Tuesday, December 27, 2011

See Gene & John Run

See Gene & John Run
By Jeff Kagan

Picture it: New York City, 1953. President Eisenhower is in the White House, the Korean War is just coming to an end. I Love Lucy dominates the airwaves as the most popular show on television, and an 18-year-old Elvis Presley just recorded his first song. American life is as picturesque and pleasing as a Norman Rockwell painting.

While life seemed so “carefree and gay” for most, there were many who couldn’t be as carefree and gay as they wanted to be. Being a gay American in that era meant hiding your sexual orientation from your family and your employer. It was in 1953 that President Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10450 which mandated “sexual perverts” be fired from federal jobs. At that time, homosexuality was defined a disease, and gays were portrayed in public service films (one was titled Boys Beware) as having a “sickness that was not visible, like smallpox, but no less dangerous and contagious.” It would be another 20 years before the American Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder. Regardless of the discrimination and openly accepted condemnation, gays and lesbians persevered, living their lives in the underground and somehow managing to get by.

At age 24, John Kiley left his hometown of Adelaide, Australia, and came to the United States, settling in New York City. He secured a job with the Australian government as a writer with the news and information bureau, a precursor to the current Australian tourism department.

One warm evening in June 1953 John was having drinks with a friend at Lenny’s Hideaway, a basement bar on 10th Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues in the West Village when he struck up a conversation with a young, dark-complexioned man named Gene Silbert. A friendship commenced, and soon grew to be more than friendship. Neither could have imagined the future they’d have together.

In the winter if 1958 John decided to take up skiing. He had never seen snow in his homeland of Australia, and he was fascinated by it. He asked his friend Louis to teach him some “pre-ski” exercises. Louis went to the gym quite often, which was not at all the norm as it is today. “We thought he was absolutely weird to lift weights. At that time, the only people we knew of that went to a gym looked like Charles Atlas,” Gene says. “We said ‘Louis, if you go to the gym you’re going to end up like that. And if you stop, you’ll turn to fudge!’”

John recollects the defined muscle-boys who frequented the gymnasium, as well as the pungent scent of Ben-Gay in the air. “It was very off-putting,” he says. Louis brought him to calisthenics class on the basketball court. The instructor was a tough Frenchman named Renee who had a slight resemblance to Otto Preminger (Mr. Freeze from the 1960s Batman TV series). And in the corner was an upright grand piano with a little old lady playing show tunes as they trained eight-beats to the bar. At the end of the workout, they ran laps around the court.

One day, they arrived at the gymnasium to find they couldn’t use it—the floor was being shellacked. Louis said, “C’mon. We’re going to go run out on the street.” John was embarrassed by just the thought of running in public. “It just wasn’t done!” he says. Realizing he didn’t have any other options, he conceded—a touch of humiliation in the name of fitness.

John began running regularly, outdoors too, and soon convinced Gene to run with him. One afternoon they were both running up Fifth Avenue near Central Park. A car drove by and the driver hurled a bagel at John, along with some colorful metaphors. On the way back home, running down Madison Avenue, another car drove by and the driver threw coffee on him. As much as this was a disheartening sign of the times, John makes light of the situation by saying at least he got breakfast out of it.

Tourism was not only a professional aspiration for John, but a personal one. And since he (and Gene) had added running to their likes, they figured, why not combine them? They continued to run, touring Europe, literally running through dozens of countries as they travelled. “From Hong Kong to the Dominican Republic,” John remarks. In 1990, they participated in the Gay Games in Vancouver, Canada. This would be the first of many trips they’d take to the quadrennial tournament. Gene says, “Remember, we’re old guys and we were already old guys 20 years ago. We were both runners, but we never ran with any groups.” Every four years, they returned to the Gay Games: New York (1994), Amsterdam (1998), Sydney (2002) and Cologne (2010), only absent from Chicago in 2006. Did they win any medals? “More than I can carry,” says Gene. As they got older, so did the competition, and the pool of athletes got smaller. John says, “There’s very little competition in our age classification. But now I swim, as I wore out my right hip. I get in the pool and I’m the only one, so they say, ‘Get to the end,’ and I do, and get my gold medal!” As one of their friends once observed, “He or she that lives longest, wins.”

Gene and John are thankful that the years have been good to them. A little over 10 years ago, when they reached their seventies, they decided it was time to plan for the future. They needed a will, with the idea that once they “cross that big finish line in the sky,” their savings would be given to their favorite charities. It was important to them that their money go towards enriching the lives of young LGBT athletes. They recognized the impact that sports had on their own lives over the years: the camaraderie, general togetherness and healthy lifestyle, and they wanted to be able to provide the same for LGBT youth. “It was not until we started running with the gay group and then went to Vancouver that so many people came up to us and said, ‘If only we had this (gay sports) when we were a little younger, it would have made our lives so much more wonderful,’” John says.

