nature, I am very competitive and I have a lot of fun playing 4 to 5 hours at a time. I have a lower back and neck disability and [ping-pong] works wonders for me," Busch says.

In 2002, he was living in Brooklyn and dating Paulo Freitas. In talking, the couple discovered that they both enjoyed playing ping-pong as teenagers, so they found a table and played one afternoon. Busch recalls, "We had so much fun, so I decided to start a group by advertising it at the LGBT Center in Manhattan." He called it Ping Pong NY and it brought many smiles to the faces of gay ping-pong enthusiasts to not only find competitive opponents, but new friends to socialize with after the games.

The organizing grew and by 2010 they were ready to take on the rest of the gay world in Gay Games VIII, which was played out in Busch's home country. He says, "I organized and put the team together for the Gay Games in Cologne, Germany and we dominated the recreational division by winner a total of 8 medals. I won two gold medals and one bronze. It was completely unexpected and was definitely a highlight moment in my life. It gave me new energy and encouragement and made me very proud of my achievements."
More recently, in an effort to attract some new players, Busch decided that the group’s name needed a splash of color. He recalls, “I was looking for a gay touch for our name and somebody suggested Pink to me.” The newly named “Pink Pong Foundation” caught on and Busch continues to promote well-being in recreation to over one hundred members. He says, "The health benefits alone are worth trying it or picking it up again after dropping out for many years. Besides we are a fun bunch of guys!”

Look for Wolfgang Busch in Cleveland, Ohio in 2014 at Gay Games IX and learn more about PinkPong at www.PinkPongFoundation.org.

Trailblazer


Trailblazer
by Jeff Kagan

This September, on his 45th birthday, Ross Hayduk plans to ascend Mount Katahdin, the highest mountain in Maine, in the final steps of his six-month hike along the Appalachian Trail (2,184 miles from Georgia to Maine).  His goal is to become the first HIV-positive athlete to finish the trail in less than six-months. For some, this task would be too daunting, but not for Ross, as he’s faced even greater challenges throughout his life. Ross contracted HIV in 2004 while addicted to crystal meth. He was also diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He had hit rock-bottom, but with the support of friends and family, he climbed his way back up to being clean and sober, now looking forward, not backwards, taking his life one day at a time. He says, “I believe we can overcome challenges to our health like HIV, substance abuse, and bipolar depression. With the proper diet and exercise routines, adherence to medication regimens, consistent communication with healthcare providers, and the support of those around you, you can live a full and healthy life." Ross continues on his mission, tirelessly aiming towards his goal of raising $21,840 for local HIV/AIDS service organizations. That's ten times the number of miles on the trail.

Professionally, Ross does fundraising and development for a non-profit organization, but it isn’t all about fundraising for him. Ross understands the importance of breaking stereotypes and being a role model. “The opportunity to prove to myself, and to others, that HIV-positive athletes can excel at sports as well as HIV-negative athletes.  Just because we have a virus does not mean we are sidelined,” he says.

Athletically speaking, Ross has dabbled in sport, but he sparkled in two: winning the silver medal in the hammer throw at Gay Games VI (in Sydney in 2002), and winning the gold medal in powerlifting in Gay Games VII (in Chicago 2006). He has also taken a shine to rugby and cycling, but not until recently, long-distance hiking. “After participating in a 200-mile cycling event in 2010 and a 218-mile hiking event in 2011, I decided to take on the Appalachian Trail in 2012. I did not know if I could do it, but once I set my mind to the previous challenges, I saw how I could accomplish amazing things, but only because I had the encouragement and support of my friends, family, and colleagues behind me.” he says.

