By Caroline Hannum
Crammed apartments, driving half an hour to go exactly one mile in distance, the two hour wait to get into a favorite lunch spot; these are merely symptoms of a metropolis that demands to but can not expand. D.C is a maze, a cacophony of people, places, and personalities that each require their own requisite degree of separation and room to exist. So what does one do in a city with no room left to give? Make your own. Be it physical, mental, or in this case community oriented. Thrust out those elbows, wiggle the hips, and push. Hard.
From February to May one can find the areas of Stead Park, near Dupont Circle and Francis Pool in Foggy Bottom filled with loud cheers and people rounding home. These are “Kickball Sundays” where two division teams battle it out with a healthy display of enthusiasm and competition. This is an organized affair, a balanced mix of intensity and spirit, that keeps the teams of forty players coming back each season. There are practices, warm ups before games where Lady Gaga’s power ballads get the blood moving and the mind ready to win. Of the five recognized divisions from A to E there are different levels of skill and socialness, E being the most social of the lot.
The team uniforms are sponsored by local businesses. There are captains for each team, and each game has designated referees where players from the previous game oversee the match after theirs. The teams are a mix of origins, from Mississippi to California. This is Kickball Sunday, a slot of time and space purposefully, eagerly, and organically composed to let off some steam through healthy competition and companionship. The majority of players all just happen to be members of the LGBTQ+ community.
“Imagine it really as A League of Their Own, but with a bunch of gays planning brunches and barhops in between games.” This is Harrison Allen, the newest member of one of the league’s teams The Scoregasms fondly referred to as “The Scoregies”, describing the kickball experience. A graduating senior at American University, Allen heard about the team through a classmate and former coworker and describes his initiation process as somewhat akin to “dirty rushing”. Instead of fraternity brothers getting in their underclassmen friends because they swipe them in to the dining hall, teammates bring in new recruits as the figure of mentor, parent, and sibling all rolled into one. Community is about continuity, and bringing people in is an act that gives both ways.
Where American University might not offer explicit athletic spaces for members of the LGBTQ+ community, D.C. can fill that gap. Growing up Allen noted that sports were a contention point for his coming out process. As he switched from soccer to musical theatre the stereotypes of what it meant to be gay or how to be gay pushed him away from the notes of masculinity that riddled the game. Kickball offered a way to get back into the competitiveness and comradery of sports on his own terms, and within a space where he could be entirely himself.
Sundays are not just “Sundays”. From Friday evening to the 10 a.m. or 2 p.m. games and the events afterwards, teammates intermingle and make the most of what the season can offer. There are themed party nights, brunches and bar hopping before or after the game. The kicker (no pun intended): both teams are going out together. Every season the teams are shuffled, teammates are split, but the sense of community still stands. This is what Allen deems as the most significant aspect of the whole affair, the community. “It’s competitive. People are there to play the sport don’t get me wrong, but most of the people that sign up are not there to play kickball.”
When asked what the league meant to him directly Allen responded, “It’s a great way to be gay. It makes the big city small, a large community tighter. There is a new sense of comfort of walking into a gay bar and knowing people on and off the field.”
There is a dynamic of straight people coming into gay bars, the bachelorette party making one of their many stops in the night. What happens when spaces become physically constricted? The spot that was supposed to be safe and reserved has its slots filled not by those who it was set apart for, and suddenly it's not about the bodily space that was taken up but the idea that sanctity was broken in a way. However, people adapt. They simultaneously reclaim and make a new physical and emotional space all their own. For college students, the young professionals of the area, the kickball league offers an arena beyond the field and the city itself. There is familiarity, a community, where players and spectators alike gather around a field, a bar, a table and have room to be.