Chicago's LGBT sports community has grown into, arguably, the biggest, best and most organized in the nation, if not the world.
And its roots run concurrently with the launch of the Windy City Times' 25 years ago.
"By 1985, [ the LGBT sports community ] was already getting large. There were already well over 1,000 members of MSA ( Metropolitan Sports Association ) and several hundred in each of the other groups," said Chicagoan Dick Uyvari. "National organizations and tournaments already had been formed in the major GLBT participation sports such as softball, bowling, volleyball, tennis, etc. In addition, leagues were being formed in other sports, such as darts, flag football, pool, golf, etc."
And in 1983, the Gay Softball World Series and IGBO83CHICAGO, the annual bowling tournament, were very big events that year, each bringing in over 500 participants from all over North America.
Chicago was, for all intents and purposes, the gay sports capital of the United States in the mid-1980s.
That's because the Gay Athletic Association ( GAA ) had bowling in 1983, as well as men's 16-inch softball and volleyball, plus women's softball and volleyball. They both started out with four teams, once the women joined the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Association in 1985, and the men started their 12-inch softball league the next year.
CMSA's open division softball, which is predominantly all-male, had only about five teams back in the day.
This season, the league maxed out at more than 45.
And in 1983, there was no beach volleyball league; today there are 180 teams.
And CMSA's membership has skyrocketed from 750 members to almost 5,000.
"I met Tracy Baim in 1985 when she was playing softball on Peg Grey's team and she talked about starting the paper," recalls Marcia Hill. "I joined the GAA women's softball and volleyball leagues [ in '83 ] ; I was also playing on the Swan Club gay women's volleyball, basketball and softball teams which played in straight Chicago park district leagues."
Today, there are straight players in every gay league, and some teams in any number of sports are so good that the straight players want to play with the gays, and have no issues with it. And vice versa.
"I first got involved in LBGT sports in the late 1970s with LPL [ Lincoln Park Lagooners ] bowling, and then with GAA/MSA/CMSA bowling in the late 1980," Uyvari said. "At that time, things were really in their infancy. It was a new thing for us; to be able to join an LGBT-run league where we could truly be ourselves. It was exciting and dynamic, a time when you could compete in your sport and have a really great time doing it. It was particularly fun going to out-of-town tournaments, making new friends and experiencing the LGBT social scene in other cities.
"One early event that stands out above all else was the first Gay Games in 1982, in San Francisco, the heart of the LGBT community. That ushered in the first truly international LGBT event. I was fortunate to be there, as captain of the bowling team."
Uyvari said that there were only about 15 Chicago-based participants, comprising a bowling team, a volleyball team and two tennis players.
By Gay Games II, held four years later, Team Chicago numbered about 200 participants, and Uyvari called the second Games, "a ground-breaking event, as now we were participating on a world stage."
Gay Games VIII was held this past August, 2010, in Cologne, Germanyand about 9,500 participated.
"The LGBT sports scene has evolved so much since the mid 1980s," said Uyvari, 66, who has lived in the Sheridan Park neighborhood of Uptown for 31 yearsand he's semi-retired from the real estate restoration and management industry.
"Back in 1983, things were still new and growing fast. Hundreds of new [ gay ] athletes were joining each year."
Sadly, that also was the onset of the HIV and AIDS dilemmaand the disease definitely impacted Chicago's LGBT sports scene.
"So many young men were getting sick and dying," Uyvari said. "In bowling alone, we had over 110 deaths by 1992. And there were probably many more that we didn't know of.
"So, all sports now have a fundraising component to help battle this terrible scourge. In bowling, where I was heavily involved, we started fundraising in 1983, which continues to this day in all our leagues and tournaments."
Chicago's LGBT sports scene has definitely changed with the times, from a technology standpoint. Today, nearly all communication is done online. In 1985, it was through mail, telephone, newspapers and word of mouth.
"Computers have also made record-keeping much easier," Uyvari said. "As for the sporting venues themselves, it is a lot easier now to secure locations, as we've become an accepted part of the community at large, especially here in Chicago.
"In some sports, such as bowling, there are fewer leagues, although the ones remaining are much larger. There has been a concentration to a few nights, whereas in the 1980s, there was a league nearly every day or night."
Uyvari said he still recalls the Windy City Times being formed by several members of the paper GayLife that decided to strike out on their own. "Having been an occasional contributor of sports articles, mainly about bowling, I was familiar with most of the principals involved," he said. "It seemed to be more of a 'serious' newspaper with the emphasis on 'News.' It soon became the dominate 'news'paper in the LGBT community."