Their attorney suggested the best approach would be to start a foundation, so the Gene & John Rainbow Community Foundation was born. They both handled the major aspects themselves: soliciting applications, reviewing them, and deciding on the final recipients. As time went on, however, it became difficult to manage. “When we originally discussed it with our lawyer, people were not out as they are now. Young people were not nearly as sophisticated, and all the technology did not exist. Finding applicants was somewhat difficult. And we kept on getting older.” John says.

They then paired up with the Stonewall Community Foundation, which helped them find applicants and managed the scholarships on Gene and John’s behalf. In 2002, the newly named Gene & John Athletic Fund of Stonewall was launched at Gay Games VI in Sydney. Its mission is to promote a healthy and productive lifestyle through athletic endeavor, and to provide inspiring role models for gay, lesbian and transgender athletes of all ages. Additionally, the fund enables athletes to continue their education while pursuing athletics. This year, they awarded two recipients each $2,500 scholarships. Since its inception, the fund has given out more than $30,000 to LGBT athletes all over the United States.

At 84 and 83, respectively, Gene and John have been together close to 60 years. They know a thing or two about a thing or two. Living a healthy lifestyle is one way to ensure longevity. These days, the philanthropic octogenarians sit in their Murray Hill apartment nostalgically looking back through the decades, musing over their experiences—how they first met, how they started running and how they were able to give something back to their community for future generations of athletes. “And it all started on the gym floor with show tunes!” John says with an ear-to-ear grin.

To learn more about the Gene & John Athletic Fund of Stonewall, or to make a contribution, go to geneandjohnfoundation.org.

Find more articles by Jeff Kagan at outinthelockerroom.com.

Getting Better All The Time

Getting Better All The Time
By Jeff Kagan
One year ago, sex columnist and author Dan Savage created a YouTube video with his partner Terry Miller in response to the suicide of Billy Lucas, a 15-year-old high school student who faced seemingly unending ridicule and torment by fellow students for being gay. Savage felt there needed to be a way to communicate directly to troubled LGBT teens who were dealing with bullying, in most cases related to their actual or perceived sexual orientation. He and his partner Terry Miller created a 9-minute video and placed it on YouTube.  In the video the two openly spoke about homophobic issues they faced in their youth, but more importantly, how much better their lives became after high school.

Within the first two months of Savage’s video being posted, nearly 10,000 people recorded their own videos giving thousands of LGBT teens a reason to carry on with their lives and look forward to the future rather than dwell on the not-so-good-present. “It gets better.”

Celebrities, politicians, activists and people of all walks of life soon added their own stories via personal videos, sharing experiences and giving testimony to how their lives had improved since high school. The stories came from within the gay community, but also from many straight allies who offered words of support and encouragement. Even President Obama recorded a video telling LGBT teens,“It will get better.”  He continued, “More than that, in time you’ll see that your differences are a source of pride and a source of strength. You’ll look back on the struggles you’ve faced with compassion and wisdom.”

Visibility by the gay community in entertainment, fashion, politics and many other fields has become quite the standard in the past few years, however, the one area which has yet to breach the “pink barrier” is the wide world of professional sports. Sports are generally considered to be the final frontier on dealing with homophobia and acceptance of the gay community. Of the four major sports leagues in the United States (MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL), there has yet to be a single athlete to come out of the closet while still actively playing the game.  The few who have come out did so after retiring, many citing fear that their sexual orientation would create problems with their career and their lives as professional athletes. 

If we compare the anxiety of a gay teenager with that of a closeted professional athlete, we see many similarities.  It is possible that some professional athletes are in the same boat, worrying about how they are perceived by their peers, or how their sexual orientation might affect their lives – socially, physically and financially.  They witness homophobia in the locker room and on the court and they sense inherent bullying in the form of anti-gay slurs by fellow players and fans.  One example of this occurred earlier in the past year when Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers was caught on camera using the word “faggot”.

Bryant justified his actions in a weak apology by suggesting he spoke “out of frustration during the heat of the game.” The NBA acted on Bryant’s indiscretion and fined him $100,000 (which isn’t much when compared to his $25,000,000 annual salary as the highest paid player in the league).
Sadly, Bryant’s actions are not isolated to one person or one team.  Many similar incidents occurred in 2010 and 2011 suggesting that homophobia is still widespread in professional sports.  Although the NBA responded to the issue, there needs to be more progress made at improving the atmosphere of the game, starting with team owners who are responsible for how their teams and players are represented to the public. This starts from the inside by having management express to their organizations and fans that homophobia has no place in this business.  The athletes need to hear from the top that their sexual orientation is not something they have to hide – it is not something they need to be ashamed of. A message like that would pave the way for an athlete to come out while still active in the game. It would create a better environment for the players and the fans, and best of all, it would create positive role models.

On June 1, 2011, the San Francisco Giants took a giant leap towards knocking down the “pink barrier” by becoming the first major league baseball team to release an It Gets Better video.  This began a growing trend amongst other baseball clubs who are now reaching out to the LGBT community with their own videos of support.  In recent months, four clubs have put out videos (San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles). Four additional clubs (Philadelphia Phillies, Minnesota Twins, Seattle Mariners and Washington Nationals) have all announced their plans to do the same. 

