Friday, April 15, 2011

"Saints & Scrummers"

Published in Next Magazine, April 14, 2011.
Saints & Scrummers
By Jeff Kagan 

In 1972, Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 carrying the Stella Maris College rugby team crashed while flying over the Andes Mountains.  They were on their way to Santiago de Chile for a match but they never made it.  Only 16 of the 45 people on board survived, being stranded in the snowy mountain tops for two and half months, turning to cannibalism in order to live.  Their story of strength and resilience echoed throughout the world and touched so many people.

Growing up in Montevideo, Juan Pablo Heins knew their story well. When he as a young man, he remembered meeting two of the survivors, Nando and Roberto; they left a lasting impression on him.  “I went to the TV station to meet them. It wasn't so much what they said to me, but the fact that they were tough guys, playing tough sports – they survived a tragedy, and moved on to have very prolific lives.”

Juan Pablo didn’t have much of a knack for sports as a child.  He was usually chosen last on teams in gym class. This didn’t make things easy for him when seeking out the inclusiveness that is usually only found in a team sports setting. He avoided team sports altogether.

When he was 19, Juan Pablo lost his father.  Shortly after, he met some Mormon missionaries while trying to understand the purpose of his life.  He became a missionary, as well, and went to Colombia for two years to preach the gospel.  His next step was to enroll at Brigham Young University and over the course of the next five years he realized that as a gay man in the Mormon church he had to make a decision:  to be honest with himself or to live his life as a lie.  He left the church and moved to Salt Lake City, and then eventually to New York.

Living in Brooklyn, and always on the go, Juan Pablo decided it was time to find something healthy to do in the little spare time he had. He didn’t want to work out at a gym -- he felt a team sport might be more fulfilling.  Thinking back to his childhood and the impressionable meeting with the two legendary survivors, Juan Pablo got in touch with the Gotham Knights Rugby Football Club.

I had no idea how to play and didn't know the rules of the game. But everyone on my team was very helpful at explaining things and I've been watching a lot of the games since to learn more,” he said.
Juan Pablo quickly saw how the hard-hitting Gotham Knights not only break their opponent’s winning streaks, but they also break stereotypes. It is a tradition that after every game we go out with the opposing team to a bar and drink together. We are the only gay rugby team in the city so we always play ‘straight’ teams. I feel that, in a way, we represent our community in the straight sports world and give them yet another perspective of gay men.”

He smiles and adds, “A gay Latino ex-Mormon rugby player breaks the stereotype just a little.”

For more information on the Gotham Knights Rugby Football Club, go to

Sweaty Balls:  The Jesters and the Fusion travelled to Tampa, Florida to play in the Gasparilla Softball Classic over President's Day weekend! The Fusion seeded #1 after their round robin! The Jesters finished 9th out of 25 teams after being seeded 23rd in the round robin. Congrats to both teams for a great weekend of softball!   Learn more about playing in the Big Apple Softball League at

Eight Balls: The New York Gay Pool League has just wrapped up its 26th 8-Ball season.  Going into the Quarter-finals, the top 3 teams were Eagle, Boxers, and Amsterdam BCEagle got knocked out, and Chi-Chiz, Boxers, Boxer’s Briefs, and Amsterdam BC advanced to the semi’s.  The final match was a Boxers ‘Subway Series’, and Boxers beat the Briefs in a very close 2-night victory, 8-6 and 8-7!  More at

Bouncy Balls: Front Runners New York congratulates all the participants in the 12th Annual FRNY Track Meet, which was held on March 18 at the Armory Track. We set records for the most participants ever with 245 athletes competing, and more Front Runners competing than ever before.  Special thanks to Meet Directors Kelsey Louie and Derek Petti, as well as to the many volunteers who kept things running smoothly! More at

Manly Balls: NYC Gay Basketball League’s Spring 2011 Season is off to a kick-ass start. In the Gym Bar Division, Team Gym Bar is 4-0 followed by Eagle Bar at 3-1. The Boxers Division has three teams all fighting for first place: Splash Bar, Bone Lick Park and Boxers. Come check the boys out The Field House at Chelsea Piers Pier 61 on the Hudson River. Free to spectators! More at

No Balls. Just Pucks: NYC Gay Hockey Association Division 7B and Division 8 are wrapping up their Fall 2010-2011 Season. The D7B Wizards are going for the gold as they’ve made it to the best-of-three championship round of the playoffs for the first time in their seven-year history.  The Division 8 Hotshots fared better than their sister teams, the Tigers and Polar Bears, making the playoffs, but they were eliminated in Round 1 in a tough 3-2 loss against the Scapegoats on March 26th. NYCGHA is launching their newest team on April 16th: the Boxers!  More at

Monday, April 11, 2011

"Live to Ride. Ride to Live.”

