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Chicago Force has top local LGBT sports moment
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times

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The Chicago Force won its first-ever national championship in 2013 and truly established itself as the most dominant women's tackle football team.

"It's one thing to know that you are the best team in the country; it's another to see it all the way through," said Linda Bache, team owner. "We systematically defeated every team in our path, usually by an enormous margin. We earned this [championship].

"I'm incredibly proud of our organization and what we've accomplished."

Bache is one of many LGBT associated with the Force—from players to front-office officials.

In fact, the 2013 Force Team MVP was Sami Grisafe and the Defensive MVP was linebacker Darcy Leslie—both out lesbians. And when the team's post-season awards were announced in the fall, the lesbian community was well represented. ( See below for all of the Force post-season awards. )

The Force's national championship also carried the team to the number-one spot on the list of top 13 Chicago LGBT sports moments.

"This championship is for all the women who have ever worn a Force jersey, for all the coaches who have moved this program forward, and for every fan and sponsor that has supported us over the past 12 years. They all contributed to this," Bache said in December. "The moment that stands out most to me [from the 2013 season] is the actual post-game celebration in San Diego [after winning the national championship]. It was a long time coming and it felt cathartic and surreal. I kept thinking, 'So this is what it feels like.' There was a lot of screaming and jumping. And champagne."

The Force destroyed the Dallas Diamonds 81-34 on Aug. 3 to win the title.

"The 2013 season ranks as the high point of my football career," said Bache, a former Force defensive star, now retired. "It is the culmination of 12 years of complete and total dedication to winning a championship. I've been so focused on achieving this goal that it never occurred to me what it might feel like to actually attain it."

Bache said the Force has had "tremendous support" from the LGBT community since the team was founded in 2002. "We are so fortunate and grateful for that support," she said. "Without it, the Force would not still be in existence. Dave Gassman, the owner of SPIN Nightclub, has been a champion for the LGBT community for many years and a sponsor of the Force since its inception. His involvement has been critical to our success."

When asked what she and the team is planning for an encore in 2014, Bache didn't hesitate: Repeat, sweet repeat, she said.

"We have most of our roster returning, including all of our All-Americans. It took a long time to get to the mountaintop. ... We're going to try to stay here for a while," Bache said. "It felt amazing to be presented with the championship trophy and then hoist it over my head while seeing the joy on the faces of our players and coaches. The players were given the trophy for some celebratory photos and then it was put into the hands of head coach John Konecki. We're fortunate to have John; he's the best coach in the league. As much or more than the players, he earned that trophy."

The Force capped the championship run with an on-field honor from the Chicago Cubs and co-owner Laura Ricketts, an out lesbian. Bache said the honor from the Cubs was the "icing on our championship cake and an experience that we'll never forget."

Bache said the 2014 season features the team's "most competitive regular-season schedule ever," including road games against the perennial powers Boston Militia and D.C. Divas.

"In my opinion, those are the second and third best teams in women's football, so we will have a very challenging road back to the championship," she said.

The Force is holding its 2013 championship ring party Jan. 5, 2014, at Leona's Restaurant, 1936 W. Augusta Blvd., 1-4 p.m. The public is invited ( $20 for adults, $10 for children ), and the event will feature pizza, salad, cupcakes, drinks and more.

Honoring the Force:

Here's a look at the 2013 Chicago Force team awards, presented at the team banquet in October:

—Team MVP: Sami Grisafe, quarterback

—Offensive MVP: Jeanette Gray, wide receiver

—Defensive MVP: Darcy Leslie, linebacker

—Offensive Linemen of the Year: Jamie Menzyk and Dawn Pederson

—Defensive Linemen of the Year: Kim Marks and Angel Smith

—Special Teams Players of the Year: Taylor Malloy and Candace Griffin

—Offensive Rookie of the Year: Karlee Quaritsch, wide receiver

—Defensive Rookie of the Year: Melissa Nelson, linebacker

—Most Improved Offense: Mary Choules, running back

—Most Improved Defense: Martha Dantuma, defensive back 

Top 13 Chicago LGBT sports moments from 2013:

1. Chicago Force won the national championship.

2. Ride For AIDS Chicago surpassed $769,000 funds raised, setting event record. Goal for 2014 Ride is set at $1 million.

3. Former professional football player Wade Davis hosted the inaugural LGBT Youth Sports Camp at the Center on Halsted in late July. The event featured appearances by out athletes Jason Collins, Fallon Fox, Kye Allums and others.

4. Chicago Gay Hockey Association video to the popular song "All I Want For Christmas Is You" went viral, drawing more than 143,000 views on YouTube in a matter of weeks after its Thanksgiving launch.

5. The predominantly gay Chicago Metropolitan Sports Association ( CMSA ) celebrated its 35th anniversary.

6. Chicago native Chris Mosier, a trans triathlete, was named the 2013 Athlete of the Year for Compete Magazine, it was announced in mid-November.

7. Christina Kahrl, a trans sportswriter, covered her first World Series.

8. The Chicago Sky made the WNBA playoffs for the first time in team history; the Sky roster featured out player Sharnee Zoll-Norman, who attended the Chicago Pride Parade.

9. The Chicago Express captures fifth place at the annual Gay Softball World Series ( C Division ), held in Washington D.C.

10. The first-ever all-women's team competed in a flag football tournament against men. The Chicago Diesel Daisies competed in Pride Bowl VI and were the only all-women team in this or any national gay flag football tournament. The 2013 Pride Bowl, held in Chicago in June, was the largest Pride Bowl ever with 28 teams from across North America.

11. The Chicago Replay and Chicago/San Diego Seals ( comprised of half Chicago players ) won their respective divisions at Pride Bowl VI.  Tyler Foerster of Chicago, playing for the Seals, was named A-Division Defensive MVP.

12. The CMSA Hall of Fame inducted four newcomers: Gary Vien, Rob Burton, Maureen Sullivan/Spyners, and John Lyrla.

13. CMSA launched two new sports: Ultimate, led by Felipe Rojas; and golf, led by Mark Sakalares and Steven Solari. "The new sports were overwhelming hits, more than doubling participant projections," said CMSA President Brian Kupersmit.

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