InFocus: Charlotte 2015— Local LGBT sports league makes ‘middle school’ sport popular again

Stonewall Kickball reshapes community sports while raising dollars for Time Out Youth, plans to expand to bowling, dodgeball and volleyball

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Jason Boone recounts the story as if it happened yesterday. It was in the fall of 2014, the first night of Stonewall Kickball’s free-agent social. Boone and other early organizers of the kickball league had invited community members to come out, learn more about playing and discover more about what the new league would do.

“I had a lesbian come up to me and she told me that she was so happy to have found something she could be a part of,” Boone remembers. “She was going to be driving almost an hour to come to our games because where she lives there’s nothing she really felt she could be a part of.”

It’s that kind of positive community-building and affirmation that keeps Boone and other organizers going as Stonewall Kickball readies to enter its third season this fall.

“To me, that’s what it’s all about,” Boone says, proud of his league’s ability to bring people together across lines of difference to play sport for a good cause. “We would be fooling ourselves to say there are not cliques or social circles. But to see those groups break down and to see different people, who normally in a bar would not be interacting, come together with each other, have fun with each other, forge new friendships and in some cases new relationships, I think that has been a main driving factor.”

Other local LGBT-friendly
sports leagues

Carolina Softball Alliance
Local LGBT softball teams
www.carolinasoftball.org

Charlotte Rainbowlers
Several teams.
Year-round competitive play.
www.charlotterainbowlers.com

Charlotte Roller Girls
Annual new skater clinics
and try-outs each spring
www.charlotterollergirls.com

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Charlotte Royals Rugby
Local LGBT rugby football club
www.charlotteroyals.org

One World Dragon Boat
Boat races throughout year
www.oneworlddragonboat.org

Queen City Tennis Club
Competitive and social
tennis matches
www.qctc.org

The league’s “good cause” — raising nearly $20,000 for Time Out Youth since last fall — will be growing soon as Stonewall Kickball – Charlotte expands and rebrands into Stonewall Sports – Charlotte. The league is bringing on bowling, dodgeball and volleyball, with bowling rolling out this fall. The other sports will follow and alternate with the year’s seasons.

“We don’t want the players to have to choose which sport they will play if they want to play multiple,” Boone explains. They’ll even be spreading out same-season sports throughout the week. This fall’s bowling is planned for Monday evenings, with kickball scheduled for Sundays and Tuesdays.

The expansion to the three new sports — decided by a poll of current players and community members — is part of what Boone calls a “natural progression” in the growth of the fun, leisurely sports league that’s inspired hundreds of people to join in, raised thousands for LGBT youth, supported local LGBT- and ally-owned businesses and has been reshaping the local LGBT sports scene.

For years, Charlotte has been home to a widely diverse cross section of LGBT and friendly sports teams — everything from tennis, a running club and softball to rugby, dragon boat racing and roller derby. But in the past nearly two years, Stonewall’s local kickball league has brought fun physical fitness and sports activities to a new crop of community members.

“The great thing about kickball is you don’t have to be a very athletic person to come out and play with us,” explains Boone, noting that Stonewall Sports offers a less competitive, less “professional” aspect of community sports than other sports leagues. “The last time I played kickball before Stonewall Sports was probably in middle school. You can be any shape or size, any race, any age. We’ve had players from 21 to, I think, our oldest was in his late 50s or early 60s.”

The same will go for Stonewall Sports – Charlotte’s new bowling league, offering novice players or those who just want to have a fun night out with new friends and acquaintances an opportunity to pick up a ball and roll it down the lanes. (Want more competitive, professional play? Boone suggests checking out the Charlotte Rainbowlers.)

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The fun-natured, laid-back atmosphere of the local league combined with its philanthropic giving is what Boone thinks has made kickball — and what will make the three new sports — so popular.

“People can have fun, be outside of the bar, outside of the normal bar scene, be with the LGBT and ally community and at the same time give back to the community,” Boone says.

That message has resonated with community members. Nearly 250 people registered to play with kickball teams in the spring. More than 1,000 people attended post-game events and more than 1,300 attended the league’s special events — like their charity drag fundraiser, flip-cup tournament and a party the weekend Charlotte hosted kickball teams from Greensboro, Raleigh and Wilmington for the statewide All Star Game.

“The great thing about this league, is when you look at the numbers, you’re directly putting people back into the LGBT-owned businesses in our community,” Boone says. “That directly correlates to the health of and supporting LGBT and ally businesses.”

Boone adds, “I’ve been completely blown away by what we’ve been able to do.”

Stonewall Sports’ local expansion will come with more opportunities to give back. With the additional sports, the league is looking to add more non-profit and charity partners. They’re looking at their sister teams in Washington, D.C., as a model. That’s where Stonewall Sports started five years ago. The capital teams now include players in billiards, bocce, darts, dodgeball and kickball. Those teams recently raised $50,000 in a season for local charities there. Over five years, Stonewall Sports teams across the country — from Chicago, Philadelphia and others — have raised more than $250,000 for local groups, Boone reports.

“It’s just simply phenomenal that we can come together as a community in a safe space to play sports, while at the same time raising that amount of money for local charities,” Boone says. : :

learn more: Want to learn more about how you can support Stonewall Sports or get involved in a team? Visit stonewallcharlotte.leagueapps.com for more information.

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Posted by Matt Comer

Matt Comer is a staff writer for QNotes. He previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015.