It looks like 2017 will be one of the biggest and best LGBT sports years ever – locally, nationally and internationally.
And things kick off in January with two major events.
The 10th annual Sin City Shootout (Jan. 12-15) in Las Vegas, is the largest annual LGBT sporting event in the world, and the 2017 edition will feature more than 9,000 participants and 25 different sports, not to mention nightly parties and more.
The Sin City Shootout began in 2007 when organizers wanted to create the best LGBT softball tournament. Quickly, the Shootout morphed into something much larger as new sports were/are added yearly to the lineup and more athletes attend from around the world. Chicago is represented with participants in most sports in Las Vegas.
The 2017 Shootout features all of the traditional sports, such as basketball, bowling, flag football, ice hockey, soccer, tennis and volleyball, among others. The event also includes arm wrestling, bodybuilding, bridge, darts, golf, power lifting, wrestling and more.
January in Chicago features the CMSA Annual Party, held once again at Joe's Bar (940 W. Weed Street) on Jan. 28, starting at 7 p.m. The event, produced by the Chicago Metropolitan Sports Association
, will be hosted by Scott Somers, and feature Catfight and The Boy Band Night among the evening's entertainment.
CMSA is one of the nation's largest predominantly-LGBT sports associations, with 12 sports flying under the CMSA rainbow banner, including all the usual team sports plus badminton, dodgeball, kickball, Ultimate and more.
"There was a need," decades ago for gay sports leagues, mostly because gay athletes weren't accepted in straight leagues, said Mark Sakalares, a CMSA participant for 10 years.
Today, there are more than 4,000 CMSA members, including many allies.
"We're just people playing sports, just like any other team or league," Sakalares said. "People don't see sexual-orientation as much anymore, and I think it's great that we've gotten to that point."
Beach Volleyball is CMSA's largest participatory, and the annual Friday night action produces stiff competition in some games and plenty of eye-candy in others.
The next most popular CMSA sports are softball, flag football, dodgeball and basketball. Ultimate has really taken off over the past few years.
Michael Erwin is CMSA's president, with Felipe Rojas and Matt Simpson serving as vice presidents. Joshua Dehnke is the CMSA secretary, while Michael O. Rice II is the treasurer. CMSA also has five appointed directors: Courtney Briggs, Diane Carniello, Greg Jung, Julie Norris, Christin Wiesmore and Jonathan Shaw.
On Saturday, Feb. 11, CMSA will shine the spotlight on six members: the new inductees into the organization's Hall of Fame, which was established November 2005 by the CMSA Board of Officers and Directors and the first class was inducted in the spring of 2007.
The 2017 honorees are Frank Kisner, Brian Kupersmit, Mark Liberson (sponsor inductee), Mark Sakalares, Brian Sommer and Leslie Wallin. The induction ceremony will be from 7-9 p.m., at Hamburger Mary's
"All of the 2016 Hall of Fame inductees have a proven track record of dedication to CMSA," Erwin said. "It is not just about playing sports to (the new inductees), but instead, strengthening the organization and preserving its rich history."
The CMSA Hall of Fame was established to foster an appreciation of the historical development of the organization and its subsidiaries by honoring those individuals and organizations that have made a significant contribution to its success and development.
"The level of play (in Chicago's gay leagues, particular softball) is extremely high, on par with other cities' (gay leagues)," Sakalares said. "And the competition level within our leagues themselves is fantastic. There are a lot of very strong, talented players in our leagues.
"I'll go one step farther ...the LGBT teams that I play on could stand up to any (equal level) team in reference to level of play; I have no doubt about that."
Sakalares served on the CMSA Board of Directors for five years and has competed in the annual Gay Softball World Series, a national event held in different cities every year.
Gay sports goes on the global scale under the sun in late-May when the 4th World OutGames is held in Miami. The World OutGames are a sporting and cultural event run by the Gay and Lesbian International Sport Association (GLISA).
The World OutGames start May 26, and the Closing Ceremony is slated for June 4 – and more than 10,000 participants are expected, with more than 450 events planned across three areas: Sport, Culture and Human Rights.
The majority of World OutGames attendees will be in South Florida for sports as there will be more than 35 sports, including basketball, beach volleyball, chess, country western dance, cycling, dominos, field hockey, poker, rowing, rugby, soccer, softball, synchronized swimming, table tennis, and more.
The Culture element of the World OutGames includes band competitions, choir competitions, a film festival, and more.
The Florida fun will have a serious side too as international leaders will come together for the World OutGames 4th Global Human Rights Conference, which will be held May 26-28. It will include three tracks promoting Inclusivity in Sports, Health & Wellness and Global Social Justice.
The economic impact for Miami from the World OutGames is estimated at $120 million.
Chicago's gay sports community is anchored around the Cubs, who of course play their home games at Wrigley Field
, located minutes away from Boystown. The Cubs' 2016 World Series championship was 108-years in the making, and the teams has long been a strong supporter of the gay community, including participation yearly in the Pride Parade. In 2016, for instance, former Cubs superstar Ryne Sandberg, a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, rode on the Cubs' float in the parade.
"There's no question," that gay Chicagoans love their pro sports, Sakalares said. "The Cubs are very supportive of our community, extremely supportive, as are the Blackhawks and Bulls."For more information:
Sin City Shootout: www.sincityshootout.com/Chicago Metropolitan Sports Association
World OutGames: www.outgames.org