The havoc that COVID-19 has wrought on our Ohioan LGBTQ+ cultural landscape can be seen everywhere from the darkened theatres of Playhouse Square, to months worth of canceled live drag shows, to Prides delayed or outright canceled. Sadly, our sports fields failed to escape the collateral damage as thousands of Stonewall Sports participants in Cleveland and Columbus find themselves without balls to kick, dodge, roll, and spike.
Stonewall Sports was founded in Washington DC in 2010 as an LGBTQ & Ally community–based, non-profit sports organization with a philanthropic aim of raising funds for various organizations through organized sports and fundraising events. In 2015, Cleveland became the 9th city in the expansion and Columbus was established as the 14th in 2017. Participation numbers have experienced rapid growth over the years, with registration often filling up quickly for various sport offerings. 2020 was set to be another standout year for Stonewall Sports across Ohio.
And then the Coronavirus hit.
“Everything got put on hold,” says Patty Hace, Board Chair of Stonewall Sports Cleveland.
In the Forest City, three seasons were slated for this summer: bocce, sand volleyball, and kickball. In fact, the registration for the April-June kickball season had already taken place, with close to 400 players signed up, the most Cleveland has ever seen for a league. Add to that a combined 600 participants for Bocce and Sand Volleyball, and you have quite a bit of action no longer happening on the fields and courts. The reactions have been passionate.
“Some people are grateful that we are postponing and pausing and there are definitely passionate individuals on the other side who are out there socializing now and ready to play,” says Hace.
Tentative plans are to see if kickball might be possible for the Fall, though every week seems to bring a new set of instructions from city and state officials.
“We’re hopeful, but it’s definitely a big game of ‘wait-and-see’,” says Hace.
In Columbus, the scene is unsurprisingly the same. These past few months would have seen a dodgeball season for roughly 250 participants and a kickball league which already had 350 registrants for the spring.
“We refunded everyone who registered,” explains Roberto Rodriguez, Communications Director for Stonewall Sports Columbus.
The leadership team in Columbus is sending out a survey to past participants to gauge players’ interest and expectations in returning to competition. This information will then be used to determine the best methods for starting future leagues.
“The safety and the well-being of our players, volunteers and spectators is always top priority for us,” says Rodriguez. “We just hope that all of our players will still want to come back and be a part of the Stonewall Sports Columbus community as soon as we’re able to return.”
Another casualty of COVID-19 was the 7th Annual Stonewall Sports National Tournament & Summit, which had been slated for July 10-12 in Cleveland, the first time the tournament was going to be held in Ohio. Over 1500 participants were expected to travel to Cleveland to participate in seven different sport offerings, panel discussions, and LGBTQ+ bonding.
“We were excited for an action-packed weekend of showing off Cleveland and our community on the national stage,” says Joe Dill, Tournament Co-chair.
Planning had been underway since December of 2018, and when the effects of Coronavirus started amplifying in March, the initial thought was that registration could be delayed for a few weeks to see how things would play out. Ultimately, there was no tenable path forward to safely hold the Tournament.
“At the time, we thought this would all be over in a few weeks and everyone would go back to normal,” says Dill. “Although everyone was expecting the cancelation when it finally happened, we are disappointed to not have the opportunity to showcase Cleveland to the Stonewall Sports community.
With positive COVID-19 test results continuing to rise and cities not currently issuing recreation permits , Stonewall Sports organizers are unable to predict when players will be able to join their LGBTQ+ siblings on the fields. Still, the fighting spirit remains despite the dormant scoreboards.
“We’re so much more than a sports league,” says Hace. “We’re a community environment, and we will definitely figure out ways to keep that community aspect alive until we can get back out there and play again.”