LOS ANGELES – On a recent Saturday afternoon, parks in Los Angeles were packed with people for a kickball tournament, but no one cared more about the score than friendship and fun. Music played in the background of people laughing and joking, shouting words of encouragement even to the opposing team.
Participants are part of the Varsity Gay League (VGL), a recreational sports league with a mission to create a supportive and inclusive sports environment. It was competitive during the tournament, but at the end of a hot summer day, it looked like everyone at VGL was having a good time.
The organization’s owner and CEO, Will Hackner, felt the need to meet other members of the LGBTQ community outside of bars and set out to find a solution.
“I wasn’t meeting people myself. I wasn’t having the best time,” Huckner said. “I felt that drinking parties and parties were everything, so I thought, ‘I want to have fun.'”
But creating a sports league wasn’t always what Huckner had in mind. In fact, he had no interest in sports growing up.
“I was a bullied kid. I was badly bullied, I was tragically bullied, I was terrified of sports,” Huckner said. “I was little. So I wasn’t a sportsman.”
As he got older, he began to realize the benefits of participating in sports.
“It’s not just the activity, it’s not just the camaraderie, it’s not just building confidence, it’s all these beautiful parts,” Huckner said. “But it’s also how you talk to people, how you stay active. , how to stay young, and how to communicate positively and effectively, creating a structure of life that can be used as a foundation for other elements.”
Fifteen years ago, Huckner and friends planned the first of many events. It started with a flag-capturing game in the park.
“Fifty people came in and said, ‘Wow, there must be something here, the core of something,'” Hackner says. “And it put us off the race.”
Hackner founded the organization in Los Angeles in 2007. Since then, it has grown into a national organization with sports leagues and events in 22 cities, with over 40,000 athletes participating. Leagues include different sports with different interests. One of his home varsity gay leagues is Phoenix, where members can play in kickball, tennis, dodgeball and pickleball leagues.
Phoenix League Manager Wes Scruggs understands the importance of people feeling a sense of community and belonging, and is happy to help others find it.
“If you can think of a time when you weren’t comfortable with a certain group of people and for some reason didn’t feel like you belonged there, that’s a really bad feeling because as humans we have desires. It’s wired to do that, Scruggs said.
Scruggs has been a football fan for as long as he can remember. He grew up attending NFL games with his father, but as a child trying to figure out his own sexuality, his environment wasn’t always positive for him.
“It’s hyper-masculinity and something like toxicity,” Scruggs said. increase.
Now Scruggs can use his own experience to create a positive environment for VGL athletes.
“I love flipping it and no, anyone can play it, no matter who you are,” said Scruggs.
Despite its name, the Varsity Gay League emphasizes that the organization is open to anyone, even those who are not part of the LGBTQ community. Scruggs said about 15% of the organization’s athletes are allies.
“First and foremost, I think everyone is welcome that we are trying to stay at the forefront as an organization,” Scruggs said. “And when we say it, we mean it.”