(This story was published in 2004).
Few people know more about building a gay sports league than Marc Davino.
Davino, 34, has been part of the Boston Gay Basketball League since it was started in 1994 by Buck Buchman, who has since left the city. His initial involvement was doing the nitty-gritty vital to all volunteer leagues: selling raffle tickets and keeping score.
The league started with six teams playing a 10-game season followed by playoffs. When the league's seventh season starts next month, it will have two divisions and a total of 14 teams playing a 12-week schedule plus playoffs - the largest gay basketball league in the world.
Davino is now the League Commissioner and the winner earlier this year of the Excellence Award for Service to the Gay Basketball Community at the Chicago Tournament.
Through this incredible growth of the League, Davino and others have kept the League's goal simple, and kept it the same: "Promote camaraderie in a safe environment for gay and lesbian athletes who enjoy the sport of basketball." While Davino's personal goal for the League is the same, he'd add one more thing: getting more people involved.
"One thing about Davino that makes him stand out," Glen Silva, a Boston athlete, said, "is that he genuinely wants everyone to have the most fun in the fairest situation possible." This, plus his goal of building the size of the League, led to the creation of the recreational division last year. Davino saw that players of lower skill levels weren’t getting the same playing time as higher skilled players. In order to bring them more into the fold, and heighten their enjoyment of the League, he created a division that focused on fun instead of competition. The result? More people getting playing time, and more involvement than ever before.
While more general participation is fantastic, there is one group in particular Davino would like to reach out to the most: racial minorities.
In a city where racial tensions have sometimes bled into its sports franchises, it isn't easy finding gay black, Hispanic, or Asian players. In fact, when racially mixed teams come to play in their Boston Tea Party tournament next month, Davino has to answer questions about the problem. Presently, he estimates that only about 15 of the 120 or so participants last year were minorities.
Davino will be reaching out to another group, specifically, this year: women. He hopes to create a four team women’s division by spring of next year. Presently, women are invited to join the League, but the League is predominantly male.
Davino has worked hard, with the help of a lot of people, to develop the League. And, while some "marketing tactics," including the League's Web site, have helped spread the word, word of mouth has been the biggest factor.
"In general, players enjoy their experience, and tell their friends about the League." In addition, supportive local press has written articles and offered free advertising for the League and tournament.
Davino is not oblivious to the problems facing any gay sports group - he continues to face them every season. He says that stereotypes are a big problem that gay sports fans and athletes face in this society.
"Gay men, especially, are stereotyped as not athletic, not masculine, and hence not able to participate in sports." This translates into a lack of awareness about such leagues, even in the gay community. Gay men he meets are often shocked to hear that there is a gay basketball league in Boston, despite it having been in existence for seven years.
These stereotypes and lack of participation is all changing, Davino hopes: "By having gay sports leagues, Web sites, etc ..., we can all work to change (these) beliefs." He is at the forefront of that all. And, with a growing national community of gay sports leagues, there is ever more support for new ones. However, if someone were to start a league elsewhere, he would offer these three pieces of advice:
Network. Get lists from other sports leagues in your area and mail out a survey to gauge local interest in what you're doing.
Start Small. Four or six teams is perfectly fine to start a league.
Find A Gym. It's not as easy as you would think.
Marc says . . .
What sports do you play?
"Basketball in the winter, softball in the summer. Some tennis and bowling, too."
Have there been any challenges to you in being a gay man and being active in sports?
"Not really. I'm very lucky to have found the gay leagues in Boston, which are very supportive of gay athletes."
Favorite professional team:
"The New York Mets. I grew up watching them, and still follow them."
Favorite professional athlete:
"Mike Alstott (FB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers) for his looks."
Favorite collegiate teams:
"Boston College, Syracuse, UConn, or any other Northeast team."
Favorite sports memory:
"Last month, my softball team, the Boston Jackhammers, participated in the gay softball World Series in Toronto, as Boston's 'B' Division representative. We went undefeated in the round robin, earning a #3 seed. We made it to the finals of the winners bracket, and faced the Fort Lauderdale team. They beat us, 8-7, in nine innings, forcing the "if necessary" game. We ended up winning, 5-3, and earning the title of World Series Champions. It's hard to describe in words the feelings of excitement experienced that day, and for the days to come."
What's next up for you?
The Boston Tea Party Classic, our annual basketball tournament, held this year October 7-8.