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|Gay softball leagues dust off mitts for spring season|
|by Matt Schafer|
|March 04, 2011 00:00|
The crack of the bat is as linked to spring as leaves sprouting from trees, but this year the Decatur Women’s Sports League will pause to remember a fallen friend before taking the field.
Laura Zekoll — sailor, pilot, business owner and a founding member of the Women’s League — was lost at sea in November and is presumed dead. She was participating in a yacht race when the boat she was in capsized and she was washed out of the lifeboat. Her body was never recovered.
Zekoll, 46, was a fixture of several nonprofits, including Breakthrough House for women dealing with addiction, and played on a number of Atlanta’s gay and lesbian sports teams.
“What’s so remarkable about her is when she was 16 years old, she was in an accident and her arm was ripped off. They were able to reattach it but she had to learn to do everything with her left hand and so she helped people with their recoveries,” League founder Anne “Sarge” Barr says. “She just lived life as if it was an adventure, with no fear.”
Members of Zekoll’s family will throw out the first pitch as the league celebrates the start of its fourth season on March 11 with a ceremony and a group photograph.
“This has been something that I’ve wanted to do every year since the start of the league, and this year we’re able to do it,” Barr says. “We will take one big picture with everyone and then have team photographs.”
Known for its laid-back vibe, the Decatur Women’s Sports League was founded with softball and has now grown to offer multiple sports, including bowling, basketball, tennis, volleyball and badminton.
The Hotlanta Softball League will open up its 30th season on March 20 with a crowded slate of games as 35 teams are set to participate in its 10-game season.
“We’ve tried to do an opening ceremony in the past, but we’ve gotten so big, and of course everyone can’t be there at the same time, so not everybody can be there,” newly elected Commissioner Rick McCracken says. “Since we have 35 teams and fields we have to maximize our time on the field.”
Founded during the early days of the AIDS crisis Hotlanta has become a second home for gays and lesbians who make up the majority of the league.
“We keep score, but our league is more recreational because we’re not professional players…. We give trophies for first and second but we aren’t a really competitive league,” McCracken says.
The league does send the best Coed team and the best women’s team to the North American Gay Amateur Sports Alliance and the Amateur Sports Alliance of North America championships at the end of the season.
While Hotltanta Softball and the Decatur Women’s League are about sports, both commissioners say it’s more about the people playing the game than the game itself.
“We’re excited about that because it’s not just about sports, it’s about family,” Barr says.
The league will celebrate its first marriage later this year and Barr says it’s helped a number of its members land jobs. “It’s a good place to look for jobs because people network and it keeps growing and there’s a lot of professional women out there,” she said.
Both leagues have made charity a center of their seasons. Beyond operating expenses, all of the funds raised by the Decatur Women’s Sports League go to the Atlanta Lesbian Health Initiative. The league has raised more than $50,000 for ALHI since its inception.
Hotlanta is shifting its fundraising to help local charities like PAWS as well as The Trevor Project, a national non-profit that runs a 24-hour suicide prevention hotline.
“This was an important issue because of all the bullying that has been going on lately…. It’s something that you hear about on the news where kids are taking their lives because of bullying. In the past we geared our efforts to CHRIS Kids and young adults,” McCracken says.
The signup deadline for Hotlanta has passed and the teams are set for this season, but Decatur Women’s League welcomes new players throughout the season. Both leagues were founded to serve Atlanta’s LGBT communities, but are open to anyone regardless of sexual orientation.
“It is not too late because we always have teams that seem to merge or change or we have signups and so we’ll find them a spot,” Barr says. “We charge by the game not the whole season.”
Those wishing to play more ball this year can still find a place in the Hotlanta Softball League’s Big Peach Softball Tournament over the 4th of July weekend.
“We’re still accepting signups for the Big Peach tournament, so if people want to find out information about that they can go to our website,” McCracken says.
Top photo: Hundreds of softball players will soon take to the fields with the Decatur Women’s Sports League and Hotlanta Softball League. (Courtesy ProjectQAtlanta.com)
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