The OutField: Team Oregon takes on Cologne

By Dan Woog

In his late 60s, Arde Johnson still competes as a bodybuilder. When he and his partner moved to Portland, Ore. a few years ago, he left behind an important part of his athletic and social life: Team Palm Springs, with which he competed in the Gay Games.

As he told his new Portland friends how much fun the Games are - socially as well as athletically - he planted a seed. Rob Patton listened with interest. Like many others in the LGBT community, Patton had known little about the Games. And like them, he grew excited about the possibility of going to Cologne for the 2010 event.

"I got drawn in like the tractor beam in 'Star Wars,'" says Patton, a softball player. Portlanders had always participated in the Gay Games, of course. But not in any organized way. Individual athletes fund raised, made hotel arrangements and traveled on their own.

Now they are doing it together. Thanks to Johnson's inspiration, and the organizational efforts of people like Patton, Team Oregon will send a few dozen athletes to Germany this summer. When Gay Games VII ends in August, the umbrella group will continue to support gay sports in the state. And when the 2014 Gay Games opens in Cleveland, Patton hopes "a couple of hundred" Oregonians will be there.

So far, Team Oregon has attracted more individual athletes - bodybuilders, swimmers, runners, dancers - than teams. (Patton will play on a softball squad created by Gay Games organizers; they form teams for players who do not have one. He may also throw the javelin, a sport he enjoyed when he was younger.)

But those athletes come from a wide geographic area, making Team Oregon perhaps the only statewide gay sports organization with a presence in Cologne. "We want to bring people together to train, compete and enhance the whole experience," explains Patton, now the president of Team Oregon. "It's not like we're going to meet each other for the first time once we get to Cologne."

It's a long way from the West Coast to Europe, so Team Oregon has embarked on several money-raising efforts. Members earn points for participating in each event. Funds will be distributed based on point totals.

The owner of West Cafe donated 10 percent of the funds from a wine dinner to the group. More creatively, Team Oregon members solicited pledges based on the number of laps they'd run around Portland's Pioneer Square - in Speedos.

Small and medium-sized businesses have contributed up to $300 for exposure on Team Oregon's website. Bigger corporations with sports connections in Portland's backyard - Nike and the North American headquarters of Adidas - are also being solicited.

It is important, Patton says, to raise both money and awareness. To help the latter mission, Team Oregon staffs booths at Pride festivals and reaches out to LGBT community centers and campus groups. But - mindful that the Gay Games are not limited to LGBT athletes - Patton says, "We're as likely to have flyers and posters at gyms and bike shops as gay bars. We're working the gay angle, and also the sports angle."

Of course, there is also a Team Oregon Facebook group.

Many Oregonians react like Patton did not long ago:

"I never heard of the Gay Games!" Once they learn about the Games - a social and cultural gathering, as well as an athletic competition open to everyone regardless of ability or experience - they think: "I can go to Germany and compete in a sport I've always wanted to try, but never even done!" They realize Team Oregon can help, and they start planning (and training) in earnest.

In addition to money and logistics, Patton's organization faces the challenge of moving beyond the metropolis of Portland and cosmopolitan cities like Eugene. "There are some pretty small towns in eastern Oregon where it's tough to be gay," he notes. "My dream is to reach those people. We're still trying to unearth them." As an example, he points to a swimmer in Klamath Falls. However, Patton says, "We haven't heard a lot from him lately."

Finding gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender athletes; getting them together to train; organizing them and helping fund their travel to Germany - in the midst of a worldwide recession - is no easy task.

"We recognize the obstacles," Patton acknowledges. "But we think whatever we can do to make a difference for people to go is great. This is the first time we're doing this as a statewide group. We're learning as we go along. The next time around, we'll be that much smarter."

"For more information on Team Oregon, visit http://www.TeamOregon2010.org. For more information on the Gay Games, visit http://www.gaygamescologne.com."

Dan Woog is a journalist, educator, soccer coach, gay activist, and author of the "Jocks" series of books on gay male athletes. Visit his website at http://www.danwoog.com. He can be reached care of this publication or at OutField@qsyndicate.com.
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