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May 18, 2007
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Volume 35
Issue 20
 
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Out of Bounds: The Big Apple's Sports Core
Out of Bounds: The Big Apple's Sports Core
by Dan Woog - SGN Contributing Writer

Twelve years ago, at age 27, Jeff Kagan discovered hockey. A self-described former "fat little kid," he surprised himself by learning to skate, then joining a New York City team with an unintimidating atmosphere. Soon he envisioned himself as an athlete. Mastering hockey gave Kagan - who had struggled for a long time with coming-out issues - the confidence to deal with his sexuality.

In 1997, Kagan idly typed "Gay hockey" into a search engine. To his amazement, a long list of links popped up. He leaped into the Gay hockey world by playing in tournaments, organizing teams, and recruiting new players to experience the same warm joys he felt on the ice.

Today, most of Kagan's closest friends come from hockey. But he's expanded his horizons even further, and as co-founder of Out of Bounds - an umbrella organization promoting sports and recreation throughout New York - he works tirelessly to help gay people connect and grow through basketball, soccer, volleyball, wrestling, water polo, lacrosse, bowling, boxing, rugby, tennis, running, skiing, cycling, and even dodgeball.

Each sport is different, Kagan notes. The Gay basketball league, for example, includes eight teams; more than 150 names are on an e-mail list. Most are between 20 and 40 years old, and they know the game. "We attract some tough, aggressive players," Kagan says.

Hockey draws a more recreational crowd, and more women, too. Many are like Kagan - people who never before considered themselves athletes.

Perhaps one-third of the members of New York City Gay Hockey Association are straight. "We didn't expect it, but we welcome it," Kagan says. "Our initial aim was to provide a nonscary environment for Gay people who had been used to terror in sports, but that kind of thing appeals to straight people, too. A lot of people are looking for a nice, friendly atmosphere where everyone abides by the rules." Kagan calls the heterosexual players "our ambassadors to the straight community. They might casually mention their Gay hockey team when they're talking with friends and co-workers, and that breaks down stereotypes."

Enjoyment for all is a hallmark of Out of Bounds teams, Kagan says. "We've been discriminated against before, so we don't want to ghettoize anyone else. Eventually, we hope there will be no need for any Gay sports teams or leagues at all."

But today there is. In fact, Kagan says, some of the straight players may not be so heterosexual after all. "I'm sure some guys are closeted, and this is a way for them to test how safe it is to come out."

In the spirit of inclusion of all sports, Out of Bounds recently agreed to promote BAD (Big Apple Dodgeball) after being approached by an organizer. "I guess it's a sport," Kagan says. "I mean, it involves a ball and some sort of athletic ability. Is golf a sport?"

(That's a good question, along with its corollary: Is there such a thing as Gay golf? One supposes so, what with suggestive phrases like "drive it to the hole" and "lining up my putter" - not to mention the Dinah Shore Classic - but let's get back to Out of Bounds.)

The organization does not actually organize new teams or leagues. Instead, it provides advice, seed money for publicity, e-mail blasts, and a website (www.oobnyc.org). Funds come from donations and events like the Sports Ball, an annual dance/expo.

As with dodgeball, the definition of "sports" can be elastic. Out of Bounds is affiliated with the New York City Gay Pool League, En Guard (not a fencing club, but a color guard), and Cheer New York. This co-ed cheerleading and dance squad performs throughout the region - at their own competitions, and rooting on many Gay teams. Cheer New York also raises money for AIDS organizations and other charities.

Kagan may juggle many balls in the air, but he always has time to help individual athletes. "I hear so many stories about how this sport or that one has changed lives - just like hockey changed mine," he says. "I remember being so amazed when I found another Gay hockey player. I had thought there would never be anyone to talk to.

"As teams and leagues draw people in, their isolation ends. Their lives are opened to a whole group of people who have so much more in common with them than only a sport, or only sexuality.

"One guy has been playing with us for six or seven years. He still hasn't told his parents he's Gay. But now he has friends and a support system he never had. So for the first time, he feels good about himself. And he's having a great time, being healthy and active."

Dan Woog is a journalist, educator, soccer coach, Gay activist, and author of the "Jocks" series of books on Gay male athletes. Visit his website at www.danwoog.com. He can be reached care of this publication or at OutField@qsyndicate.com.
 

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