Do you miss the days of kickball on a warm, sunny afternoon? Does the idea of friendly competition, followed by a few beers at the local pub or bar sound like the best possible way to spend a Sunday? Well, you are definitely not alone. With the arrival of spring comes the “kick off” of Stonewall Sports kickball leagues across the country. The organization’s name has grown to represent more than just our gay rights history, but a community of friends and sports enthusiasts who are part of the LGBTQ community in 23 cities.  

The original Stonewall Sports league was created in Washington, D.C. in 2010 by Martin Espinoza and Mark Gustafson. The idea was to create a community-based sports organization for LGBTQ and allied individuals. It started as a Sunday kickball league with 90 players. Four years later, they had maxed out at 450 players and the idea was starting to grow into other cities.  

Here is a quick primer on the sport that started it all. A full game of kickball is five innings, or 45 minutes. The visiting team kicks first while the home team takes the field. Captains play “rock, paper, scissors” to decide who’s who. There is a maximum of eleven players allowed on the field: six in the infield and five in the outfield, but rules allow you to play with as few as eight. 

Some leagues require you to wear the official Stonewall jersey somewhere on your body. In order to pitch a strike, the ball must bounce at least twice and roll through the strike zone, a foot above and around all sides of home plate. Kickers stand in the “batter’s box” and must wait for the ball to cross the plate before placing the kick. The rest is pretty much as you remember from grade school.  

Espinoza pointed out the key components that have led to the success of the Stonewall Sports model in a Washington Blade story in 2014. “Any of the Stonewall sports are an easy entry into the gay community for someone who is shy, new to the area, just getting over a break-up or even someone who is recovering from an addiction,” Espinoza said. “It’s a chance to be outside the bar scene and to build a new network of friends.” 

There are important characteristics in the Stonewall Sports ethos – low cost, philanthropy, diversity, competition and fun. All the individual leagues share a common mission statement, “To provide an inclusive, low-cost, high FUN sports league that is managed as a non-profit with a philanthropic heart.” 

In addition to kickball, the “OG” of LGBTQ sports leagues now has leagues for billiards, bocce and climbing, and sports vary even more broadly across the country.  Today, Stonewall Sports has over 20 chapters in 14 states including Carolina leagues in Raleigh, Greensboro, Charlotte, Wilmington and Asheville.   

The first group to launch outside of Washington, D.C. was Stonewall Sports Raleigh. Inspired by what his friends had created, Raleigh City Council member Jonathan Melton founded the expansion league in 2013. 

Ask any member of the group and they will agree that Stonewall Sports has a way of building community. It creates opportunities for friendship and leagues help the larger community through fundraising and charity. The Raleigh chapter has donated money to LGBT Center of Raleigh, the Tammy Lynn Center, Raleigh Rescue Mission and the Interfaith Food Shuttle, to name a few. By design, leagues are set up as a fundraising model so that teams have the ability to raise money for their chosen charities. 

Stonewall Sports Raleigh offers kickball, dodgeball, indoor and outdoor volleyball, bowling, football, tennis, softball and a Stonewall Run Club which launched in 2017. On Monday, the organization announced a billiards league led by Joe Lyons. 

After talking with Melton in Raleigh, Jason Boone took a day trip from his home in Charlotte to see what the league was doing. He founded the Charlotte chapter the following year. “It was a warm spring day in 2014 when I witnessed my first post middle school kickball game,” states Boone on the organization’s website. 

With over 2,000 annual sports players each year, Stonewall Sports Charlotte now holds the title for the largest LGBTQ+ sports organization in the Carolinas, according to its website. In January, board president Bryce Moffett shared their vision for 2022 with Qnotes. “Our goal is to re-engage with our community, expand our offerings and league sizes, and focus our donations and giving to organizations that reflect our diverse community,” he said. 

Charlotte’s league includes bowling, cornhole, esports, dodgeball, kickball and volleyball, both indoor and outdoor. In addition, since its founding, Stonewall Sports Charlotte has donated over $150,000 to local charities. That charity does not stop at the state line either. In March, Stonewall Sports Charlotte, along with several other leagues, passed on donations to Equality Florida in response to the passage of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill that would ban “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity” in primary schools. 

Members of Stonewall Sports Wilmington enjoy beers together during the Spring Kickball Remix Team Reveal at Wrightsville Beach Brewery, following a pick up game at Robert Strange Park, March 20, 2022. Photo: Facebook

Further east, Stonewall Sports Wilmington still focuses on the origins of being a kickball league. This Spring’s “Kickball Remix” starts on April 3 with seven teams. Clever names include the “Shady Pitches,” “Shaka Laka Boom Boom,” and “The Sydney Prescotts.” The league is also displaying their non-athletic talents as they take part in a community-wide lip sync competition on April 30. The annual Making Legends Local Gala and Lip Sync Battle benefits the Carousel Center, a child advocacy nonprofit helping victims of physical and sexual abuse in Brunswick, New Hanover and Pender Counties. 

For more information on North Carolina chapters of Stonewall Sports, visit their websites below. 

On March 14, the coalition of Stonewall Sports announced its National Tournament and Summit would return this year post-pandemic with an event in Cleveland July 8-10. The executive team includes Monica Gustin, Matt Williams, Ryan Clopton-Zymler and Patty Hace. “The vision for the 2022 Summit is one that expands on previous years; our hope is to recruit experts from within Stonewall and outside of, to lead discussions on the ever-evolving nature of community organizing,” says Stonewall Sports’ leadership. The theme will be “Exploring the Intersection of Sports & Advocacy.”  For more information, visit www.stonewallproud.org

Stonewall Sports National 

https://stonewallsports.leagueapps.com/

North Carolina Leagues

Stonewall Sports Raleigh, established 2013

Stonewall Sports Charlotte, established 2014

Stonewall Sports Greensboro, established 2014

Stonewall Sports Wilmington, established 2015

Stonewall Sports Asheville, established 2019

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