But is this trend exclusive to baseball? Not according to Cyd Zeigler, co-founder of Outsports.com.  Zeigler points out that baseball was the only sport in season when the trend began. “The NFL was in a lock-out.  The NBA and NHL were in playoffs, and MLB was just the beginning of their season. It will be interesting to see what happens once the players and coaches are back at the facility.”
Outsports.com has recently announced a partnership with the It Gets Better Project™. The two organizations plan to feature videos by out LGBT people in the sports community.  Athletes such as Will Sheridan, Dave Kopay and Billy Bean have agreed to contribute their stories and messages to LGBT youth. The videos will be featured on the It Gets Better website, and also on Facebook and Twitter feeds for increased exposure.

Zeigler feels that public messages by professional teams and athletes will have a direct and positive impact on LGBT youth, as well as on the entire community. Following and playing sports are building blocks in our communities.  They help us to relate to one another.  They give us something else in common with our friends and families. Sports create tremendous social channels. “Being a fan of pro-sports teams and college sports teams, it’s all about community building.  That’s why these teams exist. You have an instant bond with people because you’re a fan of the same team.  And you have ups and downs with those teams.  So when you buy into that culture (the newspapers, the media, your parents, your friends)  and everyone is into the sports teams, to be a sports fan means being a part of the community and being a part of the emotional rollercoaster that all of the people around you are going on”, Zeigler says.

Over the years, he has reported on professional and amateur sports, and a number of the stories illustrate the closeted athlete’s experience of dealing with homophobia while playing. These incidents brought about anxiety and fear in the players, and that pushed them away from the sports they loved. For LGBT youth, lack of participation in something as integral as sports can have a drastic effect. Zeigler says, “Sports play a significant role in our lives, and if you’re not a part of that you feel different, really different, and alone.  The biggest form of camaraderie in small town America is sports, and if you’re not a part of that, you feel it.”

Many gay athletes eventually return to the sports they once abandoned thanks to the hundreds of LGBT athletic organizations across the country.  Jeff Butler is the head coach of the Shady Ladies of Austin, Texas – the 2010 NAGAAA Gay Softball World Series Champions. Butler and his batting buddies proudly take the field every week in hot pink and baby blue uniforms (which they proudly wear in their It Gets Better video, released in December 2010). The color choices are quite deliberate, as visibility and recognition are vital to this team and their goal of breaking stereotypes. They want their (often straight) opponents to know exactly who they’re up against. When the game is over and the Shady Ladies are victorious, stereotypes are crushed. Butler says, “When straight players see gay players perform at a level equal to or greater than the best straight players, it levels the playing field for the game.  That causes prejudices to dissipate and even disappear off the field as well.” He feels that sports have a unique ability to change people, cultures and society as a whole in ways that cannot be achieved elsewhere. 

The Washington D.C. Gay Flag Football League (or DCGFFL, for short) also works at eliminating stereotypes and helping make the lives of gay youths a little easier. They did their part to produce an It Gets Better video with their gay and straight teammates.  That video received so much positive feedback from across the country, the team decided to take things one step further.  In a partnership with Team DC, they are about to release a provocative 2-year, 2012-2013 calendar called Shirts & Skins, which features 36 gay and straight members of the organization, some posing in shirts, and others shirtless, for charity.  Jeff Spitko, a defenseman, and occasional quarterback, who plays with the DCGFFL says, “The outpouring of responses we got from the It Gets Better video was so compelling we just thought this would be an interesting way to raise money for an incredible cause.”  About half of the funds raised from the calendar’s sales will go towards a scholarship given by Team DC to local gay high school athletes.

As the It Gets Better Project™ expands, more and more groups like the Shady Ladies and the Washington D.C. Gay Flag Football League continue to do their part to give back to their community by encouraging LGBT youth with their personal stories. They share some of their pain and give them a little hope. Professional athletes and clubs are also stepping up to the plate to show their support, as well. When it comes to improving the lives of children, we’re all on the same team, combining our efforts towards building a better future for everyone. As most athletes can tell you, success in the game is all about teamwork, working together to reach a common goal. Just remember what every coach says, “There is no ‘I’ in ‘team’.”

But there is one at the beginning of “It Gets Better.”  And it does.

Please visit www.itgetsbetter.org for more information. Add your own story while you’re there.

Santa’s Little Helper

Santa’s Little Helper
By Jeff Kagan

Christmas is just around the corner and most of us are still trying to work off the flubber and fat we picked up feasting with our families a few weeks ago over Thanksgiving. What’s a Chelsea boy to do? Diets don’t usually work this time of year with sweet temptations all around us.  Instead of putting on your stretch-pants, perhaps it’s time to stretch out those legs?