The LGBT sports community has had many legendary pioneers over the years, many of whom have been inducted into the CMSA Hall of Fame. There are Hill, Uyvari, Art Johnston and Peg Grey, plus Frank Bostic, Sam Coady, Ted Cappas and Mike McRaith, among others.
And certainly Sam Molinaro.
"The most influential/impactful individual is easy: Sam Molinaro," Uyvari said. "He has done more for LGBT sports in Chicago than anyone I know. He was one of the founders of GAA/MSA/CMSA. He was its president from its inception in 1979 to the early-1990s. He worked long and hard to make MSA the largest, most inclusive and successful LGBT sports organization in the country. Under his guidance, it went from a few softball teams to over 3,000 members participating in numerous sports. I was a member of MSA for nearly 30 years, served on the board from 1985 to 1990, and saw first-hand Sam's dedication to the organization and all of its members."
Molinaro, though, has been away from the scene since the mid-1990s, and he did not reply to multiple interview requests for this story.
Johnston agreed on the choice of Molinaro: "Bar none, the most important person in the history of gay/lesbian athletics in Chicago is Sam Molinaro, who built GAA ( Gay Athletic Association ) which grew from hosting some bowling leagues ( primarily the Tuesday afternoon 'bartenders' league' ) and a rag tag 16" softball league playing on non-regulation fields in Lincoln Park, into the largest GLBT sports association in the United States, a distinction it still holds today under its current name, CMSA, the Chicago Metropolitan Sports Association."
Johnston said big gay sports news locally in 1983 was the Gay Softball World series, held in Chicago for the first time ( the next time will be 2011, also in August ) . And Chicago, contrary to all expectations, won, for the first and only time. In those days there was only one division, what would now be called A division. In a nail-biting championship game in LIncoln Park, the Sidetrack team defeated Atlanta and took home the championship.
Uyvari was a member of MSA, LPL and WCAA ( Windy City Athletic Alliance ) in the early '80s, and bowled in each of the leagues at Marigold Bowl. Plus, he played baseball and volleyball.
Uyvari also in 1983 served as the co-director, along with Mike Tucker, of IGBO83CHICAGO. This was the third annual tournament of IGBOthe International Gay Bowling Organization. "It was something I had been working on for over a year and a half," Uyvari said. "The first two IGBO annual tournaments had been held in Houston and Dallas. Our Chicago IGBO tournament was a big success"and Uyvari and Tucker were honored at Gay Chicago Magazine's annual gala dinner as 'Organizers of the Year.'
"We had 576 bowlers attend [ the tournament ] from across the U.S. and Canada. Our tournament was the only IGBO tournament to this day to max out at capacity," Uyvari said. "In fact, we had to turn away about 60 bowlers. We also were the first IGBO annual tournament to raise money for AIDS-related charities."
So where will Chicago's LGBT sports scene be in another 25 years?
"Wow, that's hard to say," Uyvari answered. "I would guess that it will pretty much be the same as [ it is ] today, but even more connected through the use of PCs, cell phones, and who knows what next technological breakthrough [ will be. ]
"However, sports will still have to be played out on the ball diamond, the volleyball court, the bowling lane, etc. And I believe there will be more opportunities for seniors and teens, two groups that are not that well represented today. And perhaps there will be more co-ed leagues, but I'm not sure about that. I do firmly believe, though, that the Chicago-area LGBT sports scene will continue to be vibrant and innovative."
Peg Grey was, arguably, the biggest backer for women's sports before dying in 2007.
"She was a tireless 'ball of fire' who started numerous leagues for women. She co-chaired the first Team Chicago and also founded the 'Proud to Run' race," held in conjunction with Chicago's Gay Pride Parade, Uyvari said.
Johnston served on the board of MSA from 1979 to the early 1990s, and was integral in shaping MSA in its formative years. "He also was, and continues to be, a big supporter of numerous gay sports teams and leagues through his ownership of Sidetrack," Uyvari said.
Jim Flint also was a key player in the 1980s, serving as the commissioner of the Windy City Athletic Association, especially for softball and basketball. Sam Coady also was a prominent basketball player.
Now 69, Flint is the owner of the Baton Show Lounge and 3160 bar.
There have been many sports organizations over the last 25 years, some older, some younger, some just for women, some just for men, and most open to all. Sports has played ( no pun intended ) an important role in the growth of Chicago's gay movement, from individual groups and teams to the Gay Games. The movement for gay rights wouldn't have been complete without a parallel gay sports movement.