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    Sin City Classic: The World’s Largest LGBTQ+ Annual Sports Festival

    By John Chen–

    Over this past Martin Luther King (MLK) holiday weekend, I and nearly 10,000 gay athletes landed in Las Vegas to participate in the world’s largest annual LGBTQ+ sports event, the Sin City Classic. The Classic is a sports festival where multiple sports competitions converge onto the same city and on the same dates (MLK weekend in January) every year. This giant gathering of LGBTQ+ athletes enables great opportunity for inter-sport visibility, exchange, and socializing, providing an amazing way to introduce oneself to others via perhaps unfamiliar fun athletic endeavors.

    It is hard to believe that I last attended this now mega sports festival 14 years ago in its infancy. Back in 2009, Sin City was called a Shootout and was primarily a major gay softball tournament that had its inaugural competition in 2008. Interestingly enough, the tournament host, the Greater Los Angeles Gay Softball Association (GLASA), originally wanted the event to be in Los Angeles, which made sense. But, due to numerous logistical obstacles, GLASA decided to host the tournament at a relatively close and much more intra-city travel friendly destination, Las Vegas. And the Sin City Shootout was born. In 2018, on the 10th anniversary of the Shootout, the festival name was officially changed to the Sin City Classic.

    Paul McDaniel, a long-time volunteer leader both for GLASA and Sin City Classic, offered some background and statistics for their unique annual LGBTQ+ sports festival: “Around 2010, the founding tournament Board Members envisioned and entertained the idea of inviting other gay sports to be part of the Shootout, making Sin City a multi-sport festival. Gay basketball first joined in 2011, followed by tennis and wrestling in 2012. In the subsequent years, we added dodgeball, soccer, volleyball, and a host of other gay sports totaling 24 today!”

    “Our success didn’t always come easy, and we are volunteer dependent,” McDaniel added. “This year, Jason Peplinski, Rick Maas, and Larry Ruiz, along with our 30 some untiring and unwavering core directors and coordinators, led hundreds of dedicated volunteers to make [Sin City Classic] the largest annual gay sports festival, not just happen, but better and better! Every year, our large troop of volunteers are our rock!”

    “Since 2015, we’ve had award-winning pop stars such as Tiffany, Lance Bass, CeCe Peniston and Deborah Cox perform at our closing party,” McDaniel continued. “We’ve also been fortunate enough to partner with major hotels such as Planet Hollywood in the past, and now the Flamingo and the LINQ. Finally, we have secured major sponsors from Toyota Financial Services to now Lexus.”

    Rod Kratovil, a former GLASA volunteer and Sin City Classic advocate, chimed in: “We would like to pay tribute to our close friend Ken Scearce, the former Sin City Classic [Shootout] Volunteer Leader who unexpectedly passed away during the summer of 2021. Under [Scearce] and his fellow volunteers, the [Classic] grew exponentially and thrived over the years. We all miss him dearly. Although this is the second Sin City without him, we feel that he is here in Vegas with us, always.”

    McDaniel concluded, “[Sin City Classic] welcomes any gay sport that isn’t already here to join our festival. We provide all necessary umbrella administration such as registration, social events, and accommodation. We can also help with locating venues, but the sport organizers are responsible for the logistics of and running their own tournament. Just contact us at Sin City Classic or GLASA and we’ll work closely with them to get their sport tournament up and running!”

    Over the holiday weekend, I drove 170 miles and took 65,000 steps, going north and south, east and west, up and down, and forwards and backwards to catch a glimpse of as many San Francisco Bay Area teams as well as individual competitors doing what they love to do, play sports.

    I followed my long-time friend Darryl Lee, a multi amateur golf tournament champion, as he played several rounds of golf at the picturesque Revere Golf Club. I nervously watched as my buddy James Knippen dodged high velocity attacks with his teammates at ultra-fast-paced dodgeball. My neck turned to the left, then right, then left, then right again (repeat) as I followed several new friends from Minnesota engaged in exciting and extensive volleys and rallies at the Darling Tennis Center.

