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Batter up: Softball tourney coming to city during Pride weekend
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times

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Pride Week next June is getting a bit more sporty.

The inaugural Chicago Pride Softball Classic, run by the Chicago Metropolitan Sports Association ( CMSA ), will be played June 26-27 at Horner Park on Chicago's North Side, with 36 teams in three divisions.

"I've long heard, 'Why don't we have a tournament in Chicago? Why do we always have to travel to [out-of-state] tournaments?" said Mark Sakalares, commissioner of CMSA's Open Sunday Softball, which is coordinating the 2020 event. "I also have long heard from out-of-state players, 'Why doesn't Chicago host a tournament? Chicago is a destination city!'"

That will change in June, when "safe" and "out" calls will echo around the nine fields that will be used, with teams anticipated to play from across the United States, and possibly Canada, too. There will be a C-Division, D-Division and Master's games—and the total number of teams can be expanded depending on interest, Sakalares said.

Registration will start in January through CMSA's website—and the two-day tournament is endorsed by the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance ( NAGAAA ), which runs the annual Gay Softball World Series.

"To have a well-run tournament coordinated with an event the likes of Chicago Pride could do nothing but succeed," said NAGAAA commissioner John Defee.

NAGAAA Athletic Director Jeff Sloan added, "NAGAAA fully supports CMSA and the city of Chicago rejoining the circuit of NAGAAA member association tournaments with a Pride weekend tournament. Chicago is a premier, world-class destination and would be an attractive tournament to our members across North America."

Pride weekend in Chicago already features the annual Pride Bowl, a two-day flag football tournament that draws teams from across the country. Plus, Proud To Run has been held in Chicago since 1982, raising funds to support the local LGBT community. The Proud to Run 5K and 10K races as well as the half-marathon are presented by Frontrunners Chicago.

"We're not looking for the same people—those who would be playing in the Pride Bowl and this softball tournament," Sakalares said. "Those who would play football will play football, and those who would play softball will play softball. It'd be hard for people to play in both tournaments."

But, they will discuss joint branding, marketing and social events for football and softball participants, Sakalares said.

"We really want to put on a quality event and make sure everyone has an enjoyable time in Chicago, and this [tournament] then will become a destination event, not just a softball tournament," he said.

Sakalares said talks have begun to allow the tournament winners to ride on a float in the parade, though it likely won't happen in 2020.

Horner Park, 2741 W. Montrose Ave., has 12 fields, with nine that will be used for the tournament. None have a home run fence and two have lights.

Games will likely start both days at 8 or 9 a.m.

"As a former member of CMSA Open Sunday Softball and current tournament director for the Lone Star Classic in Houston, the opportunity to enjoy Chicago's competitive spirit on the field and to celebrate community during Pride weekend would be relished by members from Montrose Softball League and others throughout North America," said Matt McGary.

David Rill, who plays in the Open Sunday Softball league, will be the tournament director.

CMSA last played host to the NAGAAA Gay Softball World Series in 2011 and Chicago also hosted the quadrennial Gay Games in 2006. The city also has hosted the Senior Cup in the past.

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