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    The Unofficial Gayest Sport: Volleyball

    johnsports“When I play volleyball, I am at my gayest! I can truly be myself.” I have heard this and similar statements from so many volleyball aficionados, such as avid player Philip Tan. He and numerous other such players, both in social and competitive games, share a very similar sentiment when on a volleyball court: You can be as gay as you want, as butch as you want, and, most importantly, as much of your true self as you want.

    More often than not, at any volleyball social event or competition, there is a much larger than usual LGBT contingent of players screaming, costuming, shrieking, giggling, diva’ing, cheering, sashaying, posturing, and more! They are all playing volleyball and having the time of their lives being themselves because the nature of this sport affords people to do so in freedom and with acceptance.  There is a reason why volleyball holds the unofficial title of the most popular gay sport and has a very organized governing body, the North America Gay Volleyball Association (NAGVA) with over 4,000 members, 50 official tournaments and 30 leagues.

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    If you are a new player or new to the Bay Area, how do you find LGBT volleyball? To answer this, I spoke with Clayton (last name withheld) recently. He moved from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to Berkeley. He told me, “I just used social media like MeetUp and found several volleyball groups.”

    Coming from a much smaller city with virtually no LGBT volleyball, Clayton was very happy to discover a super network of gay volleyball in San Francisco. Clayton first found Oakland LGBTQA Volleyball, an outdoor grass volleyball group for beginning to competitive players. Under the leadership of Ken Mau, Sam Ladion and Hector Medina, this social volleyball group has grown to 400 members in just two years.

    Like Clayton, Ken is also from the South (Alabama) and found the Oakland group through social media. Both Sam and Ken grew up learning to play volleyball with girls because the environment was less intimidating, less of a testosterone contest, and in the poignant words of Sam, “less bullying.” Girls’ volleyball is more “about the love and celebration of the game without any pretense” and this is the mantra of Oakland LGBTQA Volleyball.

    “Our Tuesday grass volleyball is the event that everyone goes to,” said David Murray, who is the current President of Rainbow Recreation (RR), which is based in Silicon Valley and has hundreds of young professional members who work in major companies such as Google, Facebook and Yahoo. Volleyball is the “mainstay” and the center of RR’s social scene, he said, because “it is played in a beautiful climate, is accessible to even absolute beginners, and is very conducive to socialization.”

    A former collegiate volleyball player, Matt Wong has played on Tuesdays with RR for at least 10 years. Having competed at a very high level, he found that the social aspect of RR volleyball was a welcome break from the intensity of indoor competition.  Speaking of which, indoor volleyball is the most popular form of competitive volleyball. The South Bay Volleyball Club (SBVBC) is for LGBT players wanting to play at a higher level. Since the early 1990s, Matt has taught various skills clinics and play formations for SBVBC, thereby helping hundreds of novices to develop into competitive players. Clayton reminded, “Being competitive is also a form of fun.”

    In San Francisco, Balls of Furry (not Fury) has become the “go to” LGBT indoor volleyball group. Founded on the philosophy of good will and conduct, Balls of Furry attracts and welcomes players of all levels, shapes and sizes, and especially bears and cubs, hence the name Furry.

    “We had an influx of higher level players because we treat everyone with respect and positive attitude,” said Adam Keim, Co-President (along with Rich Sucre) of Balls of Furry.  He continued, “We offer clinics and encourage better players to help others to forge a stronger and more closely bounded San Francisco volleyball community.” Even though LGBT volleyball is large and prevalent in the Bay Area, Balls of Furry currently offers the only gay league (starting this month). It also organizes the 4th of July Red, White and Blue NAGVA tournament in San Francisco (ballsoffurryvolleyball.org).

    Now that you’ve read about LGBT volleyball in the Bay Area, what do Balls of Furry, Rainbow Recreation, Oakland LGBTAQ Volleyball and SBVBC have in common? They are all successful because volleyball is a fun sport that brings people together. Each of these groups has dedicated and passionate leaders, and they all welcome you with open arms.

    John Chen, a UCLA alumnus and an avid sports fan, has competed as well as coached tennis, volleyball, softball and football teams.