Over 20 years, DIVA has turned its Fall Classic into a sports destination
RICH LOPEZ | Staff Writer firstname.lastname@example.org
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.