LGBT acceptance in extreme sports is long in coming

Five-year-old Tedi Bowler was “totally into” sports. But in Duluth, Minn., in the 1980s, she says, “girls were not allowed to do that.” So she grew wary of following her passion.

Two years later, she rode her first BMX bike. That too was a bit odd for a girl. But she loved everything about it — the tough terrain, the danger, the adrenaline rush — and she kept riding.

In seventh grade, Bowler came out as lesbian. “It was a mess,” she recalls. “I was a loner. Plus, I had anger issues.” Being biracial, and born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, added to her stress.

Yet she kept riding. On a BMX bike — also called “bicycle motocross” — she felt free. She performed tricks. And Bowler was getting much-needed exercise.

Bowler gained the confidence to join team sports. She played ice hockey, flag football, softball and basketball, but extreme sports were the best.

At 35, after watching the X Games, Bowler began skateboarding. For more than a decade, Bowler says, “I’ve been able to fully enjoy extreme sports.”

She’s worked two or three jobs at a time, since she was 19. Her Fetal Alcohol Syndrome made it hard to keep any one job, she says, so she has done mostly temp work. The variety appeals to her. “Otherwise, she says, “I’d be bored and agitated.”

“Boredom” is not something that BMX riders, skateboarders and other extreme sport athletes suffer from. They constantly seek the next challenge. For Bowler, that challenge means getting extreme sports into the Twin Cities Pride celebration. And not just for the traditional participants: men.

About 10 years ago, Bowler says, women’s skateboarding was added to the X Games. However, BMX racing still has not made it into ESPN’s annual homage to extreme sports.

Bowler says that, very quietly, women have become a presence in the extreme sports world. But she knows of very few who self-identify as lesbian, or are open about it.

“We’re already being judged as women by the extreme sports community,” Bowler explains. “Most lesbians probably keep quiet. They don’t want one more issue to contend with.”

She assumes there are “tons” of lesbians — and “probably plenty of gay guys, too.” But, she says, extreme sports is one place where homosexuality is still not discussed.

She recalls one aggressive inline skater who came out in the 1990s. Bowler says his disclosure did not go over well.

Google searches for “gay or lesbian BMX riders” come up empty. There are a few online discussions about whether anyone is out in the sport. The level of discourse is not high. “It’s too manly a sport,” is one comment. Speculation about a rider with a pink bike is another.

After Tim Von Werne’s career was cut short under what one magazine called “a cloud of controversy,” gay skateboarders seem to have remained in the closet, too.

Bowler has vowed to increase visibility of extreme sports, and of the lesbians and gay men who love it.

She envisions BMX racing, skateboarding and more as part of the 2016 Twin Cities Pride festival. “I’m tired of walking around every year at Pride, feeling like I’m ignored,” she says. “This is a real sport.”

The celebration at Loring Park already includes several sports, Bowler notes. Minneapolis and St. Paul are filled with gyms; cross-training is very popular. Why not add extreme sports into the mix?

She also hopes her work will bring visibility to the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome community. If others can see that she’s gotten involved in something athletic, daring and fun, they might be tempted to ride a bike or skateboard too.

Dot Belstler is in charge of Twin Cities Pride. Her title is executive director, but it’s not as if she runs a huge staff. Virtually everyone else is a volunteer.

She points with — well, pride — to the day-long men’s volleyball tournament held on Saturday every year. On Sunday there are tournaments for soccer, rugby, touch football, softball and men’s and women’s basketball. The “Studs vs. Femmes” women’s basketball event creates particular energy; bleachers are brought in to handle the crowds that watch.

In addition, many sports organizations march in the Pride parade. “The rugby boys are favorites,” Belstler says. WHAM (the Women’s Hockey Association of Minnesota) “marches” on rollerblades.

Professional and amateur teams staff booths in Loring Park, including the Minnesota Lynx of the Women’s National Basketball Association, and two women’s full-tackle football teams: the Minnesota Vixen and Minnesota Machine. Minnesota United FC — a professional team in the North American Soccer League — offers demonstrations.

But, Belstler says, adding extreme sports may be easier said than done. Ramps and other equipment must be trucked in, and Loring Park is already filled to capacity.

Still, Teri Bowler is undeterred. She has a year to “ride” to the rescue of extreme sports.

— Dan Woog

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Spike! Dallas will host 2016 national gay volleyball tourney

VolleyballThe North American Gay Volleyball Association (NAGVA) selected Dallas to host its 2016 championship tournament next spring.

If it seems like Dallas keeps getting picked to host national tourneys, you’re not wrong; since 2004, nine national championship gay sporting events have come to Dallas; NAGVA will make it an even 10 in 12 years.

