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WCPO 9 Cincinnati

LGBTQ+ sports leagues see big growth in Cincinnati

By Evan Millward,


When Vince McCarty saw a sponsored ad for a new LGBTQ+ sports league coming to Cincinnati in 2021, a twinge of old anxiety hit him.

"I came to a free play, met some people and thought, 'Even though I haven't played kickball in 20 years, why not?'" McCarty said. "But even with these guys, I was a little apprehensive, like, what if they don't like me?"

That apprehension is now gone and McCarty has taken on the role of Sunday sports manager — juggling planning for kickball, volleyball and other sports throughout the year for HotMess Sports Cincinnati .

Sports leagues tailored to LGBTQ+ adults in Greater Cincinnati are experiencing big increases in registration and participation.

McCarty said HotMess Sports had about 200 kickball participants in spring 2022, and doubled it to more than 400 this spring.

Its fall kickball season kicked off on Sept. 17. The league moved from Dyer Park's two fields in the West End to Salway Park in Spring Grove Village, which offers a third.

"People keep telling their friends, like, 'Hey I'm having success in my relationships, in my outlook on life, just playing sports in a [recreational] league ... why don't you join me?'" he said.

HotMess Sports offers several other sports throughout the year from dodgeball to volleyball and bowling to cornhole.

And it's not the only league seeing more interest.

Rivercity Softball League has been around since 1980, growing from two teams playing on one field to a record 19 teams this summer, said league communications director Matt Zeis.

"We have a collaboration with HotMess, so we don't play our two biggest sports — softball and kickball — on the same nights, and we broadcast both leagues to our membership base," Zeis said. "We were able to take some kickballers and they were able to take some softball players to help grow our leagues."

And, it joined the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance as its 53rd city recently, opening the door for its first entry into the Gay Softball World Series this summer in Minneapolis.

For some LGBTQ+ athletes, sports haven't always felt like inclusive, safe spaces. That's part of why leagues catering to that community are seeing such growth, both Zeis and McCarty said.

"Maybe there was a lot of talk that was inappropriate or they didn't feel welcome in that group," Zeis said. "Gay sports is something I feel that is needed in our community."

The leagues offer social activities outside of traditional alcohol-centric spaces like bars, providing a chance to make new friends and spend time outdoors.

"It's an environment where you get to learn, and get to grow," McCarty said. "Even if you don't feel the most athletic, you can still come and have a fantastic time."

He pointed out players' families in bleachers as games.

"I've met the best people I can ever meet and there's nothing I would rather do on Sunday afternoons," McCarty said. "This is Sunday church for me."

HotMess Sports operates in 11 cities nationwide including places like Nashville, Milwaukee and Miami. It was founded in 2012.

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