Ross is selfless; a natural-born volunteer. In his circles, his reputation clearly stands out due to his constant offers to step up and help with any worthy cause. Last month, he took two days out of the hike to visit friends in New York and volunteer at the Heritage of Pride March. After his visit, he headed west once again, but he hit an unexpected snag when one of the straps on his backpack snapped while he was hiking through the thick forests of northwestern New Jersey. Ross posted his dilemma on Facebook and support poured in (both moral and suggestive). One person offered to FedEx a new bag to him, but if he was going to finish the trail in a timely manner, he knew he had to act quickly. Thinking, "What would MacGyver do?" Ross got to work on solving his problem with shoelaces and some cloth. "Those years as a theatre major, working in the costume shop weren't a waste of time! I had to make it WERQ!" he says with a scruffy, ear-to-ear grin. He was able to continue for two more days of hiking, enough time to catch a bus back to New York City for a replacement bag, and then get right back to where he left the trail.


Find Ross along the Appalachian Trail today by visiting http://www.hikerosshike.org.

The Weight of Water


The Weight of Water
by Jeff Kagan

Evan Matthew Cobb has an unusual story which begins about fifteen years ago. Evan was a swimmer and had been since he was a little boy. He swam competitively throughout middle school and high school. However, there was something weighing him down as he pulled himself through lane after lane of chlorinated water. Evan had come to the realization that he was a gay man, but he was not quite ready to deal with the unpredictable aftermath of revealing his secret to the world. He struggled with his sexual orientation throughout high school and decided it was best to keep his secret to himself, at least for a little while longer.

Many stories about high school athletes have a similar ending, with the athlete staying in the closet for many years to come, simply because they are not ready to give up the sport they love. Most think it’s a choice between staying closeted to continue playing, or coming out and giving up their passion. Sadly, in most cases, they realize this years later.

This is the part where Evan’s story becomes unusual. Rather than carry that burden with him when he went off to college, Evan made the bold decision to come out. He says, "In a lot of ways being able to keep swimming was a real source of strength while I was coming out. It reminded me that I didn't have to give up anything, and that being out meant I could finally be who I wanted to be, and that included being an athlete.”

Evan came out to his coach and his teammates at Oberlin College and they accepted him for who he was. This was uncommon at that time, but it showed Evan that he had surrounded himself with good, open-minded people – the same people who are still his friends fifteen years later.

I think it was always a challenge for me to know I was hiding a huge part of myself from my team when I was younger (in high school). When I came out in college though it was like having a fresh start with my teammates, and we had great trust and a strong bond from the very beginning.”

Evan’s philosophy is that a close relationship with the team is essential in order to succeed in any sport, especially in swimming, as it requires discipline, training and perseverance. “We spend countless hours together in the pool, in the cold, and you count on your team to push you through challenges and you all learn together. Being free to be myself made it much easier and I'm very glad I got to have that experience,” he says.

Two years ago, when Evan moved to New York, he has been a member of New York’s LGBT swim team, Team New York Aquatics (TNYA). He had heard about the team through friends and couldn’t wait to join. And although swimming is mostly an individual sport in competition, having a team to train with make quite a difference. Evan says, "What I love most about Team New York (Aquatics) is that it is both a great swim team that pushes me hard -- and a family."

Two weeks ago, the team took a trip to Reykjavik, Iceland as TNYA competed in the International Gay & Lesbian Aquatics (IGLA) championships where the tournament slogan is simply, “Get in the water.”

IGLA Championships are held every year, except a year when the Gay Games are played, and this year 75 TNYA swimmers, divers and water-polo players jumped right in it to win it. They had been training and preparing since the end of last year's meet in Hawaii. Their determination and preparation paid off as they swept the tournament -- winning their first-ever IGLA Championship (the large-team medal in swimming).

Now, Evan has something else weighing him down in the water: medals.

Learn more about Team New York Aquatics at www.tnya.org.

Kick It Up A Notch


Kick It Up A Notch
by Jeff Kagan

Imagine if you will that its 1985 and you are a member of one of the few LGBT sports leagues that exist at that time. You have a special bond with your teammates—10 friends who you would do anything for, people who you have grown to love, and who are as close to you as members of your own family. Then one day, half of them get very sick. And within a few months to a year, they’re gone, wiped out by a horrific new disease that is tearing through the community.

