It was an award-winning, record-setting, grand coming-out 2016 for Chicago's LGBT sports scene, with cheers, jeers and tears.
The year was, arguably, the best-ever locally, such that, ranking the Top 10 eventsor Top 16, to coincide with the year, 2016was, without question, the most difficult list to compile of any year that Windy City Times has offered a ranking list of the year's top local LGBT Sports Moments/Events.
There were, easily, five or six options for the No. 1 spot from 2016, whereas in past years, it's been a battle between, maybe, one or two, or possibly a third, moment/event for the top spot. Heck, I'll admit, I went back and forth on the top three for quite some time.
That said, the top spot on the Top 16 List of Chicago LGBT Sports Moments/Events goes to the Chicago Smelts, who became back-to-back state champions in the annual state meet, held in mid-April.
About 75 percent of the Smelts are LGBT, said the team's head coach Christopher Barrett Politan, who is gay. About 80 Smelts competed in the State Meet and they faced more than 20 other teams.
"Winning the title was an affirmation of the success that we experienced in 2015," Politan said. "Illinois is one of the most competitive swimming states in the country, with our state meets often being one the largest meets in the nation. Winning that first State Meet was historic both for the team and as an LGBT team. Winning this second State Championship demonstrated just how deep and talented the Smelts are as a team. During this past State Meet, 100 percent of the team contributed to the victory, which is an amazing feat. More impressive, however, were the brand-new Smelts, who invaluably contributed to the team's success."
Politan has lived in Chicago for five years. Prior to that, he lived in New York City, where he also coached an LGBT team: Team New York Aquatics.
"I think that we as a team take great pride as Smelts regardless of our identity," Politan said. "There is an incredible amount of diversity in the most robust sense of that word, and it is central to the team's success. Indeed, I believe that one of the best things about the Smelts is that swimmers of all ages, skills, speed and sexual orientation are welcomed, embraced and valued. Being a predominantly LGBT [team] and winning a second State Meet is a wonderful achievement, but being a team that is focused on acceptance and friendship is even more incredible."
Politan said that winning back-to-back state championships was a thrill. And this year, they won by an increased margin.
"Winning [again] in 2016 was really icing on the cake," Politan said. "It takes a tremendous amount of energy and commitment by everyone on the team, be they competitive swimmers, or not. Truly, winning the second time demonstrated that team-wide commitment to working hard, having fun and celebrating both individual and team success.
"Having coached masters' swimmers in some capacity for the past 15 years or so, these past two years have been remarkable. I am constantly amazed by the amount of work that masters' athletes are willing to put into the pool. Indeed, after a long day at work or sometimes even before a long day, these athletes arrive at the pool ready to swim hard and push themselves, their teammates and their friends. It is truly inspiring. Moreover, central to the Smelts is a commitment to camaraderie, with athletes not simply being lane mates, but indeed great friendsmaking these accomplishments of late, all the sweeter."
Also in 2016, the Smelts registered a new national record in the Women's 18+ 400 Medley Relay. The team of Julia Green, Allison Lloyd, Gabrielle Chang and Anna Miller bested the old national record by several seconds and in doing so, "set a great new mark that will hopefully endure for a little while," Politan said.
So, how does the threepeat look for 2017?
"The team is as strong as ever, with new additions joining us regularly," Politan said. "Winning a meet of this size is really about having swimmers at every level and at every age. We are thrilled that in addition to gender diversity, we have a vast range of ages and swimming experience. Last year's winning team featured an 18 year-old and an 83 year-old, both of whom were instrumental to the team's success. As we look ahead to the State Meet in April, we are focused not necessarily on a third State Championship, but rather on individual performance goals. I am looking forward to April, not necessarily for the State Meet, but really for the payoff from the next few months of work. To see folks excel in workouts and translate that, should they choose, into competition, is really a great honor. I will say that one competition goal that I have for the forthcoming season is to have 8 to 10 women on our team break one minute in the 100-Free, which would be an astounding feat."
Politan said a key to the team's success in 2015 and 2016 was a variety of team leaders, "who make sure that the team runs smoothly both in and out of the pool." Plus, the team's volunteer coaches who wrote thoughtful and challenging workouts throughout the season, made preparing the team for the State Meet an easy endeavor, he added. Those folks include Steve Gilberg, Seth Hoff, Heidi Kakfa, Chris Layton, Adam Parker, Dan Perkey, Heather Saylor, Matt Trauner and Rob Welcher.
Chris Mosier, the incredibly talented transgender athlete, put up a stiff fight to the Smelts for the No. 1 rankingand some may question how he didn't grab the honor.
