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Open season


Gay and straight athletes compete side-by-side in softball’s annual Easter Bonnet Classic.

Charles Martin April 20th, 2011

Easter Bonnet Classic
Saturday-Sunday Bickham Softball Complex
1800 N. Midwest Blvd., Edmond
soonerstatesoftball.com

Softball is a great American sport for players of all ages, races and skill levels. Even the gay community has adopted the national pastime and formed the Sooner State Softball Association, a league devoted to giving athletes of all persuasions an open and accepting place to compete.

Now in its eighth season, SSSA is part of the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance and has blossomed from a handful of players to 16 teams with bursting rosters. Its biggest event, the annual Easter Bonnet Classic, is Saturday and Sunday at Edmond’s Bickham Softball Complex.

Commissioner Jim Knox said the league diligently works to create an environment welcoming to gay and straight players. With a wide range of skill levels, it places players where they will be most comfortable.

“You have the recreational folks just there for the camaraderie. Then you have competitive teams wanting to go to the World Series,” Knox said. “They are serious about what they are doing, competing to bring championships back to Oklahoma. Then you always have a couple of teams just about hanging out in the parking lot, drinking beer.”

Knox, who plays with the Oklahoma Chaos, said some players have been in other softball leagues for years, while others — like Leroy Cobb of the Oklahoma City Toxic — are just looking for an opportunity to socialize.

“A lot of people in the gay community have been looking for places to meet new people and make new friends, but might not be comfortable with the bar scene, so this gives them a new place to meet people,” Cobb said. “It’s also an outlet. You get your stress at home, stress at the job or a relationship. This is a place where you can forget that for a while, get on a ball field and get a workout.”

Swingers player/coach Chris Balderas said when he first moved to Oklahoma, he was scared to even go to the mall because of the state’s conservative reputation, but that the league provides an opportunity for the gay and straight communities to find common ground on the diamond.

It opens doors and opens minds.

—Chris Balderas

“We have four straight people on our team who have never been out to the clubs, never immersed themselves into the culture, but they knew somebody on the team and wanted to play,” Balderas said. “Once they come out to practices, they meet everybody and make friends. It opens doors and opens people’s minds. It shows that we are all individuals and can overcome negativity.”

 
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