Memorial Day weekend lives in infamy in the queer community as a time to go out, party, drink, and let loose. For queer folks who play on the local softball or volleyball leagues, however, it’s a time to party, but also a time to buckle down and get serious about their sports. The North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance (NAGAAA) and the North American Gay Volleyball Association (NAGVA) are bringing their softball and volleyball tournaments here for a weekend of athleticism, fun, and community.
Spanning the entire weekend, the 2019 NAGAAA Cup and NAGVA Championships XXXVII is a chance for teams from all over to compete and have fun. There’s a definite party aspect, since a big group of mostly queer folks is converging on the city. And, because these folks are athletes, there is also some competition involved. But the main draw of NAGAAA and NAGVA that its members seem to keep coming back to is the element of community.
“The NAGAAA Cup is an invitation-only tournament showcasing the best of the best that our organization has to offer,” the NAGAAA website explains. “The event features 20 to 24 of our elite A and B Division teams across North America with automatic bids to the 2019 Gay Softball World Series on the line. The large amount of highly skilled players participating in this year’s tournament will make it one to remember.”
But for these teams, it’s not just about this weekend, as exciting as the event is. Local teams play and network all year round, forging a strong sports community.
“I think the team brings people together, because there’s a need for a place where the community can be more comfortable around people who are either allies or part of the community,” Chris Arrellin, NAGAA Cup Denver Committee Vice Chair Softball, explained. “I think it’s a really nice thing for people who like to play sports. It’s great to create that kind of community within sports.”
As someone who has been playing softball since younger years with his mother, Arrellin is really looking forward to the chance to connect with queer athletes from all over during the tournament. He feels that the teams in LGBTQ leagues across the country provide opportunities for athletes of all skill and fitness levels to connect and grow.
“It builds teamwork, which can relate to a lot of different areas of life,” he explained. “You’re always working with other people and doing team things in life, so this is one of those things that can really build skills. And anyone can do it; there are so many different levels available, so it’s not like you have to be perfect or you’re not going to be good enough. I know a lot of people I’ve spoken to in the past were afraid to come out for the team because of negative experiences they may have had when they were younger, or their parents pushing them to play sports or something like that. We try and get rid of all those negative experiences here.”
Alongside the softball teams converging on the city, there will be a volleyball tournament on Memorial Day weekend as well, the NAGVA Championships XXXVII.
Jason Fallon, president of the North American Gay Volleyball Association, always looks forward to coming to Denver for the views, the hiking, and some friendly competition. But what he values even more is the camaraderie that comes from the sport.
“It’s a great time for everybody to come together to play volleyball and to kind of celebrate the great season that we’ve all had,” he said. “We have players come in from all over the country and also from Canada and Puerto Rico. I love the competition, but I also love those connections that I’ve made off the court, with some of my best friends.”
Like Arrellin, Fallon stressed that, while competition is definitely a factor, a sense of community is what it’s all about.
“The reason why we created the league and why we’re still around is because we still see that need for people who maybe aren’t completely comfortable with themselves and are still growing into who they are,” he added. “We want to give them that safe space and an opportunity to discover who they are while playing a sport that they love. Even though we’ve come so far as LGBTQ individuals, we still have so much further to go. And we always have to remember we have to be there for each other and support each other every step of the way.”
If you’re interested in learning more about the Memorial Day weekend events, you can visit .facebook.com/NAGAAACup2019/ or.facebook.com/DenverChampionships/.
Photos by Larry Barthel, Triquerta Productions and courtesy of NAGVA