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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
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.”
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.”
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