“NAGVA could not be more excited about coming back to Dallas for the third time,” NAGVA’s president, Jason Fallon, said in a statement. The tourney was last held in Dallas in 2005; it was also here in 1996. DIVA, the Dallas Independent Volleyball Association, is one of the largest LGBT volleyball leagues in the nation. It was formed in 1989.

“We have a great tradition of LGBT [sporting] events here in Dallas an we look forward to welcoming the athletes to our diverse city,” said Monica Paul, executive director of the Dallas Sports Commission.

The tournament will be held at the at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center May 27–29, 2016.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

PSSA standings for the week

Pegasus Slowpitch Softball Association released its current standings for the current season in all three active divisions.

B Division: Dallas Woody’s X-Plosion B (4-1); Toxic (4-1); T.H.E. Round-Up (0-6).

C Division: Round-Up Synergy (10-2); JR.’s Texas Heat (10-2); Dallas Woody’s X-Plosion C (9-3); TMC Octane (7-4-1); Dallas Woody’s ((6-4-1); Dallas Radiation (5-8); Dallas Woody’s Demons (4-7); P-Cocks (3-8); Tim-Buck-2 Cat Squad (2-10); Aftershock (2-10).

D Division: DIVE! (10-1); Dallas Woody’s X-Plosion D (9-1); Dallas Woody’s Woodchucks (8-2); Shockwave (8-2-1); The Brick Titans (6-3); The Brick #Hashtags (7-4); Dallas Woody’s Saints (6-4-1); Winslow’s Winos (6-4-1); Dallas Eagle Talons ((5-4-1); JR.’s Dallas Devils (6-5); PowerStrokes (4-4-2); N-Motion (3-6); TomKatz (2-7-1); Round-Up Diesel (3-9); Dallas Tornados (0-7-2); Shockers (1-11); Tap House Semis (0-10-1).

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

PSSA season underway — see the standings here!

dale_holman_batThe Pegasus Slowpitch Softball Association started up its season a few weeks ago ahead of the Major League, and after three games, there’s already an undefeated (and a winless) team in the line-up. Last weekend, C Division (the only division competing in “official” head-to-heads) saw Dallas Woody’s Wreckin’ Crew bat a thousand (literally) with 35 total runs scored this season (against only 8 allowed), giving the team a perfect record so far. They are followed by the Round-Up Synergy and JR.’s Texas Heat (2–1), Dallas Alleycats and Dallas Kings (1–1), Dallas Woody’s and Dallas Voice Drillers (1–2) and Dallas Bandits (0–3). There’s still a lot more to come, as well as the NAGAAA World Series finals in Dallas this fall.  Check back every week for box scores.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Texas-based Gay4Soccer.com turns a queer eye on the sports guy

Dan Woog offers this piece on the latest in gay sports coverage.

The “gay soccer” stories come fast and furious.

* Major League Soccer sponsors Spirit Day, encouraging players and fans to wear something purple, drawing attention to bullying and LGBT youth.

* FC Edmonton goalkeeper (and staunch straight ally) Lance Parker is a finalist for Cosmopolitan Magazine’s 2012 “Bachelor of the Year” award.

* Openly gay player David Testo throws out the first ball at a Toronto Blue Jays game. Not coincidentally, it’s the first home appearance for Yunel Escobar after being suspended for writing “Tu ere maricon” — an anti-gay epithet — on his eye black. Escobar was also fined $82,000 … which went straight to GLAAD and the You Can Play Project.

* A lesbian couple from Colorado flies to England, and has a civil partnership ceremony at Liverpool’s famed Anfield Stadium. The couple, longtime Liverpool fans, are feted by the team, which recently hired a “social inclusion officer.”

* Former Arsenal and MLS star Freddie Ljungberg, pictured, talks about being taunted as “gay” after appearing in a Calvin Klein underwear ad.

* Out U.S. national women’s team coach Pia Sundhage retires, and is honored at her final match with a video, songs and a victory lap.

All those stories — and many more — are featured on the home page of Gay4Soccer.com. The brainchild of Chris Billig, it (and its companion Twitter feed) are proud examples of the enormous impact social media now has on gay sports.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Balls & bulls

2 gay sports groups have 2 big weekends planned — and you’re invited

Rodeo5

LEARN THE WAYS OF THE HORSE | This weekend kicks off the Oak lawn Tennis Association’s 33rd season, and next week the TGRA begins a new tradition: A rodeo school.

There will be no lack of action this weekend. No, this isn’t about a successful night of Grindr-ing. All the action will either go down on a court or off a horse. The Oak Lawn Tennis Association (OLTA) and the Texas Gay Rodeo Association (TGRA) kick off their respective seasons over the weekend — in big fashion.

