From balls to paddles and back to balls -- it's a big, gay, sporty spring

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By Daniel Borgen, PQ Monthly
  Did you know, dear readers, there are some among us who shun the dark recesses of dive bars and queer dance parties in favor of early rises and regular weekend practices? Their idea of health and fitness isn't the token half hour of cardio at the neighborhood gymnasium. They're in bed before midnight, rise with the sun (or dark, damp clouds). They are the unsung athletes who simply aren't the same level of press whore as their nighttime counterparts, so all that sporting goes down with little fanfare. Well, PQ is set to change all that with our first in a series of athletic-inspired features. And in lieu of the same boring details about what's going on and how to get involved, we've gone to the participants themselves, probing them, determined to figure out what makes them tick (and perhaps glean a bit of their inspiration). Here goes. “Come play with my balls and bat!†That's Jose Rivas' best recruiting pitch -- he's on the Bella Boys, the gay softball team that practices every Sunday morning at 9 a.m. You read that right. If weather prevents practicing, these boys still get together. (That's dedication!) “If we're unable to play, we all go to breakfast -- say Elmer's in Delta Park,†Rivas explains. “In walks 12 gays in tight pants; we all hug and make plans as we leave and you can just see the other patrons staring at us and thinking, 'I think they're gay, but they play sports?! I don't get it.'†“I'm part of the Bellas because I love playing sports,†he adds. “Yes, it helps that I'm playing with other gays and allies, so I feel safe to express myself in ways I wasn't able to on straight leagues, like in my fraternity or in high school. Also, the Bellas are a competitive team. I don't like to lose so I will do anything to win.†Anything, Rivas? His real recruiting pitch: “It's a great way to be active and meet great people who share the same interests.†Hmm, we liked the balls and the bat better. OK, softball -- you saw that one coming. How about this rather unexpected morsel: dragon boating. In our midst we have the proud winners of last year's Women's A Division Rose Festival competition, the Amazon Dragons Paddling Club. It's just paddling, how hard can it be, right? Wrong. These ladies practice long, hard hours and meet throughout the week -- starting in January. “Our season is a long one and it takes a great deal of commitment,†Alicia Reynolds tells us. “We begin in January dry-land conditioning, essentially circuit training in a local gym. By late-February/first of March, we begin our water practices. We practice three days a week all the way through mid-October. Yes, we're out there in the snow, wind, and rain. We practice so we can be competitive team and take home medals at races.†“We participate in six to eight races a season; the races take place in Oregon, California, Washington, and British Columbia,†Reynolds continues. “I'm a part of the Amazon Dragons Paddling Club because the organization's mission speaks to my passion and interest. Our mission is to provide lesbians with camaraderie, fitness, and physical strength through competitive racing. We convey positive lesbian visibility through competition, personal integrity, community service, and good sportsmanship. It's here that many find community, a sense of family, and enjoy challenging ourselves while being a part of something bigger than any one of us.†You can watch the Amazons defend their title at some upcoming local races -- particularly during the Rose Festival June 9 and 10. So we've had some fun (Rivas' balls and bats), witnessed some serious commitment (lesbians paddling through all the elements). Now, naturally, we move on to passion -- and journey. We had a feeling this sports bug ran deep, and we found our proof when we talked to Sammy Rodríguez, chair of Portland's NetRippers, the city's lone LGBTQ soccer team.
“There are few things in life that come close to my love for soccer,†Rodríguez explains. “I blame my obsession on my parents. To this day, my mom will not miss a Chivas match, not even for her own son's kindergarten graduation. True story. When my mom was pregnant with me, I was told that I kicked her uterus non-stop. That's how my dad, who always wanted a soccer-playing son, knew I'd be his one and only soccer player.†“Fast-forward 14 years and I made my high school team, but found myself in homophobic predicaments,†he recalls. “Then, I didn't know I was gay, but I did know I felt extremely uncomfortable with the comments made by some of my teammates, and worst of all, my coach. The atmosphere became too negative and I decided to quit.†Obviously the story doesn't end there. “Fast-forward another 10 years -- I moved to Portland and met my good friend, Weston Pratt.†(DJ Lunch Lady!) Noting Pratt's particularly coercive powers, Rodríguez continues: “I decided to join the Portland NetRippers. And I'm not going to lie, at first I thought it might just be a great way to meet some cute guys. Indeed, I did, but I also met some amazing friends and, most importantly, rediscovered my love for soccer.†Rodríguez hasn't just rediscovered his love for the game, he's determined to share that love with others. “As current NetRippers chair, I want to share my passion and love for soccer with as many members of the LGBTQ community as possible,†he says. “I want people who've experienced homophobia in past sports environments to feel safe, comfortable, and accepted.†And, according to Rodríguez, it doesn't matter “if you've never touched a ball or you have plenty of ball-touching experience.†And it doesn't matter your skill level; NetRippers will help you out, or sit back and watch you show off. Speaking of watching, how about heading out and supporting your queer brothers and sisters this sporting season? Cheer them on, scope them out, whatever your pleasure. Check Facebook for more information on softball, dragon boating, and soccer.  
Never fear, this is just the first of many sporty stories. If you didn't see your team or your sport here, it's probably in the pipeline; we have everyone from the Rose City Rollers to the Portland Shockwave coming up, in print and on our blog. We'll also cover non-team-oriented sportage. Want to make sure you're covered? Email