For Lee Smith, 25, that scenario was something which may have happened before he was born. It is difficult to fully understand the magnitude of what life was like for a gay man at that time. Lee was lucky to have missed the fear and sadness that so deeply affected the previous generation of the gay community. And having only a very young circle of friends, Lee wasn’t exposed to the gloomy stories of the recent past.

A year ago, Lee decided it was time to get in shape and try something new. He was looking for a good reason to smoke fewer cigarettes and he thought back to his overly athletic childhood. He had played just about every sport available to him back then, but the one that stayed with him through high school was soccer. However, as is all too often the case, Lee’s sexual orientation played a role in diminishing his interest in sports. “I wasn’t completely out in high school, and the idea of being gay and being an athlete did not occur on same plane,” he says. “In college, I had zero interest in anything physical. I went to the gym on campus twice, and thought, ‘I just don’t belong here.’”

Lee put down his cigarette one day, and out of curiosity he Googled “gay soccer”. He had never dreamed that gay sports organizations existed, but his web browser had enlightened him with a link for the New York Ramblers Soccer Club. And with a little encouragement, before he knew it, he was back on the soccer field. “I was extremely terrified to attend my first practice, but with my big sister urging me on, I finally joined. Now, almost a year later, I’m active on the board of directors of the club, acting as secretary and membership officer.” he says.

Lee made many new friends—of all ages—as the age range of the players on the Ramblers runs from 18 to 60. He'd never had older friends, let alone older gay friends. They told him first-hand stories about their lives 25 years ago when the AIDS epidemic began to reveal itself. Lee gained a lot of perspective and began to understand the crisis and how it socially affected the community. These conversations really opened his eyes and inspired him to do something. Lee worked with teammate Chris D'Olimpio to organize an AIDS Walk New York team for the Ramblers. They’ve raised over $1,000 so far and hope to go even further before the walk this Sunday, May 20th in Central Park.  The 6.2 mile walk has raised over $122 million since 1981 for Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) and other AIDS service organizations in the tri-state area.

“I think for a lot of people in my generation, events like the AIDS Walk are a way to acknowledge that we are thinking about the disease,” Lee says. “We are thinking about people that have had a much more traumatizing experience with the disease.” He and his younger friends support their HIV+ peers and teammates as they do their part to support the efforts to end new infections, maximize treatment and find a cure.

Lee is very happy with the team, which is like a family to him. And the Ramblers have helped him bridge an enormous gap between closeted life in high school and college to gay life in New York City. “I make jokes to my college friends that I am now a jock and a muscle queen—okay, maybe not quite!” he says. “But in all actuality, I do feel that I’ve made peace with two aspects of my identity that have always felt quite distant.”

Learn more about the New York Ramblers Soccer Club at www.newyorkramblers.org
Learn more about AIDS Walk New York at www.aidswalk.net/newyork.

Cycling ‘round the World


Cycling ‘round the World
by Jeff Kagan

Patrick Chin-Hong acquired a bicycle about four years ago. He wasn’t at all interested in cycling, but someone offered him a great deal on the bike and he just couldn’t pass it up.  His initial plan was to sell the bike, instead of having it claim valuable real estate in his apartment, but he never got around to it, and so it sat there for almost a year before he decided to take it out one sunny day for a ride.  Surprisingly, he liked it.  And day by day, he’d go out riding more and more. 

One afternoon, after a local bike club ride, a fellow cyclist suggested he try something called randonneuring, which is the sport of self-supported, long-distance endurance cycling.  It has a fairly specific (and small) niche in the overall world of cycling. Randonneuring focuses less on the competitive aspect of racing, and more on the camaraderie of a club ride. Patrick went home and Googled “randonneuring” and saw that most rides are usually 200km.”  “Hmmm.”, he thought. “What? Are these people crazy??”  He enjoyed the short trips he’d taken through the park, or up and down the city blocks, but 124 miles? He read the description: friendly camaraderie, not competition, is the hallmark of randonneuring. Patrick was hooked. 

