Stonewall Sports board members. Back (l-r) Jared Horman, Shannon Madden, Eric Thomas Ryan Fortney. Front: Ricardo Salabarria Jr., Stephanie Wagner. Photo courtesy of Stonewall Sports

For several years, an annual kickball game has raised money for AIDS Walk.

But in Kansas City, kickball has led to even more than that. The game helped connect people who went on to establish a new group that’s affiliated with Stonewall Sports., a national nonprofit organization. Kansas City is the 19th city to join the national group, which was formed in Washington D.C. in 2010.

Over the years, Kansas City has seen organizations representing LGBTQ people centered on various athletic activities, including softball, bowling, rugby, running/walking, swimming, tennis, volleyball and tennis. And don’t forget the highly competitive Missouri Gay Rodeo Association. (This year, it had to cancel its Show Me State Rodeo that’s usually in September, but they expect the rodeo to be back in full form in 2020.)

The Kansas City group, was established in July, hopes to centralize some of the LGBTQ sports groups around the city into a network that can benefit more people, teams and the LBGTQ services they support.

The executive board members of Kansas City Stonewall Sports are Jared Horman, league commissioner; Eric Thomas, director of events and sponsorships; Stephanie Wagner, technical director; Ricardo Salabarria, director of operations; Ryan Fortney, director of visibility; and Shannon Madden, treasurer.

I recently met up with three of the board members around the dining room table at the home of Eric Thomas and Jonathan Gregory which they share with two large, pretty golden retrievers, Jaxon and Max.

Just the day before, Jax had had his 12-year birthday party. The dogs stayed nearby for the interview.

Horman said that after he moved to town, participating in sports was a way to meet people.

“I joined a gym, made some friends through there, and then immediately was like, all right, how do I get to know people in Kansas City?” he said. “And they were like, look at this kickball team, if you want to do that. And I was like, yes.”

Horman said he has been in Kansas City now for “two and a half-ish years.” He said he got connected with Thomas’ kickball team “pretty much right away” after he arrived. He had played in Stonewall Sports in Charlotte, North Carolina, before and was looking for a similar experience.

Wagner said she got involved through her friendship with Thomas.

“I’ve played kickball with Eric and ‘Amazeballs’ for eight years. It’s been a long time,” she said.

“The league we play on now is called KC Blue Balls,” said Thomas.

The board members said that players come up with the names for their teams, just like participants in the softball league or bowling teams do.

“They’re usually puns,” said Horman.

“Everything’s got balls in it,” said Thomas, with a laugh.

“This league that we’re playing in now is exclusively kickball,” said Thomas. “Now an important differentiation: Stonewall Sports League is a full sports league, and our goal is starting with kickball because we’re all familiar. And then we’re going to have dodgeball and sand volleyball as well. Those are the two that are closest on our sights.”

“And other Stonewall cities are across the board,” Horman said. “Pretty much all of them start with kickball. It seems to be the most, like, accessible gateway to start a team sport,” He said that some other cities include other sports in their league and “some cities just stick with kickball.”

Stonewall Sports board members. Back (l-r) Eric Thomas, Stephanie Wagner, Ryan Fortney, Shannon Madden. Front: Jared Horman. Not pictured: Ricardo Salabarria Jr. Photo courtesy of Stonewall Sports

Thomas credits the local KC Blue Balls League for being very supportive of Stonewall Sports KC (which has KC Blue Balls as a team name, but not a league name). “They’re about 22 teams, of which four we would say are gay teams. And so it’s been a super how accepting and loving that whole league has been to us. They’re wanting to partner with us, and we’re talking about, like, co-league playoffs.”

They will pick a beneficiary for the money they raise each year, and this year, it’s the AIDS Service Foundation. Stonewall KC has member dues of $40 per player.

Wagner said they are also looking for indoor venues during winter months when they cannot play kickball outside.

Team registration is going well, Horman said. “We have 130 registered people as of this point. That’s 11 teams. Our goal is to have 12 teams, [with] 16 people on each one of those teams.” That would be 192 players total.

The three board members said that teams are allowed to be co-ed and that there are not separate male or female divisions. Teams are not exclusively gay or lesbian, they said, and will include transgender players and straight allies.

Wagner acknowledged that fewer women play kickball than men.

In addition to the registration fees from players, they get money from corporate sponsors and are looking for more. The registration fee covers the cost of the team T-shirts.

“The equipment is provided by us,” said Wagner, when referring to the balls and other materials necessary for games.

The group has built up membership mainly through social media and personal connections.

“It’s really just been word of mouth, but a huge chunk of it is talking with friends, who talked with their friends, who talked to their friends,” said Wagner.

They said they have partnered with Woody’s, the LGBTQ sports bar, for social activities, and they are working on more social activities after games or on off-game nights.

The group said they were looking forward to the Gay World Series in Kansas City, which will be Sept. 1-8.

“It’s an exciting time for sports in Kansas City right now,” said Horman. “And that’s something we can piggy-back off of for more sports opportunities within Kansas City.”

The details

Games will be played on Sundays between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. at Westport Commons – Plexpod Field, 300 E. 39th St., Kansas City, Mo. The season starts Sept. 8, and the tournament is Nov. 3. For more information on Stonewall Sports KC: https://stonewallkansascity.leagueapps.com and Facebook: Stonewall Sports Kansas City

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