The Windy City will be spreading the welcome mat for the 35th Annual NAGAAA Gay Softball World Series.
The series’ opening ceremony kicked off Monday evening at Navy Pier. The series was last hosted in Chicago in 1983, and has teams from all over the U.S. and Canada participating.
“This is the largest annual gay and lesbian sporting event in the world,” said Ted Cappas, President of the Chicago 2011 GSWS Board.
The opening ceremony included the singing of U.S. and Canadian national anthems, followed by introductions and a moment of silence for departed participants.
Robert Traylor, 35, came from Philadelphia to play with his team iCandy. He’s played for the gay softball league for three years in Philadelphia and nine years in Columbus, Ohio. “I love Chicago,” he said. “I love to hang out here.”
The tournament will last all week, with games being played in Elmhurst, Schaumburg, and St. Charles. An awards ceremony will be held in Chicago’s Boystown neighborhood in Lakeview on Saturday afternoon.
Local business owners expect the tournament will help bring much-needed business to the city. “We are excited and honored to have the opportunity to host such an iconic gay sporting event in Chicago,” said Brenden Chrisman, general manager for Roscoe’s Tavern & Cafe in Lakeview.
Celebrity guests at the ceremony included drag performer Pandora Boxx, who was a contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race, which aired on Viacom’s Logo TV.
Also in attendance, was former U.K. rugby star and advocate for gay rights Ben Cohen. The athlete has made it a personal mission to speak out against gay bullying with his campaign: The Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation.
“I firmly believe homophobia will be kicked out of sport,” said the 32-year-old athlete.
The GSWS is part of the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance, which was created in 1977, according to the series’ website. The site boasts that it has a current membership of over 680 teams from 37 leagues throughout the U.S. and Canada.
This was Tim Beaulieu’s third time in Chicago and has been playing in the softball league for 15 years. He came with his team from Vancouver. “We heard it was a beautiful city,” he said. When asked how his team would perform, the 45-year-old tempered expectations. “The Canadian teams don’t normally do well… We’re just happy to be here.”
This is not the first time Chicago has hosted a large gay sporting event. In 2006, the city was host to the Gay Games, an international sporting event that saw thousands flock to the city its suburbs from all over the world.
“I met my partner of 30 years playing softball,” said Mike Harwell of Houston. This is the 30th year the 53-year-old has played in the league.