Published in Next Magazine, March 17, 2011.

“Live to Ride. Ride to Live.”
By Jeff Kagan

Graham Weinstein learned he was HIV-positive in 1992.  He was 27 years old and thought his days were numbered.  He had no job, no money, no partner and very few friends.  Having nothing to do, and not wanting to do anything, his days were filled with emptiness. He was depressed. Graham began making mental preparations to die. 

To escape from his personal sorrow, Graham would get on his bike and ride over the George Washington Bridge, making sure to ride very fast, to lessen the chance of ending his life during a weak moment.  “Many days I would end up in Palisades Park, bawling my eyes out, thinking I've screwed up my life beyond repair.”

However, one bright summer morning, something caught Graham’s eye.  He noticed another cyclist, jersey halfway unzipped, with a nipple ring glistening in the sun. He was intrigued.  They began to talk and within a few minutes, Graham’s life had switched gears.  “Right there, in the time it took to cross the bridge, my life began to transform.  We started to ride together almost every weekend and soon met two other gay cyclists that shared our love for riding.”

Graham and his new pedaling pals began training together for a ride called “Escape New York,” a 100-mile ride excursion over the George Washington Bridge, through the West Hudson Highlands of Bergen County, New Jersey and up into Rockland County, New York.  This was the trip that truly changed his life.  The bonds of friendship formed very quickly.  “These are my closest friends today and the people I credit with helping me turn my life around.”  He now had close friends, a hobby he loved, and he even found a job as the Communications Manager for New York Road Runners.

In 2009, Graham and his friend Dieter Klemke decided it was time to take their passion for riding to the next level and OutCycling was born!  Dieter considers himself to be a good organizer and that shows -- within the first full year, the group had over 100 members, and since, their mailing list has grown to over 300.  Dieter happily enjoys the benefits of organizing for an athletic crowd, “I love having lots of hot bodies in tight clothes around me. (BIG SMILE).”  He also takes pride in the organization’s diversity and the sense of inclusiveness that is felt all around. “We all love to be together as a group and we take care of each other.  We don’t leave anyone behind.

Thanks to their hard work, and the many friends he has found, Graham is in a much better place these days.  On weekend mornings, he rides along the Hudson River on Palisades Park, grateful for the beauty all around him.  “I am living proof it gets better.

Not only is his life better, but he’s meeting new and interesting people every week. It was fun finding out the sweet-as-pie rider next to me is getting in shape for his next role as a master in an S&M adult movie.”

For more information about OutCycling, go to  If you are struggling with HIV and need someone to talk to, call Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) at 1-800-243-7692 (

Scarey Flying Balls: Can someone say total dodgeball domination? After winning Big Apple Dodgeball's 1st Annual Winter Tournament, The Mariah Scareys won their third consecutive championship in the mostly-hetero NYCSSC Dodgeball league. This all-gay dodgeball team is the only team to hold that record in NYCSSC Dodgeball history. That's certainly something to sing about. More at

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough: Last weekend, the nice people at CRUX, New York’s LGBT Rock Climbing Club took the kids from Green Chimneys climbing!  This was their first foray into working with homeless and underprivileged youth.  Rock on!!  More at

Nice Bat. Wood?:  The Big Apple Softball League congratulates several of its teams who placed in the Sin City Shoot Out in Las Vegas in January: The Wings who came in 1st and The Eagles who came in 3rd in the "C" Division.  The Dirty Dozen, a traveling Big Apple Softball League team came, in 1st in the Women's Division.  Congratulations to all!

