Play Ball!Entertainment Feature Thursday, April 14th, 2016
America’s Finest City Softball League celebrates 35 years of LGBT acceptance and inclusion in sports
It’s that time of the year again. Time for Americans to flock to the nation’s ballparks to enjoy a good old fashioned baseball game, indulge in hot dogs and cracker jacks and root for the home team.
While sports fans may be focused on Major League Baseball’s recent opening day festivities, many local leagues have also started their seasons, such as San Diego’s own America’s Finest City Softball League (AFCSL). The LGBT-focused league kicked off its season March 13 and continues on most Sundays through June 12.
Over the years, the AFCSL has grown to become the largest LGBT sports organization in San Diego. With more than 600 players, coaches, managers and other people currently associated with the league, it’s safe to say that the organization has grown immensely in the past 35 years.
When the league began in 1981, it helped pave the way to making the gay and lesbian community feel accepted and included.
“There was a growing desire for the gay and lesbian community to expand into endeavors that would have visibility beyond the traditional world of gay bars and clubs,” said Brian Burnett, co-commissioner for the AFCSL. “Coming out was becoming more acceptable, adult softball was becoming popular, so based on the timing of the two intersecting events, it became the logical choice (to create the AFCSL) at the time.”
The league started with just six men’s and two women’s teams playing on a field in Coronado.
“Back then, players and other participants were faced with a much less accepting attitude toward LGBT endeavors and there were threats of violence against those that pioneered the league back then,” explained Burnett. “Over time, however, things changed and after about eight years, the growth in the league exploded to steadily grow to where we are today. We still owe those trailblazers a debt of gratitude, however, for getting the ball rolling all those years ago. Pun intended.”
Although the AFCSL doesn’t poll its members on sexual orientation, it’s believed that the majority identify as LGBT. However, allies to the LGBT community are welcome to join the league as well.
The AFCSL is split into two sections, open and women, and then further divided by skill level within each section. Beginning players generally start in the D division but have the opportunity to move up to the C and B division as their skills improve. Although the majority of players in the open section are men, women are welcome to join either.
“I have personally played in the League since the spring 2006 season,” said Burnett. “It was my first time playing in a gay league of any kind, as I had always played in the straight leagues my entire life. But the experience was amazing.”
New players are welcome to join the league before the start of the season and attend a series of clinics to assess their skill level before being placed on a team. Once the teams are formed, the majority of the team stays together year after year, which helps create strong bonds among players.
“There is a culture in softball that teams learn to play together over time and extend that on-field dynamic to socialization and friendships outside of the ballpark,” said Burnett.
For example, the league organizes Sponsor Sundays, where teams can gather at a sponsor bar or restaurant after the games to mix and mingle in a laidback, friendly environment. Teams also often participate in San Diego Pride and similar events.
“I think most newcomers are surprised by the combination of competitive play – many assume gay league means the players’ skills aren’t as high as their straight counterparts, but this is quickly overcome after their first game – combined with the overwhelming camaraderie and friendships forged between all the teams,” said Burnett. “In many other sports leagues, the competition between teams can prevent this interpersonal social interaction, but in the gay leagues, particularly AFCSL, you’ll see most of those barriers reduced to nothing. It’s all about having a ton of fun while playing the sport that we all love.”
Over the years, the AFCSL has made a name for itself among national LGBT softball organizations. The league is a member of both the North American Gay Athletic Association, which hosts the Open Gay Softball World Series, and the Amateur Sports Alliance of North America, which hosts the Women’s Softball World Series. Both of these events attract the best LGBT softball teams from the United States and Canada.
In 2015, the AFCSL had two teams win their respective divisions within the two World Series events. The D-division team Looking to Score won their division at the Women’s Softball World Series while team Marine Layer won the Master’s division at the Gay Softball World Series.
“These were tremendous efforts by both teams and we as a league couldn’t be prouder to have such talented and dedicated teams and players originate in San Diego,” said Burnett.
On several occasions, San Diego has hosted the Gay Softball World Series and the Women’s Softball World Series. The league, which last held the GSWS in San Diego in 2005, is currently considering putting together a bid to host again in the near future.
In addition to providing a fun and safe sporting environment for the LGBT community and its allies, the AFCSL is also proud to be able to help the general economy of San Diego through sponsorships. Each of the 43 teams is sponsored by a local business, which helps draw the neighborhood together and boost the local economy.
The AFCSL hosts the Autumn Classic each October. This annual softball tournament attracts teams from throughout the country and, over the course of Columbus Day weekend, brings over a thousand softball players to gather in San Diego.
This year, the Autumn Classic will expand to include additional sports as well, although details are still being finalized.
“This is an exciting new development for not only the AFCSL, but for the other sports that will be involved and the community as a whole since a larger event means increased opportunities for growth and acceptance of LGBT ideas and culture in the greater San Diego region,” said Burnett.
In an effort to support all LGBT athletes in San Diego, the AFCSL has teamed up with fellow local LGBT sports organizations for special events, such as San Diego’s Out at the Park.
Join members of the SD Hoops basketball league, Varsity Gay League’s dodgeball, kickball and volleyball, SD Pool League, SD Front Runners and SD Tennis Federation, among others., as they gather at Petco Park for the Padres v. Dodgers game Saturday, May 21.
This year also marks the first annual Stonewall Athlete Awards as part of the Out at the Park weekend. Celebrate local athletes with this exciting event Friday, May 20 at the Lafayette Hotel.
“It’s an exciting year to be a part of the San Diego sports community,” enthused Burnett.
Despite being such a large league, the AFCSL is a non-profit organization that is completely run by volunteers. Everyone, from coaches to the 11-member Board of Officers, donates their time to making the league a success.
“These volunteers are the true backbone of the operation and we’d like to extend our deepest thank you to all of them every chance we can,” said Burnett. “None of this would be possible otherwise.”
For more information visit afcsl.org
Short URL: http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=69716