Michigan Goes To Ohio

Meet The Athletes Competing At The Cleveland Gay Games

By Shelby Clark Petkus

The Ninth Gay Games will be coming to the Great Lakes this August with the Cleveland Gay Games. Considered the "LGBT Olympics," the event first began in 1982 when Dr. Tom Waddell designed the event in San Francisco as "a vehicle for change."

Out of this initial event has come the Federation of Gay Games, which serves as governing body, and ever-growing participation and positive change for the LGBT community. This year's games in Cleveland, themed around "Go All Out," will have over 8,000 participants - LGBTQ or allied - competing for gold, silver or bronze. Events familiar to Olympic-watchers, such as soccer, swimming and track & field, will be featured, as well as some more unique sporting events like rock climbing, flag football and more. Two "cultural events" - band and chorus - are also held. The games run from Aug. 9-15, with the opening ceremony presented from 6 to 10:30 p.m. on the first day of the games. A live broadcast of the opening ceremony can be viewed at http://www.ccesportsnetwork.com.

Ken Mammo, a Michigan-based athlete and a Gay Games Ambassador, notes that the 2006 games in Chicago had over 10,000 athletes from over 100 countries. "Like the Olympic games, each country enters the stadium followed by the U.S. who enter by state. Exciting is an understatement!" Mammo says of the opening ceremony. "I was never so proud of our community, seeing so many athletes coming together in the spirit of competition. The entire city of Chicago was very welcoming and supportive. I'm sure Cleveland will be just as welcoming."

Michigan will be well represented at these games, and BTL spoke to a few who will be competing in Cleveland. Here's what they had to say:

Flag Football

http://www.pridesource.com/guidearticle.html?article=65074 Flag is similar to American football except for tackling; instead of more physical force typically found in the game, players have a flag hanging from their belts removed in place of a tackle. The Michigan Panthers will be the LGBT team representing the mitten state at the Gay Games, with some players competing in other sports such as diving, rock climbing and soccer (on the Detroit Drive). The group, which celebrated its eighth anniversary on July 17, played its first game at the Chicago Gay Games (where they won, 45-7). Head of the team, Leeron Kopleman, spoke with BTL. "I've been on the team since the beginning, playing receiver, center and quarterback on offense and corner on defense," he says. "We're hoping we come home with a medal like we did in 2006, but no pressure." That pressure might subside as the team looks forward to several more competitions after the games. "We participate in three annual, national tournaments against other state's teams," Kopleman adds. "In October, we'll be going to GayBowlXIV in Philadelphia, and in February we'll take in some sun at the Florida Sunshine Cup. There's also PrideBowl in Chicago next June."

Outside of the "Gay Olympics," the Michigan Panthers play as part of the Metro Detroit Flag Football League, open to both LGBTQ and allied. The league has grown to eight teams, including athletes from Toledo and Windsor, and play in the spring and fall (the fall season begins Sept. 6).

Find out more about the MDFFL or the Michigan Panthers at http://www.mdffl.org or http://www.michiganpanthers.org.

Swimming

Many LGBT athletes will be heading to the games for solo feats. Ken Mammo of Royal Oak will be competing in the swimming competition, of which he has been competing for 13 years. "My best events are free style and fly," Mammo says. "I've swam the 50, 10 and 200 fly at swim meets. However, in the last year I've been working on swimming individual medley (IM) events, where you swim all four strokes in the following order: fly, back, breast and free. My best time for the 400IM is 8:19:51, so I'm hoping to set a new personal best at the games by beating that time." Mammo, who swam in the Chicago Gay Games in 2006 in addition to his work as a Gay Games Ambassador, will be swimming the 200 and 400 IM and 400, 800 and 1,500 free-style events at this year's games.

Soccer

With the World Cup only recently over, those still yearning for soccer have the Gay Games to look to for continued "football" festivities. Michigan will be sending the Detroit Drive to represent the state and its LGBT citizens in soccer, with players from cities like Walled Lake, Pinckney, Detroit, Clawson, Ann Arbor - and even a previous Michigan resident who's traveling from Texas - to play with the Drive. At the Cleveland Gay Games, 40-50 other teams from around the world will be playing in either the competitive or recreational leagues; the Drive will play in the latter group. Though the team will play in the recreational division, they played the Cleveland Fury, the city's own LGBT soccer team heading to the Gay Games, to stoke the fires of competition.

Members of the Drive and Shawn Conner, one of the founding members of the team, spoke with BTL about the league, its history and its goals at the games. The vice president of the "Out For Kicks" Detroit Soccer League, which the Detroit Drive is a part of, Conner also serves as the Detroit Drive's assistant coach, referee and sometimes player. Out For Kicks is a non-gender specific soccer league open to all skill levels, with players' ages ranging from 20-50; the league has been around for two years. "It's a once in a lifetime event," Conner says excitedly. "We're excited to represent Detroit. Four years ago, the games were in Europe; it's great that it's in driving distance this time."

Zach Randel, who will compete in both flag football and soccer at the games, has been playing soccer since he was 4 years old, but has only been in flag football since last fall. "I participated in my first tournament in Chicago, so I got my feet wet," he notes. Randel joined the Detroit Drive after discovering them at Motor City Pride last year. The Royal Oak native notes, "I'm hoping that both the teams I play with take gold; sports are one of the few things that I have a strong passion for."

Another Drive player, Jon Hansen, spoke about his experiences with the team and the games. The Battle Ceek native has played soccer on and off since his youth, though he still had concerns about his skill level when joining the Drive. "I think my initial thoughts were being worried about my skill level," Hansen notes, "but Shawn and David (Carlini, the head coach) allocate time to run drills, and other members who are more skilled always offer advice, tips and help when needed." The midfielder and defenseman participates in the "Out For Kicks" recreational soccer league, where he initially heard about the Detroit Drive. "Unfortunately the rules for the Gay Games require our Detroit Drive team to be comprised of men," he says. In addition to this issue, Hansen worries about the tendency for soccer to go overlooked in the States. "I think I'm worried about the foreign teams," Hansen admits. "Most foreign countries live and breathe soccer, where as here in the U.S., soccer falls behind football, baseball, hockey and basketball. I'm hopeful that we will be a strong competitor in the recreational division and win several games."

For more information on Out For Kicks and the Detroit Drive, visit http://www.outforkicksdetroit.com.

Competing in most sports at the games involves signing up versus qualifying competition. It also involves a tremendous amount of support, financial or otherwise. Dr. Conner estimates it to be "about $1,000 per person to get everyone to the Gay Games. It's very expensive." In addition to fundraisers at places like Menjo's in Detroit, the Detroit Drive, the Michigan Panthers and other teams and athletes have been hosting fundraisers to get the necessary funds. The Drive have a Fundly page to help raise funds at https://fundly.com/help-send-detroit-drive-lgbt-soccer-team-to-the-2014-gay-games?ft_src=email_share_mobile.

For more information on the Cleveland Gay Games and various event locations, visit www.gg9cle.com.

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