Oh, look. There’s A Gay Lion.  ROAR.  The New York Lions are champions once again as they tamed the Wildmen on Friday, February 11th at Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers in Game 2 of a best-of-3 series.  This is the Lions' lucky 13th Championship since the summer of 2001 and they still hold the record for the NYC Gay Hockey Association team with the most wins.  Congratulations to Captain Vinny Cericola and his team on their victory!

See Dick Run: Five members of the Front Runners New York men’s team placed on the New York Road Runners honor roll in the Coogan’s Shamrock, Blues, and Salsa 5K race on Sunday, March 6: Josh Korth (age group 20 – 24 years, 10th place), Rich Velazquez (30 – 34, 6th), Assistant Coach Christopher Stoia (40 – 49,  5th), Steve Vizena (50 – 54, 6th), and Dave Pitches (65 – 69, 3rd).  Congratulations, gentlemen!

"Sink or Swim"

Published in Next Magazine, February 18, 2011.

"Sink or Swim"
by Jeff Kagan

Tim Maxwell is a typical 21-year old gay man. A college senior at Pace University, majoring in Communication Arts, with a minor in the thirst-quenching activities deemed legal at his age, he lives his life day by day, going to classes, studying and working as an intern for Details Magazine.

This is life now.  But four years ago, life was even easier.  Growing up in North Jersey, Tim had fewer responsibilities and more time to do the things he loved, specifically, swimming. “My parents made sure my brother and I were very active in sports growing up. I started swimming at age 6 and I’ve been doing it ever since. At times it seemed like I was in the water more than I was on land.”

His mom and dad would travel as far as Bayonne, cheering him on at almost every swim meet.  Tim recalls the Northern New Jersey Interscholastic League meet, “In the middle of crowd, I could see my parents screaming my name and the ear-to-ear smile on my mom’s face. That was just the motivation I needed to pull ahead and win.” Their support seems to have helped as Tim placed 9th out of 40 in the 200-meter medley (a combination of four different swimming styles into one race).

After starting college Tim took a hiatus from swimming simply because he didn’t have the time, but now that he’s in the final stretch, he’s ready to jump back into it with the help of Team New York Aquatics (TNYA), the gay & lesbian swimming club.  “This is such a great group of people. The level of respect and camaraderie amongst the members immediately made me feel comfortable and welcome. I felt like I was part of a team from the first day.”

Tim went to his first workout with TNYA and expected to start where he left off four years ago but he was quickly reminded that his body wasn’t in the same shape that it was four years earlier. He’s not wet behind the ears (so to speak), but he’s no Michael Phelps just yet. He’s back in the pool, and that’s what counts. 

Drills and workouts are not the only hurdle Tim is facing now. He has a greater and more personal goal, and this one isn’t as easy as swimming a few laps.  Tim is planning to come out to his parents. His greatest fear, as is anyone’s, is the fear of the unknown.  He worries if his parents will be as supportive and loving when they learn the secret that Tim’s been keeping for so long. “The actual process of coming out scares me the most. I’ve pretended to be a certain person all my life. I know they love me and wouldn’t turn me away, but I don’t want them to think any differently of me.”

When the time is right, Tim will have that talk with his parents, and he will take his first big steps out of that closet, to live his life openly and proudly. In the meantime, with the help of Team New York Aquatics, he’s building up a medley of new friends who will give him the support he needs. And hopefully, when this is all over, he might even let his parents read this article.

For more information about Team New York Aquatics, go to

Green Velvet: The NY Gay Pool League has just wrapped up its 26th regular season, and is about to start the playoffs!  Eagle is in 1st place, Boxers in 2nd, Amsterdam Billiards in 3rd. Follow the action at

Singlet Wedgies: Here are the results of the Metro Gay Wrestling Annual Freestyle Tournament on January 16, 2011: Lightweights:  Carl Weisbecker (1st); Nick Zymaris (2nd); Rick Van Tassel (3rd); Middleweights: Mark Evans (1st); Kris Burrell (2nd); Manuel Cruz (3rd); Heavyweights: Gary Baker (1st); Mike Simone (2nd).  Nice pins!

Around the Rim: Team NYCGBL wins their division trophy the Sin City Shoot-Out Gay Basketball Tournament on MLK Weekend in Las Vegas. Congrats to round-ballers Mike Ashburn, Jeremie Knight, Antonio Hicks, Michael Davis, Gregory Springs, Matt Welton, Ric Firmino, Andrew Johnstone and Captain Mike Kokell.  Honorable mention to the Empire State Ballers for a great effort.

Athlete’s Foot: Front Runners New York congratulates all its 2010 award winners, including David Lin (Front Runner of the Year), Rachel Cutler (Guy Zelenak Memorial Volunteer of the Year), and Inger-Jo Berger (A.R.E.A. Lifetime Achievement Award Winner).  See a complete list of winners at

Playing with Big Balls: The Big Apple Softball League will be holding two drafts for new players of any gender and all playing abilities in both open and women's divisions on March 26 and April 2.    Details will be posted at

"Let It Snow! They Don't Mind."

Published in Next Magazine, January 21, 2011.

"Let It Snow!  They Don't Mind."
by Jeff Kagan

Picture it.  Vermont.  2005.  A big house party filled with a gaggle of guys on their first weekend getaway with the Ski Bums, the world’s largest Gay & Lesbian Skiing and Snowboarding ClubChris French, the founder of the group, goes up to the loft to take a picture and he finds himself looking down on a room full of people who were complete strangers only months before, yet, now they seemed like a family, smiling, laughing and excited about their much anticipated upcoming steps out onto the powdery snow-covered hills of New England.

These trips are quite common for the 800-member organization – the skiing, the snowboarding, the feeling of inclusiveness and new friendships.  However, they do have one surprising benefit:  a strange feeling of youthfulness. We woke up one morning to more than a foot of fresh snow. It was incredible to see how elated everyone gets when you're flying through giant puffs of fluffy powder -- you feel like you're a kid again.” says French, whose youthful smile radiates enough warmth to melt a snowman.

French grew up, the son of a preacher man, in a small farm town in Northern Illinois, population 499.  He started skiing at age 7 on tiny riverbanks and refashioned landfills.  “Back then, it took 2 minutes to get down the mountain and then another twenty to get back up,” he recalls. Thanks to technological advances in ski lifts, the entire experience has truly evolved.

French initially started the group not for his love of skiing but for his own interest in finding a skier to love.  I wanted to find a husband who could ski. That's the honest truth.”  He looked around to see if there was an LGBT skiing & snowboarding club, and when he didn’t find one, this mogul of the mountain took the initiative to start one himself.

What’s in store for the Ski Bums in 2011? French is proudly launching two new programs, the first of which is an all-new College Chapter of Ski Bums (sounds like an 80’s movie, doesn’t it?).  This will be a fun, affordable, laidback weekend getaway for college students.

The second program will involve an organization called Stoked, which works with at-risk youth in New York City to build mentoring relationships around snowboarding, skateboarding and surfing trips. “We asked if they'd be interested in partnering with us to adapt their program for LGBT youth, they immediately jumped on board with incredible enthusiasm,” French says.  “We've now got a coalition of several organizations that are joining together in an inspiring team effort, and we can't wait for the program to begin!”

Find the Ski Bums at their monthly “Avalanche” party at Therapy Lounge. For more information about the Ski Bums and Stoked, see their websites at and

Get Out. Out of Bounds, That Is:  The Out of Bounds NYC Sports Memorabilia Exhibit has moved to Boxers NYC (37 West 20th St.). See over 100 medals, ribbons and plaques all commemorating the unstoppable determination of LGBT athletes of New York City.

Tennis Anyone?: The Metropolitan Tennis Group raised $6800 this year for the Matthew Shepard Foundation!  All proceeds support the foundation’s mission to teach and instill tolerance, respect and acceptance of LGBT individuals and everyone/anyone that is “different.”

Tall Drink O’Water: The New York City Gay Basketball League is sending two teams to the Sin City Classic over the MLK Holiday Weekend! The local gay team continues to dominate the Chelsea Piers League, after winning the Division 5 championship, they moved up to division 3 and continue on their winning streak (17 games in a row).  Next, they are up against another straight team…The Topps… go figure.
Kiss My Ice: NYC Gay Hockey Association accomplishments: Matt Ingham leads his team with nine points, from eight goals and one assist for the Wizards. Matt has sat in the penalty box for four minutes.  Adam Knoerzer received his first penalty of his career on January 8, 2011 and in the heavens above, someone killed an angel.