In his first year of randonneuring, Patrick had gone on to do two full series of rides (or “brevet” as they are called) -- each series comprising a 200km, a 300km, a 400km and a 600km brevet, and each with its own fixed time limit. That’s 3000km, or 1865 miles!  The high-point of his blossoming randonneuring career, though, was his qualification for, and participation in, the 1200km Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) event last August. Held once every four years, the PBP is the most prestigious event on the global randonneuring calendar, and is the oldest bicycling event still run on a regular basis on the open road.

Randonneuring isn’t all cycling and scenery. It is a grueling test of human endurance which has a dangerous aspect. As the distances are quite long, many riders try to push themselves to the limit, often nearing exhaustion. Many deprive themselves of sleep and continue riding into the night. At the end of some events, Patrick recalls a few riders coming in all bloodied up after having fallen asleep at the wheel, so to speak. “Yes, I've micro-napped while on my bike too. It's funny to hear about sometimes.”  However, there can also be deadly consequences as last year an American rider died when he fell asleep and drifted into the next lane into an oncoming truck.

In France, while the PBP is running, the local townspeople are very supportive and they line up along the entire route giving away free food, water, and an occasional cup of beer or wine to the 5,000 happy cyclists from around the world. Patrick recalls one night, around 4am, when he was struggling up a very dark hill. Suddenly, he heard someone yell to him, “Bon courage!” followed by excessive clapping and cheering. He says, “I jumped out of my skin and nearly fell off my bike!” The surprise woke him up and he pressed on. The enthusiasm of the fans fuels the riders almost as much as Gatorade and Powerbars. 

Patrick is still finalizing his randonneuring goals for 2012.  His focus this year includes an ISR (International Super Randonneur) designation, which is a full series of brevets, each in a different country. Towards that goal, he’s traveled through India and Greece, and he’s planning to hit Canada and the United States later this year.  Patrick says, “The best part about randonneuring is meeting incredible people from all over, each with different cycling abilities, but each with the same wonderful spirit of camaraderie and excitement for a long day -– or two – or four – on the open road.”

Giving One For The Team


Giving One For The Team
by Jeff Kagan

Fans of Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm may remember the classic scene where Larry dies on the operating table and drifts up to heaven. He is confronted by his mother (played by Bea Arthur in her last television role) and she yells at him, “Who goes around giving their kidney to people? IDIOT!” 

It isn’t everyday you hear about someone doing a selfless act such as donating one of their kidneys, but Brandon Mayberry is just that kind of guy. Ask his partner, Yaron Avitov.  A year ago, Brandon donated one of his kidneys to Yaron’s mother. Tests indicated that Brandon was a suitable donor, showing their tissue match to be one-in-a-million, almost as close as if the donor was a blood relative.  He had some serious thinking to do. “It was a tough decision to make, and one I didn’t take lightly, but in the end I felt it was the right thing to do. I have no regrets.” Brandon says he’s feeling better than ever and he’s back to his normal self again.

Standing 6’3” and looking like he just walked off the set of a 1940's era Hollywood picture, Brandon spends a lot of his time facing the footlights at the Metropolitan Opera. He is a chorister in his fourth season and gives some credit to the old Warner Bros. cartoons for his current profession. Apparently, watching Elmer Fudd chasing Bugs Bunny while singing, “Kill the wabbit!” planted a seed that eventually grew into a love for opera. "Too bad they don't make cartoons like that anymore”, says the bass-baritone.

