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Chicago performs well at Sin City Shootout
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times

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LAS VEGAS—Tony Tiet was on the championship-winning ice-hockey team in the 6th annual Sin City Shootout Sports Festival, held here Jan. 19-21. Hockey was one of the 12 sports/events in the annual event that attracted about 5,271 worldwide LGBT athletes, including more than 100 from Chicago.

Tiet skated for the Red Cosmos, which defeated the Black Russians 6-3 in the championship game, played at the SOBE Ice Arena inside the Fiesta Rancho Hotel. Tiet celebrated his championship with linemate Pavel Nadin of St. Louis, who has skated for the Chicago Gay Hockey Association (CGHA) in the past.

Tiet, one of the top forwards for the CGHA, skated in the championship game against Don Marzolf and Nathan Allen, who also have worn the CGHA uniform for games/tournaments. Meanwhile, CGHA members Andrew Sobotka, Scott Mix and Brian Hull watched the championship game as a trio of cheerleaders, sans the pom-poms—the trio had their championship game aspirations stopped in the semi-finals.

"The level of play [in the tournament] was really competitive," Tiet said. "Going into the playoffs, it could have been any of the four teams that stole the championship.

"[My team] had a few [moments] throughout the weekend where we worried that we might not win, but we pulled out all the stops and were able to win.

"It was great to see so many gay athletes and allies from around the world all coming together for one big sports festival."

Sobotka, the president of the CGHA, added: "Hockey was [one of] the most intimate sports at the Sin City Shootout. While there were thousands of softball players, we only had about 50 hockey players, which was nice. As always, we love seeing our hockey friends from around the U.S. and Canada. The organizers did a great job coordinating and splitting the teams up to make sure everyone had fun and the games were balanced."

There were 56 hockey players here, including a goalie from France, and this was the first time hockey was offered at the Sin City Shootout. Hockey coordinator Brynne Van Putten, who skated for the Blue Adios in the tournament, said hockey likely will be expanded in 2014, perhaps to as many as eight teams, likely with two skill-based divisions.

"The hockey was great; I think everyone who played really loved it," Van Putten said of the co-ed sport, which was mostly gay men from such cities as New York, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles.

The hockey players were placed on teams, thus all Chicagoans were not teammates.

"It was great that this tournament was drop-in style," Hull said. "It's always fun the play hockey with different guys and gals than you normally play with. It's a great way to make friends and build connections with other gay hockey organizations."

The hockey competition was well balanced, with each of the four teams having a legitimate shot at claiming the championship.

"I really thought it was a phenomenal event, on and off the ice, and I really think everyone had a great time," said Van Putten, of Laguna Beach, Calif. She skates for the gay Los Angeles Blades. "The Sin City Shootout is quickly becoming a mini Gay Games—there really were a ton of LGBT athletes at this event."

Event organizers were pleased with the 2013 edition and already looking ahead to 2014, when multiple sports will, likely, be added to the offering—including flag football, ballroom dancing, and others.

Chicago was also represented well on the softball fields, with multiple teams in multiple divisions. The Chicago Menace went 3-2 in the tournament, finishing in fourth-place in the top-tiered A-Division.

"We were 2-0 in pool play, which landed us the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye in elimination play," said Menace player-coach Cameron Turner. "We played the Long Beach Rounders in our first game of elimination play, and we had previously beaten them 14-8 in pool play. Unfortunately, they got on a hot streak and jumped out to a 13-1 lead in the game. We battled back nicely, but lost a nail biter, 17-16. That sent us into the loser's bracket. We won our next game against Los Angeles DTS, 20-7, but then were eliminated by the Phoenix Toros, who went on to take second-place in the tournament.

"I was very impressed overall with how we played in this tournament. We were missing several key players who just weren't able to make it for various reasons. We actually only had 10 players for this tournament, which of course limited our lineup options and flexibility. None of us had played softball since the Gay Softball World Series [last] August, so we just weren't sure what to expect. But, we scored nearly 80 runs [combined] in the five games we played, which is pretty good."

Turner said Joe Bland, Charles Piper and Kevin Ball each had great offensive tournaments. Bland had four home runs, including two grand slams.

"Thieu Brown, our newest player, played very well and showed he is going to be a nice addition to the team," Turner said.

The Chicago Knockouts, playing softball in the D1 Division, claimed third-place, finishing with a 4-3 record.

"It was an absolute blast, a great event," said Josh Bradley, player-coach for the Knockouts, a mix of players from two teams that played in 2012 in the Chicago Metropolitan Sports Association (CMSA) Open Sunday Softball division, along with four pick-up players.

"Everyone was a bit rusty, [not having played since August], but we all came together and made it happen."

Bradley, 24, who lives in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood, smacked three home runs and played first base. He was joined on the field by his dad, Tom, who lives in Las Vegas. Bradley's mom, Audra, was one of several cheering the team throughout.

"We lost our last game of the tournament 25-2; we got crushed. But, as was our philosophy throughout, we wanted to have fun—and did. The last two plays before the game was called [due to] time limit were home runs. We were going crazy, [despite the score,]" Bradley said.

The Chicago Blaze captured third place in soccer, with its team of 10.

"We have some experienced players (on the team), but we don't play together back home," said Marco Castillo of the Blaze. "The overall Sin City Shootout was a lot of fun, regardless of how we finished.

"It's great getting to meet people from all over the country, and getting to meet other (LGBT people) from other sports can really broaden you."

Castillo, 39, who lives in Old Irving Park, said he will be back in Las Vegas for the 2014 event. "It was fun," he said.

James Simmons was one of about 12 Chicagoans playing basketball in Las Vegas.

"Everyone seemed to have a really good time and the overall event is really well run," Simmons said. "There really was no overly dominant team, which is good because then everyone truly believes they have a chance to win."

Simmons, who played for the Hollywood Blindside, said the Sin City Shootout was a perfect scouting trip for potential challengers he'll face at the annual Coady Classic this spring in Chicago.

So what was the Sin City highlight?

"What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas," Simmons said, laughing. "It was a great tournament and everyone really seemed to have great spirit and energy.

"Truthfully, I'm surprised more Chicagoans don't come out for the Sin City Shootout, whether it's [to play] basketball or any other sport. Hey, it's Las Vegas in January."

CMSA President Brian Kupersmit played C-Division softball in Vegas, and had nothing but praise for the multi-day event.

"The Sin City Shootout is an amazing tournament experience and a celebration of how far gay sports have come over the last several years," Kupersmit said. "Having gone to the tournament each of the last four years, Shootout director Eric Ryan and his team have created a destination event. Their breakthrough concept of a mega tournament with the backdrop of Las Vegas serves as [an] inspiration to me as to what's possible for the future of gay athletics. I'm excited to bring back the energy and passion of this tournament to CMSA."

Kupersmit and the Chicago Chargers were not able to improve on their top five finish in each of the last three years. Still, he said, "It was an awesome time as I got the opportunity to play with great friends and partake in this amazing tournament experience."

The 2014 Sin City Shootout Sports Festival will be bigger and better than 2013—and no doubt with even more Chicagoans participating.

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