by Sara Michelle Fetters -
SGN A&E Writer
Dug Wehage Sharpe, a 23-year member of the Emerald City Softball Association (ECSA), this September will become only the fourth Seattleite to be inducted into the NAGAAA Softball Hall of Fame. When asked how he reacted when learning he was going to become part of this prestigious group of LGBTQ amateur sports icons, Sharpe could barely contain his emotion. 'It was a mixture of disbelief and honor,' he said with heartfelt candor, 'It was one of the few times in my life that I can remember actually not being able to physically speak out loud.'
The North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance (NAGAAA) is an organization dedicated to the promotion of amateur sports competition, particularly softball, for all persons regardless of age, sexual orientation or preference. It includes 46 member cities in both the US and Canada, more than 1,000 teams and 17,000 players (annually) from across North America. Started in 1977, NAGAAA celebrates its 40th year in existence by including Sharpe among the 2017 inductees. He will join the 162 members that are currently members of the Hall of Fame.
Sharpe was nominated for the NAGAAA Hall of Fame by current ECSA Commissioner Frank Pichinini. 'I've had the honor to know and work with Dug for over 20 years now,' he explained. 'He exemplifies everything one would want to see in a Hall of Fame member: Skilled softball player, ECSA Board Member, ECSA Hall of Fame member, World Series Protest Committee member, World Series Volunteer, World Series Events Director, charity fundraiser, MVP awards, member of several ECSA and tournament Championship teams, mentor, recruiter, advisor, counselor, helper, player, coach, manager and most of all friend to numerous people throughout the NAGAAA nation. He's done it all.'
The NAGAAA Hall of Fame is the highest honor bestowed upon an individual within the organization. Members of this esteemed group have made vast and significant contributions to NAGAAA over the years. The membership represents individuals who are pioneers and innovators. 'I think of NAGAAA as the 'parent' of 46 member cities kids,' says Sharpe with a chuckle. 'NAGAAA is important because it allows communities from all over North America to be able to be unified as a singular community, a singular family. Those 46 cities are its children. Sure there will be a misstep here and there, but what NAGAAA does is reminds us that we are One Big Family living in 46 different little houses and, in the end, that we have one another's back.'
'The ECSA has been a member of NAGAAA for over 30 years and there are only three people that have been inducted in the NAGAAA Hall of Fame from Seattle,' says Pichinini. 'It's not easy to get inducted into the NAGAAA Hall of Fame and the fact that Dug has been is a testaments to his achievements and accomplishments both on and off the field being recognized by NAGAAA Hall of Fame members.'
'Although I do feel like I have achieved a lot of great things on the field, I would say that my biggest contribution to the organization - both locally and nationally - is through being an advocate of how important the ECSA and also NAGAAA are for everyone. Gay, Lesbian, Bi, Trans, Questioning, even our Straight allies, our softball field is a safe space where we can all come to compete as equals no matter what our backgrounds,' states Sharpe when asked about what he feels are his signature accomplishments. 'When I started in 1995, the league was much more focused on skill, ability and appearance. My contribution was pushing back against the stereotypes of appearance and reminding the organization that playing was more than just about winning games. It was about community. It was a refuge for those looking for a place to be, someplace outside of bars or any other sexualized setting. It was about friendships. It was about family. As that message took hold, the ECSA leapt from seven teams to now 35. I'm very proud of that.'
Pichinini would be the first to agree with that assessment, his own reaction to learning his longtime friend speaking volumes. 'My first reaction was a huge smile on my face,' he proudly states, his voice overflowing in joy. 'I couldn't wait to call Dug and let him know because I knew how much this was going to mean to him. Usually when I call Dug it's about some sort of softball situation that I'm asking him for advice on, so when he answered I suspect that is what he thought I was calling him about; some sort of issue or problem. Instead I told him that he had been inducted into the NAGAAA Hall of Fame. His initial reaction was shock and disbelief and I assured him that it was indeed true. He actually started crying.'
'It was a surreal moment,' proclaims Sharpe. 'When I look at the names of the people who have been inducted before me, and the fact that in a 40 year span there have only been three other inductees from Seattle, I am beyond humbled that such an amazing honor has been given to me.'
Still, Sharpe continues to look at the bigger picture. 'The most amazing thing for me continues to be that I get to be an advocate to get people involved in softball,' he plainly states. 'I have seen people who started with such low self esteem and then have gone on to find enough self-confidence to actually found new sports leagues in our community. I have been witness to people who were so lost that they were on the verge of ending their own lives until they found the ECSA and discovered a new family, a new level of support and a true community. I have seen people turn their lives around and, not only become amazing, productive people, but to give back at every chance by passing on their good fortune to others by becoming mentors, coaches or managers. It's all amazing.
'Being a member of the ECSA and NAGAAA has also helped me both personally and professionally. It has given me the opportunity to meet with people from all walks of life and learn to work with those who have differing opinions, backgrounds and motivations than maybe I do. Those are all skills that have allowed me to grow in my private and work life.'
As for those looking to become a part of the ECSA or any other NAGAAA member league throughout the United States and Canada, the Hall of Fame inductee has some straightforward and simple words of advice: 'Try it,' he says emphatically. 'Even if you only play one year, just try it. The community, the family, the friends that you will make, the life lessons you will learn in that one year, all of it will change your life. Try it.'
Dug Wehage Sharpe will be officially inducted into the NAGAA Hall of Fame in a ceremony on Tuesday, September 5, 2017 at the NIKE World Headquarters at the Tiger Woods Center in Portland, Oregon.
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