OLTA invites the community to “Friends of Tennis,” which marks the beginning of the group’s 33rd season. Tennis enthusiasts of all levels are encouraged to come out for the three days of mingling and playing and introduction to OLTA.

A mixer at Woody’s on Saturday at 7 p.m. starts everything off, with opportunities to learn more about the association. For those itching at the bit to get on the court, play begins Sunday morning at the L.B Houston Tennis Center with the annual Promiscuous Doubles play at 9 a.m. The open court allows for all players to mix it up between various levels of experience.  Lunch will be served after court time winds down.

L.B. Houston is located at 11225 Luna Road.

For more information, visit OLTADallas.org.

The TGRA’s big weekend isn’t until March 2–4, with its annual Texas Tradition Rodeo in Fort Worth, but the cowboys are busy this weekend when the Rodeo Roundup hits the Hidden Door on Feb. 25, starting at 2 p.m. But it’s the following Friday when things heat up.

This is the first year the association will hold a rodeo school for competitors wanting a refresher and for anybody else interested in rodeo events. Yes, anybody.

“Competitors can work with instructors on techniques as a sort of refresher course,” rodeo director Dan Nagel says. “But if someone’s never competed and always wanted to, they can come on in too and work with a champion.”

People can take courses on junior bull riding, chute dogging, calf roping on foot and steer decorating. And they’ll be in good hands. Every instructor is an experienced rodeo athlete and likely has a few awards to his or her name. Once a class is completed, students can sign up to enter the competition.

Like any class, there are some prerequisites. For newbies wanting their inaugural ride. they must first register with the appropriate rodeo association. Locals can sign up with TGRA while out-of-towners need to apply with their area organization (most chapters are expected to be at the rodeo). A mandatory safety class is offered, too. Classes are $15 each or $50 the whole she-bang. Other than that, Nagel says the only advice is to dress accordingly.

“Wear cowboy boots, jeans and a long-sleeve shirt,” he advises. “A hat is OK to wear at school but certain events require long sleeves and a hat. If they come in without it, they’re disqualified.”

After classes are over, the events and performances begin March 3 at 9 a.m. at the Will Rogers Arena in Fort Worth. The Chris Brade

Band, the Austin Babtist Women and the Free Ho Lay Sisters provide entertainment throughout the weekend. As a nonprofit, TGRA donates proceeds from the rodeo to various charities and has donated more than $2 million to Texas agencies.
For more information, visit TGRA.org.

— Rich Lopez

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 24, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Volleyball-et: From en pointe to point scorer, dancer Jonah Villegas enjoys being a DIVA diva

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  |  Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

For Jonah Villegas, the most frustrating thing about being a dancer is convincing people that his talent has nothing to do with a pole.

“When I tell people I’m a dancer they always say, ‘Where? BJ’s? The Tin Room?’” says the classically trained terpsichorean, who has worked with the Texas Ballet Theater. Last year, when he put his dancing career on hold, he decided to look for something else athletic he could do to stay limber and active.

“That’s why I joined DIVA,” says Villegas, 22.

Other than summers spent hitting a ball over a net in the sand, Villegas has no experience at volleyball. But when he complained to the man he was dating that life in suburban McKinney, was stifling for a young gay man, his boyfriend recommended he join the Dallas Independent Volleyball Association.

“I’ve been out since my senior year in high school, but it’s hard to be proud and loud when you’re surrounded by nothing but restaurants and straight people,” Villegas jokes. “I think that DIVA and the gay sports of Dallas are overlooked — I have made some really great friends and feel more part of the gay community. After I heard about DIVA, I still didn’t join for more than a year — I regret that I didn’t join sooner. It’s a good way to meet quality gay people.”

Villegas’ first season with DIVA started last summer; right now, he’s gearing up for the spring season, which kicks off with new member orientation and clinics this week.

“There is a wide range of skill levels. When you do to the new member clinic, they figure what division you’re in: recreational, intermediate, competitive, advanced, power or open,” he says; intermediate is the largest, and the division he’s in. From then, captains conduct a draft to put you on teams.

So does his ballet training transfer to the volleyball court? Yes and no.

“They are very similar in the fact you need to be focused and there’s a specific way to do things. Your body tells you what come natural to you and you have to train yourself how to do it the right way. But there are differences in the way you move.”

There’s another way they’re alike, too.

“The dance world is very cutthroat — if you’re not practicing you’re already behind. I joined for friends but these people are competitive! There’s lots of slapping butts and laughing, but they don’t like to lose. Well, neither do I.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 11, 2001.

—  John Wright

World’s first-ever gay Super Bowl block party planned for Cedar Springs in February

Scott Whittall

It’s being billed as the first-ever gay Super Bowl block party, and it’s planned for Saturday, Feb. 5 on the Cedar Springs strip in Dallas.

