Take Me Out: Gay Sports

David Sokol

New York has not hosted a Gay Games since 1994, but that hasn’t stopped the City from becoming a mecca for LGBT athletes. Since the late 1980s, and especially in the last five years, gay New Yorkers have launched a great number of the 30-plus sports organizations that today welcome thousands of extracurricular players. These legions are as diverse as New York’s LGBT community, representing a spectrum of abilities, ages and interests. As the chill of autumn and winter make indoor workouts seem inevitable, locals and visitors may want to consider these sports leagues’ gatherings as a challenging, enjoyable alternative to the gym.

Gotham Volleyball
Counting 575 members in 72 teams, Gotham Volleyball is the largest LGBT sports organization in New York. Those teams fall into one of nine divisions: Division 1 includes some college and semi-pro players, while Division 9 are relatively newcomers to the game; Gotham Volleyball also offers six levels of a volleyball clinic called Power Class, which enrolls an additional 200 players.

The league runs tryouts to sort through its membership’s spectrum of abilities. Everybody plays a game under the watchful eye of a division’s eight captains, who then pick their teams. “Because we often have more players try out than we have spots for, we cannot guarantee any placement,” explains Travis Pouliot, secretary of Gotham Volleyball’s board of directors. It’s once the season gets under way in the Bayard Rustin High School gymnasium that competition mixes with socializing, as teams and divisions organize dinners, karaoke and other events. League play and Power Class are $135 and $205, respectively, and kneepads will cost you extra.

Big Apple Dodgeball
This dodgeball league’s current fifth season is also its biggest, with 180 people enrolled in 18 teams. Big Apple Dodgeball’s growing popularity may have something to do with the friendly get-togethers that follow the series of 15-minute matchups that take place at the Tony Dapolito Recreation Center every Monday evening. “We have heard that Big Apple Dodgeball is a drinking league with a dodgeball problem,” jokes its marketing chair, Steve Moreau, adding, “The only place where newbies should feel intimidated is at the flipcup table at the afterparties.”
There are no tryouts, and teams are randomly selected to ensure a mix of playing abilities. The $100 seasonal fee includes a gym membership to all New York City Parks & Recreation locations.

Cheer New York
You may have seen or heard Cheer New York at any number of this summer’s pride marches. The 32-volunteer squad attends myriad community events, and it can be booked for private functions. Regardless of the venue, Cheer New York combines cheers, gymnastics and acrobatics to rival an ESPN screening. (Naturally, a successful audition is a precondition for involvement.) At every performance, too, you will find the cheerleaders passing around Spirit Buckets for donations that go to the Cheer for Life charity fund.

One of the fledgling groups among New York’s LGBT sports leagues, CRUX was established in 2008 to energize the region’s rock-climbing community—and to welcome everyone from seasoned climbers to curious beginners. Already 50 members have joined founders Meghan McDonald and Danielle Jablonski on climbing days, which take place twice a month, alternating between indoor Manhattan and Westchester locations for $2 per event. A quick glance at CRUX’s online schedule reveals these geckos convening in Brooklyn, too.

Metro Wrestling
“In the United States wrestling is traditionally viewed as a kids’ sport,” says Carl Weisbecker, president of Metro Wrestling. “Consequently Metro is one of only a few clubs, gay or straight, that focuses on training adult wrestlers.” As a result, too, showing up for practice pretty much guarantees your involvement in the team, and of the $10 biweekly practices (or $35 per month), a monthly “beginners’ practice” reviews the basics. The all-volunteer coaches are particularly committed to nurturing all these players, and they oversee drills as well as sparring and practice matches. About 25 of Metro Wrestling’s 75 participants enroll in its annual tournament. The next takes place January 17 and involves a league of sister clubs from Chicago, Paris, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco and southern California.

