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Playing kickball with Kansas City’s Stonewall Sports group is a great equalizer, one organizer says, because everyone plays on the same teams. The participants’ gender orientation doesn’t matter.
“It’s all coed,” said Ryan Fortney, director of visibility for Stonewall Sports, “which, you know, is important in the LGBT community because there’s a lot of non-binary individuals out there.”
When he’s not involved as a volunteer with Stonewall Sports, Fortney, 35, is the director of business and marketing for the Forge Repertory Theatre. He lives in Midtown Kansas City.
The group is now looking for kickball players for the spring season, Fortney said. Registration is underway, and participation is open to all.
“It’s a diverse group of people, not just in orientation or gender, but also in age,” he said. “So there are some really competitive teams out there, but there’s some people, like my team, that are just doing it for fun.”
Kansas City’s group was formed in July 2019, and it was the 19th chapter to join the national nonprofit organization called Stonewall Sports, as we reported in the September 2019 issue of Camp (bit.ly/38iQKhA). The national group began in 2010 in Washington, D.C.
Fortney explained the intramural sports seasons that Stonewall Sports has followed: Teams play kickball outdoors in the fall, then dodgeball indoors during the winter months, then kickball outside again in the spring. The dodgeball season will wrap up at the end of March.
For that first kickball season in the fall, the Kansas City group set a national enrollment record, Fortney said, with 222 players across 14 teams. Their goal had been 192 players.
“We set the record of all Stonewalls for largest enrollment for an initial season,” he said. “Out of all the cities that are involved with Stonewall Sports, all the affiliates, we blew that record out of the water, which is absolutely amazing.”
During that kickball season, he said, they had themes each week. One was Family Week, and another was Wig Week, when players wore wigs.
“Stonewall’s main mission is to bring the community together around LGBTQ+ individuals, and it wasn’t just those people on the field, it was the people around the neighborhood,” he said. “We played at Westport High School [called Westport Commons – Plexpod Field]. And we got people who normally walk on the track on Sundays and they would come over and just talk to us and tell us how glad they were that we were in their neighborhood. And it was absolutely amazing to see.”
Although the group loved playing at that field and the Plexpod people were wonderful to work with, Fortney said, the location for this season’s games changed because the area where they played is being turned into a parking lot.
“But we have secured Gillham Park for the spring, which is incredible,” he said. “The fact that the city was willing to work with us on that and was supportive of our mission is really, really great. And that’s one reason we’re going for 300 players and 20 teams because we can expand from having two fields. … Now we can have three or four fields, which cuts down the time that we have to be there and just allows for more to go on.”
Stonewall Sports raises money through sponsorships from businesses, and registration fees. After initial expenses such as dodgeball and kickball equipment, the money raised goes to charity. Fortney said they gave $2,500 to the Kansas City AIDS Service Foundation and $500 to the Kansas City Center for Inclusion last year.
To join a team
Fortney said that enrollment for the first 2020 season will end on March 19. The season begins on March 12 and runs through June 14. Each team has 12-18 players. The registration cost is $40 per player
Fortney said that only occasionally have they needed to cancel a game due to rain or the fields being too muddy. He said that the group usually heads over to Woody’s, the LGBTQ sports bar, in Midtown, which is one of the sponsors of their teams.
Quotes from Stonewall Sports players:
“I was looking for a place to meet new people. I found a team that I’ve made true friendships [with] while having a great time playing our games.”– Mike Smith
“Perkins and I joined originally as just a way to get us new parents out and active again. With a 5-month-old, that is a hard thing to accomplish. However, we ended up loving how fun and energetic everyone was. Every week, not only was our team happy to see us there, but other teams were friendly and welcoming to us as well. We were able to get out every week and enjoy the weather, friendship, laughs and sportsmanship of everyone playing. Even though we may not have won a single game, we had a great time giving it our all!” – Becca Perkins
“I joined Stonewall Sports because I was looking for ways to be active and ways to meet more people in the queer community. I couldn’t have found a more inclusive space to accomplish both of these goals!” – Madeline Cox
“I joined Stonewall Sports because I’ve only lived in KC for a year and it seemed like a great opportunity to get involved and meet more people within the community. Also, I played sports my whole life, so it would allow me to continue being active and competitive. My experience with Stonewall Sports was a lot of fun. I’m so glad to have been a part of the inaugural season in KC and that I got to share this experience with old and new friends.” – Chris Lara
HotMess Sports is a “gay/gay friendly” sports league in Nashville. This popular and expanding league provides opportunities to enjoy athletics and community, centered on some of our favorite childhood sports—kickball, dodgeball, and volleyball.
