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Kicking and dodging in San Diego

Posted: September 1st, 2017 | Featured, Sports & Fitness | No Comments

Registration for Varsity Gay League’s fall seasons about to start

By Morgan M. Hurley | Editor

Since the 1950s, gay bars have been not only a haven of safety and security for LGBT persons, but also a destination in every city where people within the LGBT community could meet other like-minded people, socialize with friends and maybe even find a life partner.

A decade ago, Will Hackner decided to create a social experience outside of the bars; something else that could bring LGBT people together in a fun, satisfying way and involve exercise, too.

One of Varsity Gay League’s San Diego dodgeball teams, Pride Kitties, enjoying their sport. (Courtesy Pride Kitties)

“For so long, my entire social life and circle was built around going out, dancing, attempting to meet guys — and usually failing — and drinking,” Hackner said. “While it’s fun once in a while, it never felt fulfilling in any way, shape or form.”

One day, Hackner, who lives in Los Angeles, planned a game of “capture the flag” with a few friends and after word of mouth spread, 50 people showed up.

“I realized I wasn’t alone; others were also looking for other ways to have fun and bond in our wonderful LGBT community,” he said.

As a result, Hackner launched Varsity Gay League, a recreational sports organization geared toward the LGBT community.

Now celebrating their 10th anniversary, that afternoon pickup game with friends has grown to six states (California, Massachusetts, Florida, Texas, Oregon and Colorado) and offers a half-dozen types of sports themes, including kickball, dodgeball, flag football, tennis, bowling and beach volleyball. Kickball is the most popular, and is played in every city that participates in each of the six states.

One topic Hackner does not play games with is gender.

“Most recreational sports organizations … have gender requirements, a certain amount of women on a team, or men on a team,” he said. “I’ve never subscribed to the notion of gender inequality in sports. Certainly men are more muscular and bigger in general, so they might be able to throw a ball harder, or kick a ball with more strength, but that never equates to winning. I’ve seen all-women teams dominate as much as all-men teams. It comes down to skill, passion and respect.”

Varsity Gay League got its start in San Diego in 2015. Long known for its myriad of popular LGBT sports leagues — including flag football, softball, basketball, tennis and bowling— San Diego did not prove to be a competitive market to Hackner, because he’s not looking to disrupt an already avid sports town.

“When we go into a new city, our first goal is to fill the voids that exist,” he said. “From there, we’ll look at what we can provide based on the player’s demands. While we are a business, we operate with the nonprofit mindset of providing a positive impact in the community and want to bring additional support to the sports world, whether it’s Varsity Gay League or San Diego LGBT flag football, softball or a pickup game of Frisbee. Community is what is central to us, and to have a community you need respect, support and kindness.”

So instead of competing leagues, Hackner, along with local general manager Marc Golan, brought kickball and dodgeball to the region. While Golan was not available to interview, Hackner said Golan has grown the organization leaps and bounds in those two years and already has plans to bring soccer and ultimate Frisbee to San Diego in 2018.

Men and women of San Diego kickball league shown on a recent game day at North Park Rec Center. (Courtesy Varsity Gay League)

Their current leagues, kickball and dodgeball, each have three normal seasons per year: spring, summer and fall. For new players — to get a hang of things and meet other potential teammates — Varsity offers free kickball scrimmages and open gym events for those interested in dodgeball.

They also conduct several fundraising events throughout the year. For instance on Oct. 8, they will have their very first “Drag Kickball Game,” with proceeds split between the San Diego LGBT Community Center and the winning team’s chosen charity.

The fall season for kickball, which is played outdoors, begins Oct. 15 at Morley Field in Balboa Park.

The dodgeball league, which outgrew its former home gym, will start its fall season Oct. 19 at a new indoor location, the Golden Hill Rec Center, located near the Balboa Park golf course.

Registration for either league will open online Sept. 1.

A San Diego dodge ball team in action (Photo by Carlo Fiorillo)

Hackner said Varsity Gay League is the only sports organization in the U.S. that does not force teams or players to conform to a standard “look.” While sponsors can offset costs, they also are not required. As a result, each team is encouraged to design their own style of uniforms and a participating vendor offers discounts for team shirts.

“Creating your own identity is important in the queer world and we want our players to have the ability to be the people they want to be,” Hackner said.

Sounds like a great way to expand your socializing; besides, you don’t have to give up the bar scene completely. According to the website, most players end up at Urban MO’s after the weekly games to extend the day.

“Everyone and anyone is welcome to come and play with us,” Hackner said. “We will do our best to make your experience positive, and hopefully you’ll get a chance to walk away with a new friend, some new skills and maybe a fancy new medal and trophy.”

For more information about the Varsity Gay League, visit varsitygayleague.com. To make contact with the local general manager, Marc Golan, email him at marc@varsitygayleague.com.

—Morgan M. Hurley can be reached at morgan@sdcnn.com.

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