Kelsey Louie can get you to drop that candy cane and drop a few pounds, as well! He is the head coach of Front Runners New York, the local LGBT running club and he will get you into shape quicker than you can say, “Sugar plum fairy!”  The good news is that losing weight is only a by-product of running. The sport has many other wonderful benefits. “You can make running anything you want it to be.  It can be a way to set goals and challenge yourself to achieve great things; it can be an excuse to eat a second serving of your favorite dessert; or it can be a way to start a conversation with a new hottie, or an old friend you just had an argument with; or it can be a way to meet up with friends and do something healthy for yourselves while catching up,” Kelsey says.

Kelsey’s been going strong with Front Runners for the past 13 years, and running almost twice as long. As the head coach, his job is to motivate his athletes to reach their full potential.  “My coaching is supportive, but firm. I try to meet everyone where they’re at.  Some people want to be pushed to their limit.  Some people just want a few tips.”

Kelsey gets involved, running side by side with his teammates, mentoring them all the way.
In 2005, one runner set a goal of running the Chicago marathon in 3:30 (3 hours and 30 minutes) to qualify for the Boston marathon.  Kelsey ran with him and they finished in 3:28. To an outsider, an accomplishment like this may not seem like a significant achievement, but it has a major effect on the athlete who has pushed himself further than ever before.  Kelsey says, “It changed how he saw himself as a person, bringing his self-confidence to new levels.” While some people still believe in Santa Claus, Kelsey gets others to believe in themselves.

When Kelsey isn’t running in sneakers, the Brooklyn-native is running things over at Harlem United Community AIDS Center, a non-profit organization which provides healthcare, mental health services, supportive housing, and prevention services to people living with HIV/AIDS and the general homeless population.  Kelsey oversees all of their programs which occasionally has him working 14-hours days, but he still finds time to hit the treadmill in the wee hours of the night before nestling all snug in his bed. He acknowledges that his arduous work ethic is inherited from his father, and he credits his mother for instilling in him a caring attitude and “fabulousness”.

Kelsey also serves on the fundraising committee of Out of Bounds NYC, an umbrella group for all LGBT sports and recreation organizations in the greater New York area. He and his team are hosting a fundraising drive for the True Colors Residence, a permanent housing facility for LGBT youth, an idea conceived by Colleen Jackson (Executive Director of West End Intergenerational Residence, musical artist Cyndi Lauper, and Cyndi’s manager Lisa Barbaris.)  Their goal is to raise $5,000 by Christmas. Kelsey says, “I’ve worked with children in foster care, the homeless population, LGBT adults, people with HIV/AIDS, and substance users; but I’ve never had the chance to work with LGBT homeless youth—they are such a vulnerable group.” 

For more about Front Runners New York or the True Colors Residence Fundraising Drive, see www.frny.org and www.oobnyc.org. 


Swish?  I Do NOT Swish! The New York City Gay Basketball League named its Most Valuable Players for the Fall 2011 Season: Darius Harper (Gym Bar “A” Division) and Timo “3-mo” Morales (Boxers “B” Division).  Harper was also named Rookie of the Year in that division, scoring the tying basket at the buzzer to advance to overtime in the playoffs, and winning the game in double- overtime.  Joseph Hayes took Rookie of the Year in the B Division.  More at nycgaybasketball.org.

Rack & Shoot!  After six weeks of play, the New York Gay Pool League has only one undefeated team, Boxers Briefs. They won 8-7 against the previously undefeated team Eagle.  Eagle now shares 2nd place with Boxers (a 2nd Boxers team).  Rounding out the standings are Stonewall Stars, PoolBoyz from Hangar, Industry Weak Links, Ginger’s G-Spots, and Stonewall Riots.  More at nygpl.org.

Oh, My Nose!  Big Apple Dodgeball finished up their season recently and it was a fight for first place. Posh narrowly beat out Elmo for the title, and it was the closest it's been in any season thus far. Big Apple Bowling also just recently wrapped up their fall season of bowling with much
success. The Blue Bowls trumped the Dirty Dozen to win the season and they celebrated by taking down a beer tower or two at Frames to celebrate their victory. Both plan to come back in the winter for another season. More at

My, What Soft Balls You Have!  The Big Apple Softball League Fall 2011 Championship results are in! 1st Place: Fall Guys (Competitive Division), Empires (Intermediate Division) and Go! Girls (Women's Division);  2nd Place: Wings (Competitive Division), Rookies (Intermediate Division) and Bulldogs (Women's Division). Congrats to all!  More at bigapplesoftball.com.

Anatomy of a Cheerleader

Anatomy of a Cheerleader
By Jeff Kagan

The art of cheerleading dates back just over 100 years ago, with its origins at the University of Minnesota during a football game against Northwestern University on November 2, 1898. The home team was on a losing streak and a student named Johnny Campbell decided they needed some help. He called out the first cheer ever, “Rah, Rah, Rah! Ski-u-mah! Hoo-Rah! Hoo-Rah! Varsity! Varsity! Varsity, Minn-e-SO-TAH!”  Dozens in the crowd followed his lead and cheerleading, as we know it, was born. Minnesota went on to win the game 17-6.