Mosier, after all, finished in the top third among his competitors at the Sprint Duathlon World Championship in June. Then, in November, Mosier had a third-place finish at the Sprint Triathlon World Championship qualifier.
Mosier in 2016 also appeared in ESPN The Magazine's Body issue, becoming the first openly transgender athlete to be featured in that special issue. And, Mosier was the first transgender athlete to be featured in a Nike advertisement.
And to top off Mosier's 2016, he was named Outsports' 2016 Person of the Year.
Mosier, who is the founder of transathlete.com, now lives in New York, but was born in Chicago. Mosier grew up in northwest suburban Lake Zurich and lived there until high school, and then attended graduate school at Loyola University in Chicago in 2004.
The Top 16 Chicago LGBT Sports Moments/Events From 2016:
1. Chicago Smelts win second consecutive State Championship.
2. Chris Mosier has amazing run( s ) on international stage.
3. Pride Bowl named National Tournament of the Year at the annual Compete Sports Diversity Awards, held in mid-November to recognize athletes, teams, leagues and organizations for their commitment to sports diversity and inclusion. The 10th Pride Bowl flag football tournament will be held in Chicago in late June, 2017.
4. College swimmer honored: Ayrton Kasemets, a Chicago-area native swimming for Oakland University, received the school's Courage Award at the annual Black and Gold Awards Ceremony, held in the spring. Kasemets, who competes in the breaststroke and individual medley ( IM ), was recognized for being openly gay. He graduated from Mundelein High School in 2014.
5. Chicago Dragons shine on international stage: In the prestigious Bingham Cup, held in Nashville in late May, the rugby club brought two teams for the first time ever. The A-side participated in Division 1 and the B-side participated in Division 3. The B-side won the Challenger Julep, marking the first time in Dragons history that they left the Bingham Cup with hardware.
6. WNBA star comes out: Elena Delle Donne of the Chicago Sky announced she is engaged to a woman, Amanda Clifton, and the two will be married. Delle Donne was the 2015 WNBA MVP and is a multi-time WNBA All-Star.
7. Christina Kahrl gets promoted: Kahrl, who has lived in Chicago's western suburbs and South Side as well as Rogers Park ( the latter since 2007 ), announced in late 2016 that she is moving to Bristol, Connecticut, to work at ESPN's corporate headquarters. She has been a writer-editor for ESPN.com, but has been promoted to senior editor.
8. Jake Conrad proposes to his boyfriend, Michael Holtzman, on-court during a timeout in the Chicago Bulls' game Dec. 8 against San Antonio. Holtzman said "Yes," and the video of their surprise engagement went viral.
9. Tribune sportswriter comes out: Chris Hine, the Chicago Blackhawks hockey beat writer for the Tribune, came out as gay. Hine lives in West Lake View and previously has covered University of Illinois football and basketball and University of Notre Dame football and basketball. Hine was named Honorable Mention for Outsports Male Hero of the Year.
10. CMSA Hall of Fame honorees named: The Chicago Metropolitan Sports Association announced its latest inductees: Frank Kisner, Brian Kupersmit, Mark Liberson ( sponsor inductee ), Mark Sakalares, Brian Sommer and Leslie Wallin.
11. Boystown rides wave of Chicago Cubs success: Gay bars do incredible business in October and early November as the Cubs claimed the team's first World Series title in 108 years.
12. Ride For AIDS Chicago success: The 14th annual Ride, held in July, featured 190 riders going 200-miles and 12 participants in the inaugural 100-mile Ride. The 2016 Ride raised more than $485,000, which was over $50,000 more than the 2015 Ride. The Ride, run by the Test Positive Aware Network ( TPAN ), raises funds for HIV services and is the Midwest's only back-to-back century ride.
13. Chicago Force rolls through regular season: The women's tackle football team finished with a 7-1 mark in the regular-season behind quarterback Rasan Gore and others. Lesbian Linda Bache is the team's owner. The Force will kick off its 2017 season in the spring.
14. Switching Sports: Brian Sommer stepped down as the first and only commissioner for CMSA's successful kickball league, and he will assume the commissioner role in 2017 for dodgeball.
15. CMSA Ultimate shine: Jessamine Finch won the annual CMSA Ultimate Spirit of the Game Award, voted by every team and player, and CMSA Field Day was extremely successful.
16. Scantily clad runnersfor a cause. The annual Santa Speedo Run, held in early December, was a 1-mile run through the heart of Chicago's Boystown neighborhood, with most wearing only a Santa hat and Speedoand shoes. The 2016 event raised about $50,000 for Center on Halsted's Youth Housing Initiative.