By J. Praught
San Diego’s largest LGBT sports league is about to celebrate a milestone anniversary, and in typical league style, an extravaganza unlike anything we’ve seen is planned to commemorate the event. America’s Finest City Softball League (AFCSL) is turning 30-years-old, and a star-studded lineup of past and present league members and politicos will be on hand to ring in the new season.
On Sunday, March 20 at 8 a.m., the recently-opened SportsPlex USA (9951 Riverwalk Drive, Santee) will be the site of AFCSL’s official opening ceremonies. The event will look back at many of the milestones that have dotted AFCSL’s history since it was formed by a small group of friends in 1981.
The San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus will kick things off by performing the national anthem. League members who are also members of the military will form a special color guard for the anthem. Next, the league will recognize three members who have been elected to the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance (NAGAAA) Hall of Fame.
The three honorees include Mike Groby, a long-time veteran umpire in the league, as well as George Biagi and Rich Riccio, who have both played in the league for years and served as commissioners of the board. During Biagi’s terms as head of AFCSL, the league reached its peak membership during the late 1990s, with 30 teams and 670 members participating.
Biagi also has ties to local government, having served as press secretary to former City Councilmembers Christine Kehoe and Toni Atkins as well as being Mayor Jerry Sanders’ deputy press secretary. The city’s presence will be apparent at opening day. Mayor Sanders will be on hand to throw out the ceremonial first pitch, while City Councilmembers Carl DeMaio and Todd Gloria will present a proclamation honoring the league for its contributions to the community.
Local radio personalities Laura Cain, Rany Hoag and “Little Tommy,” from the Jeff & Jer Showgram on KYXY 96.5 FM, will emcee and their radio program has been kind enough to promote the event on air.
AFCSL has been a unifying force within the LGBT community for 30 years. The league is composed of a women’s division and an open division, with the latter welcoming both men and women to play together. Each of those divisions is then broken down into subdivisions (A through D) based on competitive ability.
But AFCSL is more than just a recreational softball game between the lines.
“The AFCSL, 30 years and running strong, is an excellent opportunity for not only playing softball year round, but also a huge social network that becomes a ‘family’ for everyone involved,” Dani Goodlett, commissioner of the women’s division, said. “The number of life-long friendships that I, myself, have developed is amazing. The ties that are made reach much farther than that of our league, parks and playing fields.”
As a member of the league for what will be my ninth season, I couldn’t agree more. Playing on the open field, I have met hundreds of new people since beginning in 2003. Some have left the league or moved to other cities, but many have become friends I see outside of softball Sundays. Those days have created a league tradition of “Sunday Funday,” where we all dirty it up at the fields, hang around as a team and have a beer and watch friends play, then take the party to Hillcrest bars or The Hole and unwind after the long day.
The friendships flourish outside of the bar scene as well. Some teams have game nights at a player’s home. Others have regular team dinners or attend Padres games. And teams in the AFCSL have the opportunity to travel to weekend tournaments across the country during any holiday weekend throughout the year. Those travel tournaments are another way to meet LGBT athletes from across America and build even more friendships. The AFCSL season culminates with separate World Series tournaments for both the women and open divisions, where as many as 150 teams and thousands of players and their friends converge on a city for a week.
Back in San Diego, AFCSL has made its mark as the city’s premiere sports league, for many of the aforementioned reasons. It’s a sport anyone can play, offers varying degrees of skilled competition and at just $55 per year, it’s affordable fun for everyone. Having made it to its 30th birthday is no small feat and deserves the recognition it is receiving.
Games this season will be played at the SportsPlex USA fields in Santee and Poway, as well as at Kit Carson Park in Escondido. The league plays on Sundays and the season runs through the end of June.
As AFCSL navigates its fourth decade, some exciting events are on the horizon. San Diego will play host to the women’s Amateur Sports Alliance of North America (ASANA) World Series in 2012. The open division plans to bid for the rights to hold the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance (NAGAAA) World Series here shortly thereafter. These events, which will draw more than 250 teams combined, provide a noticeable economic impact to our region and show athletes from across the country just how amazing San Diego is.
For more information on how you can become part of the league, either as a player or volunteer, visit the league’s brand new website at afcsl.org.