|Net Results: Volleyball Tournaments Serve It Up
With almost a dozen regional tournaments taking place from spring to fall, indoor volleyball leagues are proving to be among the most active groups in the GLBT athletics community.
Upcoming tournaments include the Lone Star Volleyball Association Tournament, March 25-26, in Houston, Tex.; the Canadian 23rd annual Western Cup, held Easter weekend, March 24-27, in Calgary; and the Big Apple Tournament, April 9-10, in New York City.
There's plenty of fun in gay volleyball, from campy team names like the Minneapolis Stinky Kittys, Boston's Next Top Model, and the Dallas Divas, to festive parties and social events.
However, behind the humor are passionate players at all skill levels, and tenacious organizers who keep track of dozens of annual events.
How do so many league and tournament organizers manage all these activities? The National Gay Volleyball Association (NAGVA) plays a large part in sanctioning and scheduling tournaments. To make the process simpler, most teams rely on e-mail for communication and use websites for posting schedules and forms for competition registration.
But even bidding to host a NAGVA-sanctioned tournament is a daunting task. At least two years in advance, bidding leagues have to show that their host city and tournament can provide housing, hotels, adequate facilities, and a gay-friendly environment that will appeal to visiting GLBT athletes. Cities even come under scrutiny for antigay laws that may allow discrimination.
While some events are sanctioned and refereed by USA Volleyball Association officials, others work with NAGVA, which makes its own schedule. At tournaments, each team is often required to provide a trained referee for games other than its own. Clinics at tournaments serve to train new referees.
Minnesotan Gary Rother says that members of his league, the Gay Lesbian Amateur Sport Society (GLASS), are mostly just looking for fun. "It's something to do on Sundays during the cold months." Based in the Twin Cities, GLASS will host the 2005 Minnesota Spring Classic, April 2-3.
Seventeen teams include many skill levels in different divisions: A, BB, and B players; former B players; and recreational level players. Rother says that his league is mostly comprised of gay men, but a few straight men and a few women are also members. Last year, four Minnesota teams made it to the NAGVA finals.
Gotham Volleyballwith seven divisions, more than 50 teams, and more than 800 membersis the largest gay league in the country, probably in the world. How does the New York City league maintain such a large membership?
"Our membership has been increasing over the years because we are the only league in New York City to offer coaching clinics," says Gotham League Commissioner Don Murray, who has played there for nine years. "If we had the space, our league could grow even bigger. This past year we actually had to turn people away."
Gotham Volleyball's home base is the Bayard Rustin High School for the Humanities in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood, where seven divisions split gym time throughout each week.
Murray sees being league commissioner as "a massive undertaking (made) easy, because I've walked into a league that is nearly 25 years old. Systems in place just need fine-tuning and maintenance. What is crucial to organizing a league of this size is having a support team that is willing to get into the trenches and work. Delegation is my theme, but it only works if you can trust those (to whom) you're delegating."
Before e-mail and the Internet, Gotham's league was much smaller and its growth occurred through word of mouth, which Murray says still plays a large part in recruitment and communication.
For smaller volleyball leagues, growth takes place because friends formed communities around the sport.
The Mid-Atlantic Alternative Volleyball Association (MAAVA), founded in 1985, grew out of a few Norfolk, Va., players who formed four teams. Since then, it's grown to eight coed teams of almost 60 players.
Dan Claud, who handles MAAVA's public relations, promotions, and website, joined the league seven years ago, "two years after bursting out of the closet," he says. "I've enjoyed it ever since. I have met many friends and cherish all of them."
Claud says that competition builds up to the mid-season MAAVAlous tournament and the later-season finals in May. At their more social volleyball events, he adds, "We play fabulous games, have a couple of campy drag numbers, and just enjoy the festivities." Their post-season banquet includes serious awards for winning teams and humorous awards for "Best Legs, Best Breasts, and Best Buns."
For Claud, the inspiration for working so much with his volleyball league is simple. "Many of our players meet new people each season and become long-term friends. My main goal each season is to make sure my team and I have a fabulous time, as well as enjoy the competitiveness of the sport."
Jim Provenzano is the author of the novels PINS and Monkey Suits. Read more sports articles at www.sportscomplex.org. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 15, No. 2 March 11, 2005