GAAY Sports cultivates community through athletics

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LANSING, Mich—Some adults might remember the sting of anxiety from middle school gym class when dodgeball is mentioned. But that anxiety lasts for only a few minutes in the GAAY Sports dodgeball league. 

April 6 marked the final day for GAAY, which stands for GLBTQIA+, Athletes, Allies and You. The non-profit hosts many sports, including dodgeball, kickball and bowling across Lansing, Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor. For Lansing’s final dodgeball game of the season, it didn’t take long for the group of almost 60 players to mingle, make new friendsn and let the anxiety of gym class fade away. 

GAAY dodgeball teams “Lesbians Dodging Balls,” and “Big Dodge Energy,” high-five each other after a championship game. Credit: Emma George-Griffin

GAAY was founded by Nicholas Wendling in 2022, with the intent to create an inclusive community space. 

Long-time Lansing resident James Pyle joined the GAAY kickball league in 2022. At the time, Pyle was recovering from a leg injury. 

“I ran slower than a slug moving through tar,” Pyle said. “People were so encouraging. It actually helped me gain my strength back and feel supported.”

Pyle now serves as the social chair for the Lansing chapter. As the social chair, Pyle has had the opportunity to facilitate numerous social events for GAAY sports, such as holiday parties and post-game celebrations. 

One of the many social events held for GAAY was a drag show fundraiser hosted at The Exchange in Lansing. All proceeds were used to help lower registration costs and other fees for members.

Elise Essa, a 21-year-old Lansing local who has been a part of GAAY sports since July of 2023, remembers the drag fundraiser as one of her fondest memories in the organization. 

Elise Essa preparing to strike the opposing team on April 6 final dodgeball game. Credit: Emma George-Griffin

“My favorite part of GAAY sports is the community. Since joining almost a year ago, I have made some great friends and now get to be a part of a community that celebrates fellow LGBTQIA+ people,” Essa said.

Essa also noted that one of the important aspects of the league was the community support in and outside of the games. 

“There’s been a lack of community [in society] in some ways because there’s nowhere for people to gather on a regular basis and do things. This has become a way for people to get out, be social, and better yet, get active,” said Pyle.

For Pyle, GAAY sports has been a turning point for the community in recent years.

“It does fill a gap that’s missing here,” said Pyle. “I grew up in a time with discrimination and hatred, we were a community back then because we had no one else to depend on.” 

The community that GAAY sports has cultivated has increasingly attracted a younger and more diverse members. 

“As far as diversity goes… we have everything,” Pyle said. “They are a very supportive and protective group of people.”

20-year-old Claire Reinhardt joined GAAY Sports’s most recent dodgeball league this February. Reinhardt, who has been an active person all her life, sought out a space to make new friendships and join an accepting space. 

Claire Reinhardt, being lifted up by her teammates after their final game of the season. Credit: Emma George-Griffin

“Now I have a new group of friends, not just a new group of friends, but a group of friends that I identify with,” Reinhardt said. 

Reinhardt’s dodgeball team Lesbians Dodging Balls is made up of nine lesbian women all in their early twenties. 

“We are all the same age and going through similar experiences,” said Reinhardt. 

Lesbians Dodging Balls did not have a winning streak this season; however, the team’s goal was to make lasting memories, not necessarily to win games. 

GAAY sports has more scheduled leagues for the year. This next season will be the fifth season of kickball and is now open for registration.

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