    Moreover, I cheered on San Francisco Spikes Soccer as one of my good friends who is a bit shy, so I won’t mention his name, feverishly defended his team’s final third of the field. I was politely shushed and observed silently a former volleyball pal, Rand DeCastro, as he strategically played his cards at bridge. I withstood the rain, the wind, and the cold just like the San Francisco kickball teams Baes and Fruitcakes did as they celebrated every hard-earned run scored. Finally, I nostalgically watched many of my old softball teammates, many of whom are now near and around my rising to senior citizen status with a bullet, compete hard together one more time for old time’s sake on team San Francisco Kobra Kai.

    In between all the hectic driving and fast walking to get from sport to sport located all over the Las Vegas metropolitan area (can you imagine doing this in Los Angeles traffic?!), I spent the most time learning about the newest Sin City Classic sport, pickleball and one of the oldest, wrestling.

    Pickleball, if you haven’t heard, is the newest and fastest growing sport in the world. On a very general scale, it is like mini tennis but using a paddle instead of a racquet, and a whiffle-like ball instead of a hard, fuzzy tennis ball. The rules and approach to the game, however, are what distinguish pickleball from tennis. And it is far easier to learn how to play pickleball. In fact, many pickleball players at Sin City Classic only started playing recently. I followed several Bay Area players and would like to congratulate the team of Kevin Tam and Andrew Camisas for winning the 3.0 open division championship, and the team of Kevin Tam and Rachel Fightmaster for taking the mixed doubles 3.0 trophy.

    First-time Sin City Classic Pickleball Tournament Co-Director, Elise Lindborg, a Seattle transplant to Las Vegas, was uber excited about bringing pickleball to the annual LGBTQ+ sports festival: “My wife and I came into a huge pickleball world because there’s year-round sunshine in Vegas. [Pickleball] is so much fun. Anyone can learn how to play quickly! Our inaugural tournament has 112 entries with minimal advertising, which is amazing. We look forward to having a much larger turnout in 2024. One thing I would like to add is we would love to have lots and lots more lesbian players than the small turnout this year. If you are a lesbian pickleball player, please come on down to Sin City in 2024!”

    One of my best friends from UCLA was an accomplished wrestler both in high school and at the college level. He often wanted me to wrestle against him because we were similar in size and stature. Of course, my answer was always a resounding “no,” mainly due to the obvious fact that he was practically a pro, and his biceps were significantly larger than mine! But he did pique my interest regarding wrestling.

    At Sin City Classic, I found time to shadow Josh Watkins, a San Francisco wrestler at the tournament. Josh invited me to the wrestling clinic where I observed demonstrations on certain take-down moves, all of which were very athletic endeavors that require precision, power, endurance, and strength. Josh also gave me a crash course on how points are determined and how a winner is declared in a match. Then I got to watch him wrestle in an official tournament match against a brick powerhouse from Long Beach, Eric Ernst.

    In addition, I had the opportunity to meet and chat with the Sin City Classic Wrestling Tournament Director since 2013, Christopher Lorefice. Lorefice, from Philadelphia, started wrestling 15 years ago and had wrestled with many LGBTQ+ friendly clubs on the West Coast since then. “Wrestling changed my life,” he said. “I wanted to wrestle in high school but never felt comfortable enough to try because I was gay and not out. As an adult, around 2008, I started wrestling with a club in Los Angeles, learned a lot, and was introduced to several gay friendly clubs around the country. The wrestling community welcomed and embraced me as a gay man and wrestling is where I’ve met my closest friends. For this reason, I wanted to give back to the sport that has given me so much as a coach and in welcoming and introducing our great sport and our supportive organization, Wrestlers Without Borders, to the [LGBTQ+] community.”

    Having experienced this year’s Sin City Classic upfront and personal, I must say that I am very impressed. The amount of planning, preparation, organization, logistics, and direction needed and executed was staggering! I give major props to all the Sin City Classic leadership and volunteers.

    Having written all of this, I hope I have your attention and that you’ll make it out to Sin City for next year’s Classic (2024) either as a competing athlete, an athletic supporter, or just a voyeur like me. After all, who doesn’t want to find a little “sin” after a hard day of athletic fun?

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

    Published on February 9, 2023