Back in his cartoon watching days, Brandon was not like the other boys. His interests lied less with sports and more in the world of music and entertainment. He focused primarily on the arts (band, chorus, musicals). Think "Glee". He says, "Music and singing gave me the confidence to get through many tough times that would have otherwise been insurmountable during junior high and high school. It gave me an identity and it was something I excelled at."  However, he didn’t avoid sports entirely – in fact, he spent many hours playing 1-on-1 in his driveway with his best friend in high school. “Athletically, I was definitely not so gifted, but always enjoyed the competition and camaraderie. I'm an avid fan of basketball, football, and baseball, and have been since I started collecting trading cards as a child.”

Years later, Brandon started playing basketball again – just some pick-up games – in his building which has a half court. A friend mentioned the New York City Gay Basketball League, but Brandon didn’t think it would be a good fit for him. He had never played organized basketball, and he worried that his game wasn’t up to speed. With a lot of encouragement from friends who already played in the league, Brandon finally gave it a shot. “I've had to learn some of the finer points about playing with referees the hard way, but that’s how you learn. I feel more confident with each game I play”, he says. He likes the diversity that the league offers, drawing in people from various backgrounds. He’s built a good circle of new friends. “I can't think of a better way to spend my Sunday than running up and down the court playing basketball.”

The New York City Gay Basketball League’s Spring Season starts on March 10th.  Registration closes February 24th. More at www.nycgaybasketball.org.

Bowling: A Love Story


Bowling: A Love Story
By Jeff Kagan

Matt Graham likes his balls heavy. Heavier balls are essential for maximum leverage. Lighter balls can lead to unpredictability once you pull your fingers out and they hit the wood pretty hard. Of course, we’re talking about bowling—get your mind out of the gutter! The gutter: where you’ll rarely find one of Matt’s balls.  In 13 years of bowling, Matt has bowled nine perfect games (that’s 12 strikes in a row, earning a score of 300) and he’s had dozens of games above 290.

With such high scores, many bowlers decide to compete in national tournaments. Two years ago, Matt went to Columbus, Ohio, to play in the International Gay Bowling Organization (IGBO) Annual Tournament over Memorial Day Weekend. He didn’t bowl as well as he had hoped on the alleys, but he picked up more than a spare in the hospitality suite after the games. Matt recalls, “I was hanging out with other fellow bowlers and friends when I saw a guy dressed in black enter our circle. He was smiling from ear to ear because he had bowled a 279 earlier in the day.”

They played the staring game with each other for a little while. Matt confesses to undressing him with his eyes but being more curious about his scores.  He says, “I happened to snatch this man's name tag, which read ‘Ross Hewitt’ from ‘New York City’, and wanted to know how he bowled the rest of the tournament.” A conversation began. They compared scores and averages. When Ross learned Matt had averaged a 227 that year, he was ecstatic and quickly asked, “Would you be my bowling coach?” Matt remarked, “What great pick up line! I’ll have to remember that one for next time!”

As the night went on, Matt and Ross joined a group of other bowlers in a card game, and Matt decided it was time to turn on the “Matthew charm” as he calls it.  He started flickering his eyes in a certain way and smiling with a warm and welcoming grin. Ross was bowled over. They had the opportunity to talk privately after the game, and they went on their first date to the movies the following day (no, it wasn’t Kingpin).  They exchanged numbers, planned to meet for a bowling lesson and the rest is history.

Matt and Ross bowl together all the time.  You’ll find them rolling with the Garden State Gay Bowling Organization League in West Orange, New Jersey, or with the Sunday Bowling League at Chelsea Piers 300 in New York City, where Ross is the league president.

Matt still coaches Ross on improving his game.  And Ross has helped Matt learn to relax and have more fun bowling. Matt claims to have been a bit of a tyrant on the lanes due to his competitive nature, but when he’s with Ross, that changes. It seems like the power of love can still change a hawk into a little white dove, as Huey Lewis once said.

IGBO will host its 32nd Annual Bowling Tournament right here in the New York City area on May 23-28, 2012. More at www.igbo2012.org. Learn about the Sunday Bowling League at www.sblnyc.com.