There’s something to be said about smelling like team spirit and drilling a little “get-up-and-go” into an athlete’s brain.  “Athletes feed off of the energy of a crowd. The hotter the crowd, the better the jocks will do,” says Brian Wilson, a team captain with Cheer New York, the LGBTS cheerleading squad that marched onto the scene in 2002, just a couple of years after the release of the film Bring It On!  Coincidence?

Brian, has been a gymnast since the age of 6, but being a gymnast is expensive. After reading about Cheer New York in Next Magazine, he joined the group so he could do gymnastics for free. Apart from the free workout, Cheer New York has changed his life for the better. In working towards helping his community, Brian has made some of the greatest friends in his life.  He’s also been lucky enough to meet some very interesting people, such as Jennifer Hudson, the cast of Avenue Q and Constantine Maroulis from American Idol, all while performing in the Actor's Fund one-night Broadway production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

Now, hoping to find other people who can enjoy the benefits of Cheer New York, Brian is on the lookout for new recruits, part of his role as team captain. “We’re always looking for tall, strong guys who look good in polyester.” In addition to looking good, their more important mission is to raise money for the “Cheer for Life” fund, which supports other charities addressing HIV, cancer, Diabetes and other life-challenging conditions.

With his fingers in a number of pies, outside of cheering, Brian had the opportunity to dance in Caswell’s latest video, “Get My Money Back” which was shot over two days in Brooklyn. “Lots of sexy, half-naked go-go boys…” he says, with a wink and a boyish smile. 

Best experience so far?  Brian says, “Cheer New York was performing at the opening of Comix Night Club and I got to meet Kathy Griffin. We picked her up and put her on top of the pyramid.  She does love her gays.”

On Sunday, November 20th, Brian and the Cheer New York Cheerleaders will be at the Central Park Bandshell as they bring it to the 18th Annual Race to Deliver, God’s Love We Deliver’s largest annual fundraiser to fight hunger and provide nutritional counseling to those facing life-altering illnesses. 

Learn more about Cheer New York at www.cheerny.org and www.facebook.com/CheerNewYork.


Kickin’ Back: The NY Ramblers have recently joined the Gotham Soccer Club, competing in Division 2, playing 11 on 11. They recently had a very tough match against the #2 team, Manhattan City, with 5 starters missing. Fighting the good fight, they came back from 5-1, and in the last 15 minutes buried 2 goals, to finish 5-3. A loss, but a rally none-the-less. The Manhattan City players had on super tight shorts, which was somewhat distracting.  In the Ramblers Inter-club League play, the Smurfettes (in blue) played the Tea-baggers (in pink). It was tied 1-1 at the end of regulation, with the underdog Tea-baggers winning in penalty kicks.

Big Round Ball: The New York City Gay Basketball League is going strong into the final stretch of their Fall 2011 Season.  Gym Bar (4-3) going against a first place Splash (6-1). Splash is looking to lock up the first seed and Gym Bar with a win will only be a game behind them. Muscle Maker Grill (1-6) had a tough time in their inaugural season.  They face Eagle Bar (3-4). Eagle Bar is fighting for that last playoff spot and is almost in a must win situation!

Good Knight:  The Gotham Knights Rugby Football Club celebrated their 10th Anniversary on November 5th at the University Club. The Knights made a huge splash on the gay sports scene back in 2001, breaking stereotypes and redefining the word “camaraderie”.  What’s next for these strapping lads?  They intend on bringing the Bingham Cup back to the United States.  This annual tournament will be held in 2012 in Manchester, England.

Shut the Puck Up: The Boxers NYC ice hockey team kicked some Honey Badger (“who just don’t give a shit”) butt last weekend beating those little critters 5-1.  The Wizards, on the other hand, ran out of magic, as the Thundercats cast a “winning spell” on the gays in green by scoring the winning goal in the last minute of play. Wizards also had 16 minutes in penalties. Don’t mess with the wand. Final score 3-2. 

Meet Norman.

Meet Norman.
by Jeff Kagan

Meet Norman Piasecki, a resident of Chelsea who spends most of his free time with balls in his hands. We’re talking about balls of sport. An avid participant in many athletic associations, Norman is a rather unusual athlete, as he can quote every line from the films Steel Magnolias and Mommie Dearest.  

Norman is from everywhere.  Yes, everywhere. Born in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, schooled in Bangkok, Thailand, then Milan, Italy, followed by Vienna, Austria.  He flew around the world once, literally, which was a terrifying ordeal that might have contributed to his aversion for some extreme sports. “I'm scared to death of heights and because of that I'll never sky-dive or bungee jump.” His interest in sports dabbles in a more common realm, and not so much in the extreme.

 “As a kid, I was not interested in sports. I was worried about not being good enough.  Also, I wasn’t the most masculine of children and I was afraid of being teased by the other boys.” There is nothing more dissuading to a young gay man than a dose of pre-emptive self-imposed homophobia to keep him away from sports.