Dark Knights: The Gotham Knights Rugby Club will be hosting their Winter Indoor Training sessions (open to new members) on Thursday nights from 6:30pm-8:00pm from January through March 2011.  For more information email

"Defying Gravity"

Published in Next Magazine, December 16, 2010.

"Defying Gravity"
By Jeff Kagan

Michael Schmidt wants to be on top.  Good-- that got your attention (we know our readers).  However, the top we’re talking about is 29,035 feet, up on top of a mountain (you can hear the size queens gasping…)

Michael Schmidt is going to climb Mt. Everest.  That’s a lot of ambition for a man who started climbing rocks and other objects only a few months ago.  “I set really high goals for myself.  I used to be overweight.  When the weight came off, I wanted a health-related goal.” Schmidt, a former U.S. Air Force officer, went online to, where he found CRUX: New York’s Gay & Lesbian Rock Climbing Group.  Looking for his next big adventure, he thought, “I am too old to be the first gay man on Mars, so Everest just made sense.” That being said, he wanted to do it right, and he needed to learn how to do that.  “When I die, I want to be warm and surrounded by love ones -- not frozen for eternity on a cliff somewhere.” From there, he contacted the nice people at CRUX and his adventure began.

John Masse, one of the group’s co-organizers, thinks Schmidt will reach his lofty, but admirable goal. “From what I know of Michael, he’s the type of person who sets his mind on something, and then does it.” 

Masse admits that his own reasons for joining CRUX weren’t as awe-inspiring, but they certainly were vital: he joined CRUX to find a date. “I like rock climbing, and I’m gay.  Maybe I’ll meet someone.”  However, when he showed up to his first climb, he was the only male, with several lesbians, and a lot of rope.  That didn’t discourage him, as they were friendly lesbians, and week after week, more and more men joined the group.  He’s been with CRUX for two years, and although the gender-balance is now slightly higher on the male side, Masse still hasn’t found a boyfriend, but he isn’t giving up! 

So, if you’re looking for a new place to “hang around”, CRUX has over 600 members waiting to hold your ropes.  The next meet is on Friday, December 17th at Brooklyn Boulders (575 Degraw Street, Brooklyn).  More information at

Straight to Bed: The NYC Gay Basketball League swept the Men’s Division at The Field House at Chelsea Piers (playing against the “straight” teams).  They finished with a perfect record (12-0), and then a thrilling overtime win against the Honey Bears (yes, that’s the name of a straight team). 

Blue Balls:  Big Apple Dodgeball finished their 7th season with 18 teams and 180 members strong. Team Penelope fought long and hard the entire season for their 1st place finish, team Cubbyhole narrowly missed out and came in 2nd, while team Rock Bar rocked out to 3rd place. The tournament was a different story altogether. The underdogs came out fighting with the 6th place ranked Stonewall taking down the 9th Place Bonobos for the finals. Stonewall caught their way to victory in the end, taking down Bonobos in just two games.

Hang On!  Congratulations to CRUX: The LGBT Rock Climbing Club on raising over $2,000 for the Ali Forney Center at their recent holiday party. 

That’s a BIG Apple: Congratulations to the Fall Guys and the Warriors on finishing in 1st and 2nd place, respectively, in the Big Apple Softball League Fall League Competitive Division Finals.  Final score was 9-8.  The game was won at the bottom of the 7th inning, with an 8-8 tie as “Shane“ hit a 3-run walk-off homerun, bringing in the men on 1st & 2nd.

You’re a Wizard, Harry:  The Wizards gay hockey team is having a magical season, just coming off of a six-game winning streak with their first loss against the Sled Dogs.  The Wizards are looking good for playoff contention, which is a rare, yet sweet taste these boys long for…

See Dick Run: The men of Front Runners New York came in 3rd place citywide in the Race to Deliver, a 4-mile race in Central Park benefitting God's Love We Deliver.  FRNY’s fastest finisher, Rich Velazquez, finished in 8th place overall, out of over 5000 racers!

