They come from across the U.S., and a few Canadian cities as well, shooting for bragging rights and a championship trophy.
The 35th annual Gay Softball World Series returns to the Chicago area this week for the first time since 1983. Not just Chicago, but the suburbs also will host the 150 teams and more than 4,000 players, fans, family members and friends who will attend the six-day tournament.
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The fieldsThe 35th annual Gay Softball World Series will be played this week at multi-field complexes in Schaumburg, St. Charles and Elmhurst. All fields have lights and are fenced in. Games start Tuesday morning, Aug. 30. The championship games in all five divisions will be played Saturday, Sept. 3.
493 Oaklawn Ave., Elmhurst.
East Side Sports complex
3565 Legacy Blvd., St. Charles.
Olympic Park 1675 E. Old Schaumburg Rd., Schaumburg.
The opening ceremony will be held at 5 p.m. Monday at Navy Pier. The games are played Tuesday through Saturday at fields in Schaumburg, St. Charles and Elmhurst with the championship games Saturday in Schaumburg.
Representatives of the predominantly gay Chicago Metropolitan Sports Association won the bid to host this year's tournament back in 2009. Since then, an eight-member board of directors has been planning every aspect of the tournament, which is hosted by the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance. It is the largest annual lesbian/gay/bixsexual/transgender sporting event in the world, and organizers say it comes with a $5 million economic benefit for the host area.
"The great thing about the NAGAAA Softball World Series is that every year is unique and special," said Ted Cappas, 39, of Chicago, president of Series 2011, as it's known. "Hosting the tournament in a different city each year allows the athletes to have different experiences. Each city and (its local) organizing committee has different attributes. Chicago is a world-class city that has so much to offer. We are confident the athletes will enjoy their visit."
The CMSA runs the largest gay softball league in the world. About 50 teams played most Sundays from May through August at Clarendon and Margate parks on Chicago's north side.
The World Series, though, moves to the pristine playing conditions at multi-field complexes in Schaumburg, St. Charles and Elmhurst. All fields have home run fences, a NAGAAA requirement for the series.
"There just are not enough quality fields in the city of Chicago to handle the (size of this) tournament and that would meet (NAGAAA) requirements," Cappas said.
The series has 10 teams in the top-tiered A-Division and, for the first time, features a 50-and-over Master's Division. Thirty-five teams will compete in the B-Division, 53 in the C division, and 48 in the D division.
Nine Chicago teams will participate, with at least one team in each division. Players are not required to be gay.
"I've really enjoyed playing in the CMSA league. It's a fun league and I've met a lot of good guys -- on my team and on other teams," said Paul Kenost, 32, who graduated from Fremd High School in 1997 and lives in the South Loop. He plays on a C-Division team along with his girlfriend, Tatiana Gipson, 30, also an outfielder. She's a rookie in the CMSA, but was a two-time all-American fastpitch softball player at the College of DuPage.
"The level of competition is much better than I anticipated," said Kenost, who, with Gipson, are two of the straight players playing with CMSA. "It definitely is a misconception that gay players don't know sports as well, or as much as, straight players. Personally, I don't see any difference in the level of play -- in CMSA or the straight league that I play in. You're either good or you're not