After finishing college and settling down in New York City almost 10-years ago, Norman started looking for a way to make some new friends.  He didn’t know many people and turned to local sports leagues to help.  “I decided to join Big Apple Softball in order to get out of the house and meet other gays. It turned out being exactly what I was looking for.”  However, Norman had no experience.  That didn’t stop the good people at the Big Apple Softball League from placing him on a team.  He says, “The team I was put on was made up of all the players that no one wanted. We all came together, practiced hard and ended up being both the regular season and the playoff champions!”

Softball was great, but not enough to keep Norman satisfied.  He was not a “single sport” kind of guy.  He decided to try the New York Gay Football League next.  He had some hesitation, not knowing the game, or whether or not he’d even enjoy it.  Like with softball, he had no experience, but again, he was placed on a team and took it from there.  “I met a lot of fantastic people who enjoyed playing, and were also really social. Surprising to me, I ended up loving football!” he says.  “I went from zero experience to being pretty good at it. I've been to the championship game a handful of times, and even played in a couple of national tournaments.”

Most people would be content playing softball and football -- two sports which satisfy the needs of millions of Americans.  But not Norman.  Something was still missing from his life. He snooped around to see what new activities might pique his interest; and then he found the Big Apple Dodgeball League.  Norman recalls, “I knew I wanted to play, immediately, and I've played every season since. It’s such a crazy sport! The people are ridiculously fun and so friendly and outgoing.”

We all know Norman very well at this point.  And we know three sports aren’t enough for the Energizer Bunny.  He keeps going and going and this time going for kickball. Yes, kickball, a game most of us haven’t played since 6th grade, which is making a big comeback in the form of the Big Apple Kickball League, New York’s newest LGBT sports group. Big Apple Dodgeball had been struggling to launch a kickball spin-off for the past year or so due to a limited number of available fields in the city.  After many phone calls and waiting on waiting lists, the league is finally getting off the ground on the fields just opposite of Chelsea Piers at 28th Street. And of course, Norman was one of the first people to kick.  Norman wouldn’t be the man he is today without sports.  “I'm really into playing recreational sports. I LOVE living in New York City and living my ‘Happily Ever After’.”


Puttin’ Up Their Dukes: The NYC Gay Hockey Association’s premiere team, Boxers NYC fared-thee-well in their inaugural season by making the playoffs.  In Round 1, they took down the Snowmen (no snow-blower jokes please… except this one), but they weren’t able to tame the Sled Dogs (who’s bite is much worse than their bark).  Here’s to the Fall 2011 Season, Boxers, which starts NOW!  More at nycgayhockey.org.

An Ounce of Bounce: The NYC Gay Basketball League got off to a good start with some very close games.  The most exciting saw Boxers NYC (A Division) take down Fenwick-Keats (A Division) 44-41.  Bone Lick Park (A) sent Gym Bar to the showers in a squeaker, 57-51.  The Gym Bar (B Division) team worked out Splash (B) 32-25, and Eagle (B) took a bite out of Muscle Maker Grill in a 36-32 match-up.  More at nycgaybasketball.org.

First to Second: Big Apple Softball’s NYC Titans Over-40 team managed by Ed Sokolowski and Vinny Argiro placed 2nd year at the Chicago Senior Cup in early September. This is only one step back from last year when they placed 1st. More info at http://www.chicagoseniorcup.com.

Philadelphia Freedom: Congratulations to Out of Bounds buddy Bob Szwajkos, Marketing Director of Team Philadelphia on completing the Warsaw Marathon in Warsaw, Poland on September 25, 2011!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Triathlete 2.0

Published in Compete Magazine, August 2011

Triathlete 2.0

by Jeff Kagan

Groucho Marx once claimed that he could sing, dance, play the piano, and (in an emergency) move it.  For an entertainer it is quite common to demonstrate three distinct talents---four if you count moving a piano as yet another, but for an athlete it is not so common.  Many athletes have multiple abilities, but most focus on a single activity, the one at which they excel or most enjoy.  There is a relatively rare group of athletes who go so far as to compete in two.

Pushing the envelope even further are those athletes whose lives revolve around competing in three different sports.  We could call them tri-athletes, although, by its most primitive definition (sans hyphen), a triathlete is “one who competes in a triathlon,” an event which traditionally hosts competitions in swimming, cycling and running in immediate succession.  While this may seem like insanity to most of us, it is a challenge to the dedicated athletes who push themselves to see how much sweat they can leave on the ball fields, at the ice rinks and in the swimming pools.  Rather than risk upsetting the good people at Webster’s Dictionary, let’s enhance the original word and use the term “triathlete 2.0”.

Triathlete 2.0 (n) [trahy-ath-leet-too-dot-oh]: “one who participates in three sports organizations, not necessarily at the same time or even on the same day, but does so over the course of multiple weeks and months (called ‘seasons’).”  Why train for a single day’s event and have it all end in a few hours? 

