Our Bat, Our Ball, Our Leagues

BY WINNIE McCROY | It’s time to play ball, gay New York!

Spring arrives officially this weekend, and drafts are still open for several of the city’s many LGBT sports leagues, including softball, football, and soccer. Whether you were a star player in high school or never touched a ball in your life, team sports are a great way to meet new friends, get fit, and enjoy the sense of camaraderie that comes from having some rough and tumble fun with other men and women from a community that is your own

The time is now to register for LGBT spring sports

Softball

The Big Apple Softball League (bigapplesoftball.com) will hold its new player drafts on March 26 and April 2 at the fields on Randall’s Island. With 40 teams split between recreational and competitive divisions, there is a team to match anyone’s playing abilities — or lack thereof. Kenneth Norz, head of the BASL’s recruiting committee, said that he was 46 years old and looking for something a little more active when he happened upon the league’s website six years ago, on the Tuesday before the draft.

“I’m not a big believer in fate, but that’s how it happened,” said Norz. “I went to the draft with no talent and they picked me for the recreational league. The beauty of it is that it’s a very large league, and we can accommodate people with little or no experience, and do our best to place everyone.”

Norz explained that there is an open, co-ed league that includes 30 teams in four divisions, ranging from recreational to increasing levels of competitiveness. A women’s-only league has five recreational teams and five competitive ones.

The teams play on a newly renovated flagship field on Randall’s Island, as well as at fields in the East River Park, Hudson River Park, Brooklyn’s Prospect Park and Red Hook, and in New Jersey. Games are Saturdays from late April until late July, excluding Memorial Day, July 4, and Gay Pride, with playoffs in early August.

Last year in late June, said Norz, the BASL had its annual Pride Tournament, featuring a mix of highly skilled and non-skilled players competing purely for fun. The league also participates in Playing for Life, a Labor Day weekend charity game in which other teams from the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Association travel to New York to play.

The new player draft will run players through infield, outfield, and batting skills, and managers will be on hand to draft new talent. Annual membership for BASL is $90, plus additional fees depending on whether your team has a sponsor — typically a bar and restaurant that picks up some fees.

After team lineups are finalized, the BASL will welcome new and returning players with a private 2011 kickoff party on Saturday, April 16, at the Chelsea Brewing Company in the Chelsea Piers complex.

For information, visit the bigapplesoftball.com, check the league out on Facebook, email info@bigapplesoftball.com, or call 212-696-7327.

Flag Football

Huddle up, linebackers and tight ends! The New York Gay Football League (nygayfootball.org) still has room on the waitlist for its open and women’s divisions. According to Rory Ray, communications director for the NYGFL, about half of the people on the waitlist get on a team. Ray, who is in his fourth year as a board member of this five-year-old league, has served as a captain and referee, and has won two MVP awards as a player. “I love the league,” said Ray. “It’s my whole life!”

The NYGFL, which plays flag football, has 250 registered players split into 20 teams, 14 open and six women’s — a record number. The teams play each other on Saturdays for two eight-week seasons at fields in East River Park off the FDR and on West 23rd Street by the West Side Highway. At the end of the season, there are playoffs. The league also sends two men’s teams to the national level All-Stars games; the next one is in Chicago in June. But you don’t need to be an all-star to play.

“We accept anyone,” said Ray. “We have some former NFL players and some players who had never before touched a football in their life.” Ray said that the league is a culmination of the social and competitive, and tries to make it a comfortable atmosphere for both men and women.

“We have two social events every week at sponsor bars, and have had a drag party and bachelor auctions,” said Ray. “We are even doing a bowling league night, because some people don’t want to spend all their time at a loud bar.” Although they enjoy socializing, the league has a very strong policy prohibiting alcohol on the playing fields.

As with other recreation leagues, local bars and eateries provide corporate sponsorship, and participants pay an annual registration fee of $110, which covers field fees, referees, jerseys, shorts, equipment, captains, and flags.

For information, visit nygayfootball.org or visit the league’s Facebook page.

Soccer

Celebrating its 30th anniversary is the New York Ramblers Soccer Club (newyorkramblers.org), which started in 1980 with an ad in the Village Voice calling men interested in playing soccer in Central Park. According to president Charlie Welch, “The group used to play by the Rambles, which is how we got our name. We have been going strong since then.”

Welch said the group currently has 180 people on its contact list, with about 60 to 100 regular players. As he described it, the group plays year-long with no cut-off for joining, and no penalties for missing matches. The only non-negotiable requirement is that all players wear shin guards.

“We are more of a club than a team, open to everyone with no tryouts,” said Welch. “We have people who have never played soccer, and people who have played all of their lives — it’s a really diverse group, a big, organic, family thing.” Welch explained that the Ramblers do put teams together for tournaments and leagues throughout the year.

To allow for its large crossover membership with other sports leagues, the Ramblers play on Sundays at the fields on West 23rd Street at the West Side Highway, and the fields at Pier 40 at Houston Street. Monday evening games will start in late March. Both fields are Astroturf.

Although the team is still not very diversified in terms of gender, Welch said the Ramblers are seeking to form some lesbian soccer teams like those with whom they used to share practices six years ago.

The Ramblers also enjoy the social aspect of league sports. Every year, the team has several big club dinners where they present players with awards for most valuable player, most improved, and most helpful. The team is currently sponsored by Rockbar NY, located on Christopher Street. When members practice at Pier 40, Welch said, players travel just three short blocks to the bar afterward to socialize. The Ramblers also go bowling, to the movies, out to dinner, and to soccer games in New Jersey.

Annual membership fees are $100, and include shorts, socks, and a club T-shirt. The only other equipment needed are low-bump Astroturf cleats or sneakers. The team offers a student/hardship fee of $40. When the team plays in tournaments, the club provides players with uniforms. There is also an $8 field fee for each practice; members can pay this in one lump annual sum, if they prefer.

For more information click the “Join Our Club” tab at newyorkramblers.org.

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