Metropolitan Tennis Group
Like Metro Wrestling, the Metropolitan Tennis Group runs a year-round schedule that officially launched September 1. And that calendar is diverse. Monthly singles parties are run in a round-robin pro-set format, while corresponding doubles parties play regulation games and sets, with unmatched members and doubles teams paired according to playing ability. Both are open to the general public. The Liberty Open, which the Metropolitan Tennis Group has organized every July 4th since 1993, draws players from all over the world. The league also organizes members-only seasonal competitions and Club Championships, and members are encouraged to try out for the inter-city league competition Atlantic Cup.

New York City Gay Basketball League
Formed in 2006, the New York City Gay Basketball League already numbers 144 members who each pay a $175 fee to participate. Twelve men’s teams are divided between recreational and intermediate divisions, and the league includes six women’s teams. There are no tryouts, per se, although league commissioner Michael Kokell notes that evaluations do determine “what division may be best for a player. We also encourage those who have improved in the recreational division to move up to the intermediate division.” Spring- and fall-season practices and games take place on weekends at either the Field House at Chelsea Piers or the Soho school LREI. Individual teams may schedule their own practices, and the calendar includes open plays for wider participation.

New York City Gay Hockey Association
New York City Gay Hockey Association communications director Robb Riedel acknowledges that his league’s namesake sport ain’t cheap. The association charges a $600 fee to enroll in its half-year season, and Riedel says the expense of hockey gear can total $500 or so. But the 150 skaters make an effort to welcome new players, donating secondhand equipment for their tryouts—which entail subbing for a game, or take place on formal tryout days. “We have players from complete beginners who just learned to skate to people who played in college,” Riedel says. “Since it’s costlier than other team sports, we don’t get a lot of fair-weather players.” Three skill divisions level the playing field, captains are always offering tips for improvement, and hockey tournaments punctuate the weekly two-hour meets at Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers and keep the activity as challenging as it is collegial.

New York Gay Football
You may just meet a former NFL player at New York Gay Football. All new players are required to attend an open practice, where they are rated for play, says the league’s communications director Rory Ray, but teams are selected by draft, too. “So each team has a wide variety of players, which has helped nurture the less experienced players.” Fourteen teams comprising 12 players practice as often as once a week, preparing for 10 contest weeks that stress competition, fun and personal development in equal parts. The league also nurtures friendships. Social events typically draw 100 people, and Ray says half of his close friends are fellow leaguers. “It really has positively impacted my life.”

Ping Pong NY
Volunteering for Senior Action in a Gay Environment, Wolfgang Busch noticed the injuries that befell the organization’s elderly members. “A lot of prevention has to do with reflexes,” Busch told sports journalist Dan Woog in 2008, a year after founding Ping Pong NY. The mid-week get-togethers at Paradise in Sunnyside, Queens, refine those reflexes, to be sure. They’re also a fun (and surprisingly sweaty) way to get over the hump.

Sunday Bowling League
More than 20 years since its start, the Sunday Bowling League continues to grow. Organizers expect more than 100 bowlers this season, says president Ross Hewitt. Competitive bowling begins at Chelsea Piers’ 300 New York on September 27, and the full season comprises 28 Sundays between then and Memorial Day. “Getting involved by the last Sunday in September is key,” Hewitt says, since opportunities to bowl decline once teams are formed. The most competitive bowlers usually opt for other leagues, so expect an atmosphere that’s far more inviting than overwhelming. Weekly bowling fees are $30, which includes shoe and ball rental. There is a national sanction fee of $21 and a one-time entry fee of $20. Expensive, to be sure, but consider the end-of-season prizes—and priceless camaraderie—that could provide some reimbursement.

Team New York Aquatics
This is Team New York Aquatics’ 20th-anniversary year. Its 350 swimmers average three or four workouts each week, while 75 water-polo players play twice weekly. “Members are very fit after they have been swimming for a month or so,” explains head coach Conrad Johnson. “But almost no one starts that way. We have a structured program for new people, and clinics for those not yet capable of our workouts.” There are Olympians sprinkled among the Team New York Aquatics membership, and competitors can partake in swim meets and water-polo tourneys. But you can also find a third of participants who are simply happy for the organized workout. All ranks come together for the annual Pride March float, the charity event One Hour Swim and holiday party.