Mikey Rickman is a triathlete 2.0.  During the week, he’s a public school teacher and interpreter for the deaf in Boston, but his weekends are another story. On Saturdays and Sundays Rickman plays basketball, softball and volleyball -- with a little time in between for socializing and carbo-loading. He serves as the Commissioner of the Boston Gay Basketball League and plays for the Ashmont Rimshots in the upper division where he ranks 2nd in steals. Rickman owes his years of experience to his parents, as he’s been playing basketball since age 6. “My parents asked me if I wanted to play and gave me the opportunity to say yes or no.  If I did not like the sport after I started, the only rule was to finish out the season so I did not let my team down,” he says. Apparently, he likes basketball so much, he hasn’t let a team down in 23 years.  And the same goes for softball, which he’s been playing for just as long.  He’s currently part of the Beantown Softball League where he plays for the Club Café Crew and also coaches Club Café Good Times. When he’s not playing basketball or softball, Rickman spends his last free remaining hours setting up and spiking the ball in the Cambridge Boston Volleyball League

Being on a field or on a court every weekend for practices or games, Rickman’s schedule is quite rigorous, but he seems to enjoy the pandemonium. “I love meeting new people.  Being involved gives me the opportunity to network and to learn more about the city.  I moved here from Knoxville, Tennessee, not knowing many people, and now I have a place to call home. My teammates are not only my friends in Boston, but they are my family. 

One man’s pandemonium is another man’s peace, according to Daniel Edwards, who plays softball, ice hockey and rugby. His motivation for being a triathlete 2.0 is geared more towards solitude and relaxation from life’s little curve balls. “I enjoy it because it keeps my mind at ease. I could have a stressful day at work and go to a hockey game and forget all about it in that hour or two of skating. It’s one of the only times my mind is free of distractions,” says Edwards, who works in the Computer Crimes Unit for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation in Atlanta.

Edwards is lucky enough to have his three sports spread over several days and not just a weekend. He plays “fly half” with the Atlanta Bucks Rugby Club, then he’s usually on the ice once during the week, centering with the Atlanta Jacks, then once again on the weekends.  He plays in a straight softball league, on the Blackburn Predators on Monday nights and then practices with his gay softball team, the Atlanta Menace on Wednesday nights, preparing for Sunday’s game.  He also coaches the Atlanta Rubber Ducks softball team on Saturdays.

As Edwards can testify, participating in sports is the ideal way to distract us from the problems and pressures of everyday life.  The physical workout helps release tension from our bodies, while the mental concentration takes our mind off of everything other than beating our opponents (and in the case of rugby and ice hockey: beating up our opponents). Along with the hard work each athlete puts into the game, the most important aspect of team sports is teamwork: working together for a common goal.  A byproduct of teamwork is camaraderie: the mutual trust and friendship among people who spend a lot of time together.

Rory Ray, a web developer in New York City, knows all about spending a lot of time with his teammates.  Two of his teams have traveled thousands of miles to compete in national and international tournaments. Ray proudly reflects on the camaraderie he shares with the other players, “It’s the reason I play. Being able to have someone right there with me as I go into battle and knowing they'll have my back, no matter what the outcome, is an amazing feeling. In those wonderful moments when everything comes together, and you win an important game as a team, there's no better feeling than being able to share that with them.” 

Ray is a forward for the San Francisco Rock Dogs, an LGBT basketball team, which was featured the 2008 LOGO television series, “Shirts & Skins”. The Rock Dogs have contributed to some notable victories, as they earned gold medals in the 2006 Gay Games in Chicago, and again in the 2010 Gay Games in Cologne, Germany.  Ray’s former flag football team, the Los Angeles Motion, also won the gold medal at the 2006 Gay Games in Chicago and then three years later went on to take the championship at Gay Bowl IX, a national LGBT flag football tournament akin to the NFL’s Superbowl.   On the football field, he’s a wide receiver and free safety, but on the dodgeball court, Ray spends his time with Team Splash and the Big Apple Dodgeball League picking off his opponents one by one.

Even when facing a tough opponent like Rory Ray, it’s camaraderie that keeps the team together. The players develop strong interpersonal relationships, sometimes as close as members of their own families. Perhaps this could be what attracts many gay amateur athletes to organized sports in their adulthood after having had negative experiences in their youth. In some cases, as teens, when other boys took an interest in the opposite sex, gay athletes noticed certain differences in themselves -- differences they were not able to openly discuss due to the homophobic environment of the locker room, whether at school or at home. This created a feeling of isolation and, eventually, a loss of interest. 

As adults, now out of the closet, they no longer need to worry about being rejected because they are different.  They come back to the sports they loved in their youth, with self-confidence and a sense of personal security, looking to get a taste of the friendship and camaraderie that they missed in their youth.

This was certainly the case for Jeffrey James, a Product Manager at Sony Music Entertainment who says that he participates to get redemption from negative experiences he had playing sports in high school.  “Back then, I was a decent athlete, not the best and not the worst, but I wasn't comfortable in my own skin. It was awkward being in the locker room and taking showers with the other guys. Although I tried my best not to stare at anyone, I felt the other guys knew something about me. It was a terrible feeling. Now, on my gay sport teams, I still try not to stare, but I am surrounded by people who are just like me, and I don’t have the same anxiety I had back then. It’s comforting.”

