For the first time in 28 years, the Chicago region hosted the 35th annual Gay Softball World Series (GSWS), a weeklong event boasting over 4000 participants and fans from 41 cities across North America.
The tournament was hosted at three fields in the West suburban area, including Elmhurst’s own Berens Park.
According to Jim Young, national secretary for the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Association (NAGAAA), about 2,550 people were involved this year as players, coaches, and managers.
Mike Lindberg, associate professor of geography and geoscience at EC, volunteered at the event.
“Teams from all over the United States and Canada converged in Chicago to play,” said Lindberg. “It is interesting to see from an intellectual and sociological standpoint how athletics can really be used to build a stronger community.”
Started by NAGAAA, the first annual GSWS was held in San Francisco in 1977, where the home team played against the only other participant, New York City.
Young recalls the organization starting off small, but exploding during the ‘80s.
“It was after stonewall,” Young said, “and a lot of small groups were realizing that you had to be part of a larger group to have your voice heard.”
According to Lindberg, softball initially became popular within the lesbian community in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.
“Softball leagues were one of the few places lesbians could come together as a community and socialize, and it has gone on ever since,” Lindberg said.
Now there are teams all over the country, from the San Diego Krush to the Oklahoma Crude. Austin, Texas sent two teams: the Ball Busters and Hot Mess. But when the competition heats up, any team wants the best players on their side, no matter their gender or LBGT status.
EC students and recent alumni came to the tournament, both to volunteer and to share in the spirit of camaraderie.
“I liked connecting with a community that I don’t always get to,” said Ally Vertigan, a senior religion and service major. Vertigan said it wasn’t just her passion for service that led her to the tournament, but a desire to “try and get in touch with more of the [LGBT] community.”
Volunteers helped to greet and register members and spectators, manage the fields, and fetch ice water for parched players.
Lindberg hopes that by hosting the GSWS in and around the Elmhurst community, it can grow more tolerant and more accepting of the LGBT community.
“It’s moving more into the mainstream culture, where it should be,” Lindberg said.