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by Ross Forman, Windy City Times

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Sports is certainly a family affair for Doug King—well, except with his partner of 39 years, Bob, who is not sports-minded at all.

However, over the past 26 years, they have raised four foster sons: Juan, Pedro, Miguel and Jose. Three of their kids have played basketbal and/or softball in Chicago Metropolitan Sports Association ( CMSA ) leagues.

Juan, Jose and Miguel have played basketball and Miguel has played softball. Pedro also was the original referee in the local gay soccer league.

Both Pedro and Jose played Division I NCAA soccer.

Soccer players don't always make amazing softball players too, King learned the hard way.

"I tried to stack my fall softball team with his [son's] soccer teammates, many of whom hailed from Eastern Europe and South America," King said. "The theory was, I could teach anyone to play, especially an athlete. It didn't work too well—great guys, great college-level athletes, definitely [just] recreational softball players."

King, 61, who lives in Chicago's Ravenswood neighborhood, is the principal architect in the healthcare practice group Stantec Architecture Inc., an international architecture/engineering firm. He is originally from Midland, Michigan, attended the University of Detroit and has called Chicago home since 1983.

He has played in Chicago gay sports leagues every year but one since 1995.

"I started out playing basketball at Margate Park in 1995, then added softball in 2004 and table tennis about 2012," King said. "There are still a couple of us who played [basketball] in the mid-1990s [who are] still playing, [and we] have a pact that we won't quit until the other does."

In 1992, the first of King's four foster sons ( Pedro ) came to the U.S. King didn't speak much Spanish, and Pedro didn't speak much English when he arrived, "so we played sports to bridge this gap," King said. "From the last time I played basketball in 1976 to 1992 they had invented the three-point line. I found that I had a talent to shoot threes while playing in the playground at Lakeview High School in 1992-93. I started playing at the local YMCA with Pedro and being a youthful 34 years old, I was lighting it up … so I joined the CMSA basketball league in 1995 at age 38 years.

"I was the 50th best player of 50 players in the basketball league in 1995. I was impressed how good the players were, so was my son, Juan, who came and watched us play. The next year my foster son Juan played with us. He was the No. 1 pick in the draft—and I came along as an extra. Juan was 5-foot-6, but could nearly dunk and was lightning fast. He and I played together as the starting point guards for our CMSA basketball team for several years. This was when the league had one division, basically an intermediate or competitive level."

King said Chicago gay sports leagues have proliferated since the mid-1990s. "It seemed to start with softball and basketball, and then segue into other sports such as tennis, soccer and [floor] hockey, etc. The number of leagues, diversity and options for competitive [or] social have expanded making the sports leagues an excellent way to meet like-minded people."

And CMSA certainly welcomes everyone. CMSA is a social outlet as much as a competitive arena. Take, for instance, Van, a friend of King's who is a refugee from Burma and now a successful hair stylist for a major salon in downtown Chicago. Van is transgender and King encouraged him to try the volleyball league. "His experience in volleyball has mirrored my experience with basketball—he has enjoyed it a lot," King said. "Sports can be great for one's social life and a motivation to get and stay healthy."

King's sports resume has also included table tennis and golf.

And he often has introduced gay allies to the gay sports scene.

"It has allowed me to transcend the partitioning of my life that I have witnessed in others in the gay community," he said. "One anecdote warmed my heart [was] when several of my fellow gay players expressed it was the first time they had really gotten to know [straight] men of a similar age on a personal level and were treated as being equal."

King's softball career has been anchored around The Lucky Charmers, a team whose core has been together for about a decade.

"I attend the Detroit Tigers' fantasy camps every few years, [which] has helped my softball skills immensely," he said. "I believe in getting the best mentorship and coaching you can get in any endeavor in life. I have attended camps for several sports: basketball, softball and table tennis and golf.

"At the Tigers camps, I re-learned how to hit, spending several weeks at the Detroit Tiger fantasy camps and having ex-pro players to teach skills. One of the [former] Tigers, Ike Blessett, [once] came to Chicago and ran drills for my CMSA D2 softball team for a weekend.

"I love the softball season, [which] starts in January with Sunday batting practice. We get [together as] a group every Sunday in January, February, March and April, so that when the season begins we are theoretically in mid-season form."

King said his table tennis experience dates back to when he was 6 years-old. "My hometown was where the table tennis team that went to China for Ping Pong Diplomacy [in 1972] practiced. I got to spar with some of them," he said. "I played the only U.S. player who beat his opponent in China. I played him twice, once in an exhibition and once for real in a tournament about 40 years later."

So what is the appeal of gay sports?

Very simple, King said—it's the ability to form lifelong friendships initially based on sports and then expanding into other common areas of interest.

"I've socialized with my teammates in a variety of settings outside of sports, and they are among my closest friends," he said. "The gay sports leagues have also allowed me to open my entire life to everyone I know. I am the 'same me' all the time because of this experience."

Sporting highlights

King, in 2011, coached and played on the Chicago Sidetrack Classic team that captured the title in the Master's Division of the annual Gay Softball World Series, played that summer in Chicago.

"We got hammered in our first game, then ended up winning the next four games decisively and the championship," King said. "It was a team that could have easily given up after losing badly our first game, but adjusted and won. It was a team of players who knew how to behave as a team. We assessed and adjusted as a team."

King also was on the winning Recreational Division team in the Coady Roundball Classic about 10 years ago. "My highlight was having a 'Reggie Miller moment,' where I scored 12 points in about two minutes to make a close game a rout. My teammates said I was levitating down the court after the last three-point shot."

King's sporting memories are endless, anchored by many involving his sons and their friends. In fact, King jokes that his son Miguel probably has more friends within CMSA than King himself.

King has been a pitcher, catcher and every infield position, and he has teamed with Gary Vien to annually conduct the CMSA pre-season pitching clinic.

King is active in the community at-large, serving on the development board of Heartland Health Centers, a healthcare facility that serves immigrants and refugees. Plus, he is active in professional organizations, such as the High Rise Committee of the City of Chicago.

"I have had a long-standing involvement in the Addictions Recovery Community, particularly the New Town Alano Center of Chicago," he said. "I have been in recovery for 40 years. And in the mid-1980s to 1990s, I was active in conducting outreach and education to the LGBT community in the Midwest — helping start organizations to promote recovery."

What's left in your sporting career?

"I would like to field an LGBT basketball team for a national over-60 tournament," he said. "These are sprouting up and becoming popular. I would like to do a similar thing for softball. For the softball team of over-60 players, I would love to go somewhere that is crazy about baseball, like Cuba, and play overseas in a tournament against other over-60 players."

Extra innings with … Doug King

—Favorite pro sports team: Detroit Tigers

—Favorite pro athlete: Phil Niekro

—Favorite pro sports stadium: The Original Tiger Stadium

—One pro athlete who you'd like to meet: Paul George of the Oklahoma City Thunder

—If you could attend any pro sports event/game, what would it be?: "An international professional baseball game, [such as a] Japanese Baseball League game."

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