James has been playing softball for twenty years.  He joined the Big Apple Softball League in 2001 and soon met his partner, Ed Sokolowski through the league.  The two have been together for the past nine years. Sokolowski had been playing with the Gotham Volleyball League, and James decided to try it.  He liked it.  Dodgeball came next when the Big Apple Dodgeball League broke onto the New York gay sports scene in the fall of 2007. James jumped on board right away, playing with the Back Breakers, trying to avoid getting hit in the face with any balls.  Trying...  James doesn’t know Rory Ray personally, but he’s seen him in action. “He has a wicked arm. Good thrower. Low and fast,” he says.

Braking Away

Published in Next Magazine, September 16, 2011

Braking Away
by Jeff Kagan

If Chad Woodward had way, he would have spent more time indoors as a child.  He disliked sports, yet his parents thought he’d be better off out of the house and being more active. Woodward says, “I avoided playing sports like I was getting paid for it!  My parents, God love them, enrolled me in every sport under the sun, and I was without question, the worst one on the team every time!”
He discovered his athlete abilities as an adult at which time he started dabbling in track and triathlons. Having never run further than three miles in one session, he optimistically signed up for a marathon.  Although the process was tough, at times unbearable, he lived through it, and he was hooked. “I drank the Kool-Aid! I went from fantastically anti-athletic to completing my first Ironman triathlon in the span of a few years.”

Jeff Adams says he was the least sporty kid around. He too caught the “sports bug” as an adult while playing softball in his company softball league. An avid hockey fan, he decided to give it a whirl and in the fall of 2001, and he now plays with the NYC Gay Hockey Association on two different teams, the Tigers and the Boxers.

Unlike Woodward and Adams, Mason Scherzer spent plenty of time outdoors as a child. His mother was a national level softball player which may have rubbed off on him. He also played tennis, and in college he progressed to volleyball.  When it came to sports, he was like the Energizer Bunny.  He’s been playing with Big Apple Softball for the past 14 years, and he’s also made some passes with the NY Gay Football League.

Each of these men has one thing in common – their desire to use their love of sports to help make a difference. All three are participating in this weekend’s Braking The Cycle AIDS Ride.  Last year, this 285-mile bicycle ride from Boston to New York will raised over $300,000 to support HIV/AIDS services offered by the NYC Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Transgender Center. 

Why do they do it? Scherzer considers himself to be extraordinarily lucky. “For my health, for my family that didn't freak out about the gay thing, and for my friends and support network.  I thought that I owed it to karma that as long as I could do something to try and help out others who weren't so lucky that I should do so. It's really a gift now that I give myself each year, this ride”, he says.

Woodward was inspired by a man in a promotional video about the ride. He says, “There was an interview with a man who told his story about being so close to dying, there was little hope left.  Through actions taken by the Center, he lived.  That was several years before said interview.  I met him that year on the ride and he told me his story, the good, the bad, and the ugly.  I have never been so moved and touched as I was in that moment.  The sincerity of his intention and the courage of his story were things of storybooks to me.  To this day, I count that single discussion as one of the most influential moments of my life.”

Find out more about Braking The Cycle at www.brakingthecycle.org.


Wetness: Congratulations to Team New York Aquatics swimmers (amongst others) who swam 4-miles, from Sayville to The Pines, at the 3rd Annual Stonewall Foundation Swim on Saturday, August 13th raising over $150K for the Stonewall Community Foundation.

Dodginess: Big Apple Dodgeball had its first ever Summer Co-Ed Charity tournament in August raising $2250 with team "Lesbian Swan" swooping in to take the crown. The tournament was co-sponsored by Gym Bar and Rockbar and all proceeds of the tourney will go to the GLSEN Sports Project. 

Bikiness: He likes the nickname Patch, but Patrick Chin-Hong's middle name might as well be "perseverance," after he completed Paris-Brest-Paris, a 1200 km (745 mi.) bike tour from France's capital city to the coast of Brittany, in under 90 hours.  Patrick made quick stops, to eat and to sleep on cafeteria countertops and in roadside ditches, never for more than an hour, joining about 5,000 spandex-clad, sleep-deprived zombies.

Runniness: Frontrunners New York’s Men's masters team placed 5th of 28 teams in NYRR's Team Championships on August 6 in one of the most competitive team races of the year.  Congratulations to the men who scored for the team: Chris Stoia, Patrick Guilfoyle, Matt Anderson, Marty McElhiney, and Mike Grzelecki!

Softness: Congratulations to the NYC Fusion and NYC Swingers on their 1st and 2nd place finishes, respectively, in the Big Apple Softball’s Playing For Life 8 Tournament D Division.  Honorable mention to the Long Island LIPSA All-Stars for 3rd place in the C Division.   Learn more about the tournament at www.playingforlife.org.