If you’d like your team’s updates to appear here, contact

"Burning For Basketball"

Published in Next Magazine, November 19, 2010.

"Burning For Basketball"
By Jeff Kagan

On a crisp autumn afternoon in Chelsea, on an indoor basketball court by the Hudson River, the word “de-fense” is called out, rhythmically, by syllable, five times in a row, like the sound of a fire truck steadily approaching a blaze.  But this isn’t the sound of a fire truck -- it’s the sound of Burnie Du Rant, Jr., a man who is much louder than most fire trucks, especially when he’s cheering for his players in a game.  One might even speculate that his name means “fire screaming” (burn + rant).

Burnie is the captain of team Gym Bar, in the B-Division of the New York City Gay Basketball League, a team with a 5-2 record this season, fighting for the first place position.  Week after week, Burnie is calling out cheers, pumping his team up and trying to inspire them to play harder:  “We don’t need another hero!  Play smart!!  C’mon, Gym Bar! C’mon!!!”  Someone jokes from the scoring table, “Burnie, you got NO team spirit.”  Burnie replies, “I got MY team’s spirit!” 

Burnie started playing basketball when he was a teenager.  “I played throughout middle school. Even though I was good, I never had the courage to play in high school,” he says, alluding to the anxiety of his deepest, darkest secret: that he was a gay man. Throughout high school, Burnie steered clear from basketball, and other social activities.  Alone and afraid, he turned to drinking and drugs. 

“I started drinking and using pot in high school. Drug use carried over into college and then afterwards I started using coke.” Burnie believes it was his way of dealing with a low self-esteem while struggling with being gay and in the closet.  Eventually, he was able to come to terms with his sexuality, and now he’s out and he’s proud of who he is.  And he’s been drug and alcohol free for over five years. 

When Burnie was ready to start things over, he looked for an activity that help him meet other gay men, but didn’t necessarily involve drinking.  That’s not always easy to find.  One day, at the LGBT Community Center, he saw a flyer for the New York City Gay Basketball League and thought, “Wow!! I must have just died and gone to heaven!”

He joined the organization, became a captain in his second year, and now serves as a member of the Board of Directors. It definitely got better.  Burnie says that the friends he has made in basketball are the most rewarding of all aspects of the group. “Half of all my friends play in league.  And not just acquaintances, but ‘Ok, I am going through something, do you have time to talk’ friends.  We are a family.”

With only two games left in their season, Burnie hopes to lead his team through the playoffs and to a championship.  One thing is for sure, his voice will be heard on the courts, off the courts, and probably over in Jersey. 

The league plays on Sunday afternoons from 3pm-6pm at the Field House at Chelsea Piers.  Games are free to spectators. More information at     

Look Mom! I won!!  Check out “We Are The Champions: LGBT Sports & Recreation in New York City”, and exhibit of LGBT sports memorabilia presented by Out of Bounds NYC and the LGBT Community Center.  See hundreds of medals, ribbons, trophies, uniforms and more, representing the pride of gay athletes of New York over the last 25 years.  Exhibit runs thru November 30th.  LGBT Community Center, 208 West 13th St., 3rd Floor.  Free.

Nothing to Balk At!  Congratulations are in order for Big Apple Softball’s Titans, Gatorz and Jesters as they won the C-Division 1st Place, and the D-Division’s 2nd & 3rd Place, respectively, of the Ocean State Cup Classic Softball Tournament in Providence, Rhode Island over Columbus Day Weekend. More information at

Dribble, Dribble!  In the world of Gay Basketball, all is good for Boxers B-Division, led by Fritz Maier, as the team beat Band of Sisters 41-32 last Sunday.  Not-So-Gay are the opponents of the NYCGBL Division 2 team which continues to roll through the regular season with an 8-0 record in the Chelsea Piers Men’s League.  Go Gays! More information at

Run for your Life!  Front Runners New York had a banner day at the NYC marathon.  113 Front Runners completed and 70 cross the line in under 4. Eight placed in the top 1,000 overall out of more than 45,000 runners! More information at

Rack’em & Crack’em!  After only 2 weeks of play: Eagle NYC, Chi-chiz Elite and Boxers are all tied for 1st place.  It is still anyone's season!!  The league still has teams looking for players.  More information at