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Memories aplenty from 2012 gay sports scene
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times

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Tears flowed in Pittsburgh in early August and more tears flowed in Minneapolis late that month. Both times, the Chicago LGBT community was directly impacted.

History was made Aug. 4, when the first-ever women's football game was played in an NFL stadium as the Chicago Force battled the San Diego Surge in the Women's Football Alliance (WFA) championship, aired live on an ESPN station and held at Heinz Field, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Ultimately, the Surge slipped past the Force, 40-36, scoring the deciding points in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.

"It was a phenomenal season, with everything but the storybook ending," Force owner Linda Bache said in October, still hurt from the heartbreaking defeat. "We were so close [to winning the national championship], so that leaves mixed emotions [about the season]."

The Force features many open lesbians on its roster, not to mention Bache. Quarterback Sami Grisafe was the Force Championship MVP; other open lesbians on the team include Darcy Leslie, Brandi Srda, Albi Zhubi, Brandy Hatcher, Keesha Brooks, Trish Harper, Kim Marks, Tricia Charbonneau, Amanda Malsch and Tami Engelman, among others.

Three weeks later, on Aug. 25, the Chicago Menace played in the championship round of the top-tiered A-Division at the annual Gay Softball World Series, held in Minneapolis.

The Menace ultimately returned home with the third-place trophy, the best finish ever for a Chicago A-Division team.

"The Menace had an outstanding season in 2012, our third as an A-Division team," said Menace manager Cameron Turner. "The highlight of the World Series that really propelled us into the finals on Saturday was knocking off the [top]-seeded team, the Phoenix Toros. We basically took over the number one after that, and after a couple more wins, we found ourselves among the final four teams left on Saturday.

"Unfortunately, we had to play the Toros again. We always have tough games against them, and this time they beat us and knocked us out of the tournament. We were disappointed, but still very happy to walk away with a third-place trophy."

The Force and the Menace were the co-winners of the top 12 Chicago LGBT sports stories of 2012. Here's a look at the other moments from a truly memorable local gay sports scene:

1. (tie) Chicago Force advance to the WFA National Championship game.

1. (tie) Chicago Menace claim third-place in the top-tiered A-Division at the annual Gay Softball World Series.

3. Brian Kupersmit was named the new president of the predominantly gay Chicago Metropolitan Sports Association (CMSA), replacing Shawn Albritton. The contentious CMSA elections took place over a record seven rounds, lasting two and a half hours.

4. Two Chicago teams win their division title in the 22nd annual Coady Classic, the largest and longest-running annual gay basketball tournament, held April 21-22 at the University of Illinois—Chicago. The 2012 Coady featured 34 teams, 310 players and 83 games played over two days. The Chicago Has-Bens captured the B-Division title, while Chicago Gotcha Covered won the C-Division title beating Chicago Rec Specs in the finals.

5. The Chicago BruiseHers Blue Team claims third-place in the inaugural women's division of the Gay Bowl, a prestigious flag-football tournament played in late September in Denver.

6. Jenn Gibbons was attacked and sexually assaulted July 22. She was on a 1,500-mile solo rowing journey around Lake Michigan to raise money for breast-cancer survivors. Gibbons has coached the Chicago Rowing Union (CRU), an LGBTA rowing team, for two years.

7. The CMSA Hall of Fame, in May, welcomed inducted its newest class: Shawn Albritton, Sam Hamilton and Jack Nielsen.

8. CMSA women's sports success: The women's flag-football league hits 31 teams, the most since 33 played in 2006. The first-ever 11-on-11 women's outdoor soccer league is launched with six teams playing over the summer and five in the fall. The second annual CMSA Women's Social Party, held in January, attracted about 1,000 attendees, up from 900 in 2011.

9. Ride For AIDS Chicago, the annual 200-mile bicycle ride that benefits the Test Positive Aware Network (TPAN), had a record-setting event in July. The ride raised a record $751,000, with 316 riders and 102 crew members.

10. All Team To End AIDS (T2) runners finished the Chicago and Honolulu marathons. T2 runners in 2012 included David Munar, the president of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, who is openly gay.

11. Chicago lesbian played on world champion deaf soccer team: Katie Romano, 26, helped the United States win the gold medal at the 2012 World Deaf Football Championships, played in July in Turkey. Romano—who lives in Huntley, Ill., works as a package handler for FedEx Ground and is married to her wife, Casandra Cattouse—was the lone Chicago-area player on the U.S. team.

12. The Windy City Cycling Club (WCCC) celebrates its 20th anniversary in March, with recreational, road and off-road bike rides for LGBT members. The group also is involved in bicycle advocacy and cycling education events, and has regular social events, too. During the winter, the WCCC organizes outdoor and indoor recreational activities, such as skiing, tobogganing, ice skating, bowling and more.

Coming out:

Here's a look at the top five sports personalities who came out in 2012:

1. Orlando Cruz, boxer

2. Megan Rapinoe, soccer player

3. Kevin McClatchy, former owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates

4. Wade Davis, former college and professional football player

5. Shaun T, fitness guru from the popular Insanity workout

Chicago stars:

Andrew Burke played three team sports and also completed six endurance-training events 2012. He played CMSA softball, basketball and flag football, and ran the Tough Mudder in Wisconsin with teammates who also call Chicago home.

Burke, 34, was named the 2012 male athlete of the year in voting by a select group of LGBT athletes.

Burke played for the Sidetrack Blues in the annual Gay Softball World Series in Minneapolis, his third time in the Series, and is the commissioner for the CMSA open division basketball league. He also played in the annual Pride Bowl and served on the Board for the flag football tournament, held in June in Chicago.

He is a Chicago White Sox fan who tagged Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls as his favorite athlete.

"Over the years I have played several sports with Andrew, including football, dodgeball and volleyball. I also have played against him or watched him play several other [games]," said Cameron Turner. "Not only is he a gifted athlete and a great sport, Andrew also is extremely dedicated to the Chicago gay sports leagues. He is truly deserving of this recognition."

BJ Negrete played four sports in 2012 and has now played more than 20 years of gay sports in Chicago.

Negrete, 47, was named the 2012 female athlete of the year in voting by a select group of LGBT athletes.

The Oak Park resident played volleyball, softball, flag football and dodgeball. Football is her favorite sport, highlighted in 2012 by a double overtime win over Players.

She also played in two out-of-town softball tournaments for Raw Energy.

Negrete dressed as Mrs. Claus to quarterback her football team in a game played days before Halloween.

Negrete and her partner, Leslie Wallin, have been together for 13 years.

"I just love, love, love women's sports," Negrete said.

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