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While Bars Fail, Saturday Softball Continues to Enrich LGBT Life

Mar. 28, 2017
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Last week there was a bit of a buzz when news of the impending auction of a Milwaukee gay landmark hit social media. Although the crisis was averted in deus ex machina manner, the reality is Cream City’s LGBT bar scene is on the wane.

In contrast, LGBT athletics are growing. A prime example is the Saturday Softball Beer League (SSBL). With the first pitch of its 41st season just a month away, the league is thriving. Over the decades, its dedicated leadership, players, sponsors and innovative strategies have brought LGBT sports to the fore. As three-time host of the Gay Softball World Series (with hopes to host another), SSBL has served the city itself, promoting Milwaukee as an all-welcoming tourist destination.

I recently spoke with the league’s commissioner, Eric Peterson, who, with a motivated board of directors, is continuing SSBL’s tradition of meeting the challenges of our ever-changing LGBT life. 

One new aspect is SSBL’s role as umbrella organization. When the Milwaukee Gay Sports Network (MGSN) formed in 2011, it was decided the new group would become a gateway for players and supporters. Funded through Windhover Foundation, MGSN provide grants for tournaments, scholarships and other related costs. Meanwhile, SSBL has become a multi-sport organization beyond softball. In the near future, it plans to offer dodgeball, kickball and basketball.

Focusing on the upcoming softball season, there are priorities to be addressed. One is to broaden community participation. “Over SSBL’s history, with rare exception like the Gay Arts Center, bars sponsored our teams. We owe them a lot of thanks. They’ve supported SSBL for 40 years but we can’t ask them to pay more and more to keep things going. We’re talking to entities that are not part of the bar culture, like law firms, restaurants and individuals to sponsor teams or fields. SSBL is a 501(c)(3) so costs are tax deductible,” Peterson said, adding, “As a founder of NAGAAA [North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance], SSBL should be reaching out to the whole of our community. Our focus is on health and wellness through sports as well as on social justice and consciousness regarding the greater LGBT community and beyond.” In that vein, while SSBL has always been co-ed, it has created a Women’s Division open to anyone who identifies as female, including members of the transgender community. 

Keeping players’ and sponsors’ fees affordable is another priority. Players’ costs are the cheapest of all sports in Milwaukee. Team registrations range from $100 to $400. The league even has a small fund to underwrite fees and provides used equipment to people who lack it. According to Peterson, “Our primary goal is to attract people who want to have fun and enjoy the social aspects of sports. I don’t want that little need to be a hindrance to people who want to come and play with us.”

Peterson offered this final thought: “It doesn’t matter who you are, what you look like, what color you are, what you believe or what gender you sleep with. If you want to play, there is a place for you in SSBL or any of our gay leagues and you don’t even need to be good at it.”

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