The Inferno softball team, along with their husky mascot Miles, celebrates a win in the SFGSL end of season tournament on Sunday. (Teddy Luther/Special to S.F. Examiner)

One of first gay sports leagues in nation offers competition, inclusion

The San Francisco Gay Softball League held its annual end of season tournament on Sunday.

Played the weekend before San Francisco Pride, this year’s tournament had 30 teams competing across four divisions. Overall, SFGSL had 57 teams in their eight divisions during the regular season, which runs March to June.

Having multiple divisions creates a welcoming environment for players of all skill levels to join the league without feeling intimidated from differing levels of experience.

“I love the fact that we have such a variety of different divisions,” said league commissioner Vincent Fuqua. “You can see the folks who have never played before get better each year, and that’s a remarkable experience.”

Fuqua has played in SFGSL for nearly 25 years and has been the commissioner since 2008.

“It was very welcoming when I first started and that stuck with me,” Fuqua said. “I used to be very shy, and to be able to come and play in a gay league was amazing for me. … This is my way of giving back.”

For many players in SFGSL and other LGBT sports leagues across the country, being able to play a sport they love without fear of trying to fit into the typical macho sports culture is a big draw.

Former Air Force Sgt. Travis Teeters, who has played in SFGSL since 2012, credits the league with helping him feel more comfortable with being gay after his service.

“It has given me the opportunity to play sports competitively as well as provided me a social outlet and a community,” Teeters said.

Even though Major League Baseball teams have recently begun hosting LGBT nights during June in recognition of Pride month, there is still a lot of discrimination imbedded into the culture of American sports.

Far too regularly, young queer athletes are taught that there’s a certain way you’re supposed to behave, and that if you don’t fit into that culture of masculinity, you don’t belong.

“A lot of times, when we were younger, we didn’t play sports because we were gay or because of a stereotype, which is ridiculous,” Fuqua said. “SFGSL gives people an opportunity to be able to build their confidence and to actually find a community to be a part of.”

As one of the first gay sports leagues in the country — it debuted more than 40 years ago — the leaders of SFGSL played a large role in the development of a national softball association, known as the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance.

Jack McGowan, Mark Brown and Everett Hedrick, who founded the SFGSL, were three of six people inducted into NAGAAA’s inaugural hall of fame class in 1997.

NAGAAA has partner leagues in 43 cities throughout the United States and Canada, and hosts numerous tournaments every year including the Gay Softball World Series. This year’s World Series will be played in Austin in mid-August and will mark the 40th anniversary of the first World Series, which was played in The City.

The Gay Softball World Series is now the largest annual LGBT, single-sport athletic competition in the world.

“One of the things we want to do as a league is bring the Gay Softball World Series back to San Francisco,” Fuqua said. “We’re putting a bid in for 2019.”

The last time San Francisco hosted the event was for its 25th anniversary in 2001.

This tournament, and many others like it are all about inclusion and bringing a community together. And it’s not just softball. San Francisco has over a dozen LGBT sports leagues, including soccer, flag football, tennis and volleyball.

“Even though we’re a sports league,” Fuqua said, “I feel that we’re more of a family and a community.”

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