After a month of popular voting and careful consideration by our panel of experts, Outsports is proud to announce the winner of the Local Groups Challenge to find the best gay-sports team or league in the world:

It was a very close final vote, emphasizing the strength of all of our four finalists. Each of the other three finalists – Cheer New York, G-Force Hockey Club and Philadelphia Fins Aquatics Club – received at least one first-place vote from our judges, who were asked to rank the groups in order of their preference. Ultimately, Madison Gay Hockey Association earned the top spot based on those rankings.
In voting for Madison Gay Hockey, GLAAD’s Ted Rybka highlighted their focus on inclusion.
"I was struck by several things. They were one of the few teams to mention that they have straight players. I’m a huge believer that homophobia in sports can be lessened by being inclusive and incorporating straight players into predominately gay teams. I also like how they created a non-threatening environment for men and women to learn the sport. (I also was impressed that they were a co-ed organization.) Hockey has the aura of being a hyper masculine sport with no place for women or gay men. I like that they are breaking down that wall by saying, 'You have a place with us. You have a place in hockey.'"
For journalist and Outsports contributor Matt Hennie, it was the group’s work with local Gay-Straight Alliances that stood out for him.
"What really grabbed my attention about the Madison group is their work with Gay-Straight Alliances from local high schools. In a practical sense, their work is helping the GSAs raise funds. But more importantly, it’s providing a positive look at gay folks and gay athletes to gay students who are working to come to terms with what it means to be gay."
Judges for the final round included author and Outsports contributor Patricia Nell Warren; GLAAD's Director of Sports Media Ted Rybka; journalist and Outsports contributor Matt Hennie; and ESPN personality LZ Granderson.
Call for entries for next year's contest will begin in December.
You can read the winning entry for Madison Gay Hockey Association below:

mcgha_logoMadison Gay Hockey Association
Madison, Wisconsin
Ice Hockey
Founded: 2006
Members: 100

"Largest Gay Hockey Association in the US; 2nd largest in the world.” It's a nice title but the accomplishments that matter most aren't about size, but about building vital and inclusive communities. We value making the sport accessible and fun, supporting our sibling sports and LGBTQA organizations, and giving back through fundraising, service and community-building events. One player described it as: "A place where anyone, regardless of athletic prowess, sexual preference, or gender identity, can learn to play a sport that is not only fun but also empowering… The jocks, the nerds, the gay guys, the lesbians, the straight guys, and the straight girls come together and love one another. That is a rare and awesome thing."
1) What community outreach and community building activities did your group organize in 2008?
In 2008, we organized Blades Against AIDS, a skating event to raise money for the AIDS Network. The MGHA also challenged our members to participate the AIDS ride organized by the AIDS Network–and over a quarter of our members answered that challenge. We provided opportunities for Gay-Straight Alliance groups from local high schools to raise money by selling concessions at our games, and we also hosted our sibling sports leagues to have recruiting tables at our games and events. We organized a campy pillowfight event to raise funds for our local gay softball league to help them bring the women’s softball world series to Madison this fall. We sponsored a New Year’s Eve party for the community as a way to thank Madison for the support. The MGHA further supports local LGBT organizations in many small ways by participating (promoting, attending, volunteering, speaking, donating…) in their events.
2) What is the single most important thing your group has done in the last two years?
The most important thing we've done as a league is to make hockey (in our humble opinion, the most addictively fun sport ever!) accessible to new players. We work hard to overcome the cost barrier of this expensive sport by raising money to underwrite player dues and to offer additional financial aid to those who need it. We also take our developmental focus very seriously. The majority of our players are new to the sport of hockey–and a large number of those are people who previously felt completely excluded from the world of athletics. Our focus on creating a non-threatening, beginners-welcome, teaching environment has allowed numerous players to reclaim the once-fearsome territory of locker rooms and sports teams…and to begin to think of themselves as athletes.
3) What, if anything, have you learned about your group throughout this competition?
Three things come to mind. First, it’s good perspective to realize we’re a very young league compared to some of these groups that have been creating community for gay athletes for 10 and 20 years. Second, we may be young and have a lot to learn but we also have a lot to offer. Being not only co-ed but truly gender-balanced was noticeably rare, and it makes me proud that we can be one of the models for how (and how well) it can work. Third, as a community-focused group, we hope we’re making a positive impact beyond those people who are immediately involved….but it’s rare to get a glimpse of how far the ripples actually extend. To see distant acquaintances and complete strangers excitedly promoting the contest and talking about the MGHA’s positive impact on the community has been humbling and motivating.

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