League founder Derrick Lachney started playing kickball in Washington, DC: “I heard of this new gay/gay friendly kickball league called Stonewall Kickball. I joined as a captain and started my own team, the HotMess Kickers,” he told O&AN a few years ago. The result was somewhat unexpected.
Thanks to kickball, he added, “My circle of friends grew greatly and I finally felt like I was part of this very large community in our nation’s capital.”
So when a business opportunity offered him the chance to return to his hometown of Nashville, he hoped to replicate that experience. “Back in the summer of 2012, HotMess Kickball was just an idea I had for this city that I grew up in,” reflected. “In the beginning, all I was thinking about was getting it off the ground. I really wasn't thinking about anything long term,” he replied. “My friends and I wanted to play kickball in an environment where we felt comfortable being ourselves, and I was just hoping there were others out there that wanted the same thing—enough to make a league. Turns out there were.”
“It wasn't long after that, though, that I noticed its potential and its power to bring people together,” he added. “My thinking quickly changed to making it bigger, better, and to reaching more people! For me HotMess is my child. It's a lot of work, it's needy, it gets in trouble sometimes, and it’s making me go grey. But I've never been so proud of something or excited to talk about something as much as I am about HotMess and every one of its members.”
Five years later, the league has grown and expanded to include other sports—including dodgeball and volleyball. “It's been five years and not only are we still going, we still continue to grow EVERY SEASON,” he added. “HotMess has so many members that keep coming back every season, and that's the biggest compliment to me and the league. But on top of that, current members are out there telling their friends, coworkers, and new Nashvillians about HotMess, and that's how we continue to grow. It's word of mouth! And as a hairstylist who has built a career on that same concept, there's no better advertisement.”
Lachney, from his experience in D.C., came in with some social expectations around participation in the league he was creating, but that too has exceeded what he thought possible.
“Even though I knew the league would be a great way to meet new people, because that's what it did for me while in D.C., I never imagined I'd have the relationship I have with some of the members,” he said, “especially the captains. A lot of them come back every season, leading their teams, and it's not an easy job. They deal with me directly, and season after season it brings us closer together.”
More unexpected socially was the way the sports league would bring together Nashville’s LGBT community and its straight allies socially. “We have many straight male and female members who are part of our HotMess family,” he said. “They even bring their real families to the games. I see kids and parents of players every Sunday.”
HotMess isn’t the only athletic outlet for Nashville’s LGBT community, and part of growing HotMess has been cooperating with other organizations. “I'm proud of the relationship HotMess has formed with The Nashville Grizzlies,” Lachney said. “It's awesome that two separate sports organizations can both coexist and support each other the way we have been able to do so. I credit Sammy Hann, Tavarus Taylor, and Brett Potter for that….”
HotMess has enjoyed incredible success, but that is not to say that every venture has gone the way Lachney had planned. For instance, he tried for several years to expand to other cities, which has so far been unsuccessful, but he’s changing directions and hopes to make some headway.
“Back in 2014, I tried Louisville,” Lachney explained, “but never got the response I needed to get things started. Even with the help of Play, I really needed someone from there to kind of take the reins and go. I'm currently working to bring HotMess to Memphis. We'll see what 2018 has in store!”
And of course, with HotMess, there’s always potential. Teams from the league “have been attending two national tournaments each year since 2014,” Lachney added. “Sin City Shoot Out in Vegas and the Stonewall Sports tournament in D.C. I keep getting asked when the HotMess Sports tournament will be. Like I said, let's see what 2018 has in store!”
Going forward, the league will continue to enjoy the support of community and business organizations that have helped it thrive. “I'm VERY proud to now have Play, Tribe, Lipstick Lounge, The Stirrup, and Canvas all on board as HotMess Sponsors. We also brought on BudLight a couple years ago,” Lachney said. “And HotMess has over 500 members within the league— over 400 in Kickball alone.”
Those hundreds of members give HotMess a visible footprint in the community. “Every Sunday during a kickball season,” Lachney admits, “I'm still shocked to see the ‘rainbow’ of HotMess t-shirt colors take over East Nashville!”
That visibility and manpower has allowed the organization to pay it forward and support the community that has helped it grow. “HotMess has been doing two charity drag shows a year since we started five ago, as well as a PostParty every Valentine’s Day,” Lachney said. “In the past five years, we have raised over $50,000 for HRC and local charities such as Nashville CARES, Out Central, Second Harvest, and Launch Pad.”
“I hope that the past five years are a reflection of what's to come in the next five,” Lachney concluded, reflecting on the experience. “ Whether I'm still running the show or not, I can't imagine this awesome city and our growing community without it. HotMess is a part of Nashville, and I'm glad I had a part in that.”
For more information about HotMess Sports, visit hotmesssports.com, or follow them on Facebook.