Scott Whittall, president of the Cedar Springs Merchants Association, announced today that the “Super Street Party” — organizers are barred from using the term “Super Bowl” — will be from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. on the eve of Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium.

Whittall said recent special events on the strip — including the Arts Fest, the Halloween block party and last weekend’s Sidewalk Sale – have been very successful. So the group didn’t want to miss out on a major opportunity to spotlight the city’s gay entertainment district.

“No matter which two cities’ teams are in the Super Bowl, there are going to be a lot of gay people coming to town,” Whittall said. “We love sports — we’re just like everybody else — and I think sports-minded gay people will come out in force. I don’t think you have to be sports-minded, either, to enjoy a big party.”

In another first, Cedar Springs Road will be fenced from Reagan Street to Throckmorton Street for the Super Street Party, Whittall said.

The fencing requirement, which will apply to all future block parties, is designed to facilitate crowd control and stop people from bringing in alcohol beverages and glass containers. There will be no charge for admission.

The Super Street Party will include beer booths manned by volunteers from local gay sports organization, which will keep a portion of the profits, Whittall said. Any leftover funds will go toward the Merchants Association’s beautification efforts.

“Our main concern is throwing a great party,” he said. “I think the only thing that makes us nervous is the weather. You never know what to expect weather-wise in Dallas in February. But at the same time, cold weather if football weather.”

—  John Wright

Tourney journey

Over 20 years, DIVA has turned its Fall Classic into a sports destination

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

COURTING DIVA | For 20 years, DIVA has hosted the Fall Classic tournament which attracts teams from all over the country. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

DALLAS FALL CLASSIC XX
Texas Advantage Sports, 4302 Buckingham Rd., Fort Worth.
Oct. 8–10. DivaDallas.org.
……………………..

Dallas is a sports town: Cowboys, Mavericks, Stars, Rangers — they’re all part of the city’s life. That translates even into a strong gay sports community as well, with softball, tennis and rugby leagues holding strong interest for LGBT jocks.

But volleyball might be the most obsessive. The Dallas Independent Volleyball Association (DIVA) has not only grown internally over the years, but has expanded its Fall Classic tournament into a major event.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the popular tournament, which hosts teams from all over the country. But DIVA president and tournament director Hayden Mitchell says it’s just business as usual. “We’re not really doing anything different for this one,” he says.

But really, this is a good thing.

Over the years, DIVA has swelled into a sports organization of more than 300 members — that is about double its average membership from the last few years. With that many members in all divisions, Mitchell and the DIVA board take the obvious approach when setting up the tourney.

“From some of the feedback we’ve gotten from teams and NAGVA [North American Gay Volleyball Association], this is a well-run tournament,” he says. “With our kind of membership, we have to be and stay very organized. So we just translate that into the tournament.”

That has garnered DIVA’s fall tournament some major props by traveling teams. In the gay volleyball circuit, traveling teams spread the word that the Fall Classic is a key event, and it shows. This year, 41 teams will play; up to 50 teams have competed in other years. These are good numbers, says Mitchell.

“With the Columbus Day weekend, we usually do compete with the Portland or Indianapolis tourneys,” he says. “But people talk and teams ask where the competition is gonna be and then teams end up coming here.”

But “business as usual” doesn’t mean DIVA runs a bland ship. Over his six years as president, Mitchell has tried to put a personal stamp on the Fall Classic, not only to entice teams to come, but to build on its own identity.

“We have a buffet so traveling teams will get at least one meal and that means something,” he says. “Plus, we have a giveaway or T-shirt at each tournament. What I like to do is have the captains of the teams get me the sizes of the players, I think instead of just an oversize tee, that really adds a personal touch. I think the Dallas tournament has something special to offer.”

Getting the planning stages down to an art may be secondhand now, but that doesn’t mean it has become any less gratifying for the board. Mitchell says that pride in the event comes from two sources. And that makes this all worthwhile.

“We’ve increased the number of teams coming to Dallas,” he says. “What really stood out for me were two teams from Hawaii that came out to play. They were blown away by the fact that we all played in same facility. And they even want to do a tourney of their own.”

On the other end, Mitchell and the rest of DIVA do their part to give to the LGBT community. According to NAGVA rules on tournaments, a large portion of monies earned from the event has to go to a charity. That has given DIVA the opportunity to contribute thousands to local nonprofits such as Youth First Texas, Resource Center of Dallas and this year, the AIDS Interfaith Network.

“That is the one big thing with the Fall Classic,” he says. “ We do a lot of research on the different LGBT associations we select. We’ve been giving back to the community for 20 years and that is the most rewarding thing.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 8, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens