Daniel Burkhardt – 2013-2014 Essay

I started playing hockey when I was in fourth grade. My parents viewed it as a healthy social activity to gain independence and self-confidence. As I began to develop my skills on the ice, I was becoming more and more aware of my identity off the ice. Entering my teen years, that confidence and independence began to be replaced with anxiety and intimidation. I began to smell more from fear than gear—a scent that is hard enough to wash off as it is.

I was hiding and realized that my timidity was starting to be noticed. And, of course, playing hockey at a private Roman Catholic high school was…interesting, to say the least. Dealing with group showers where older students singled you out—pinned you against the wall naked in the shower—because you were new to the team and already enough of an outcast, made for a very convincing reason to put the pads back in the closet and hope to stay there myself as well.

So this is what it’s like to not be hetero and to play sports…no thanks. I like the game; not the players.It became ingrained into a sport that I grew up playing; that I had in common with many of my close friends and cousins.A stereotype founded on experience had been established: the ice was too thin to skate if you don’t fit the mold.

Years later, as a sophomore in college, I created a new stereotype that was not founded on experience—when I first saw advertisements for MGHA in fall of 2007. Wow, a bunch of other gays on the ice. That’s gotta be…“fabulous! pschh”…maybe we’d break into synchronized figure-skating routines midway through and have matching leotards.

I laughed it off, knowing I couldn’t go back to the game I grew up with, and that MGHA probably wouldn’t compare; that I’d just be associating myself with a bunch of flamboyant queens at a time when I was still in the closet, trying to avoid any potential sources of ridicule.

Even after I came out, it took me five years and plenty of excuses to even give MGHA a fair shot. “I’m too busy, I don’t have all my gear, I probably can’t afford it. Besides, I’m probably the only gay that actually knows how to play this ‘hyper-masculinized’ sport, plus…I’m not that gay.”

It wasn’t until I used that excuse to an MGHA player at Plan B, when they shot back with “What do you mean by that gay? MGHA isn’t about being gay. It’s about being accepted. What, do you think we’re just a bunch of queens on ice? Okay, well…some of us are…but that aside! You’re assuming what we are.We have plenty of straight players. And, yes, we actually DO know how to play. If you don’t believe me, we have our first clinic this coming Sunday. Show up. See how you do back on skates; see if you can keep up.If you don’t like it…then don’t join.”

I mulled it over for a bit, shocked that all of my excuses had been diffused by this one guy on his fourth drink. Either my excuses were weak or his powers of deliberation were strong. Since his drinks were obviously potent, I could easily dismiss the latter, meaning that I took what he said to heart.

I arrived at Hartmeyer, not really planning to talk much with anyone.“Get on the ice, slap the puck around a bit, and leave.”

That plan fell through almost immediately—as soon as I realized and thought to myself, ”I didn’t pack my jersey…oh, fu-” The person sitting next to me tossed one at me, saying, “I have an extra one…looks like you need it for the next hour more than my bag does.”

After I geared up, as I took my first strides in over ten years back onto the ice, I looked around and was in awe not only with the number of people, but also with how skilled many of the players were—especially those who had only been in the league for a year or two. “Holy H-E-double-hockey-sticks! There’s actually some pretty stiff competition.”

I found out after the first practice clinic that MGHA is actually the largest rec hockey league in Madison. Because someone got me back on the ice for that one practice, I was able to restore hockey as a part of my weekly routine and even started branching out to other local pickup leagues just to get more ice time. I’m embarrassed by the assumptions and subsequent restrictions I forced on myself; still kicking myself over the fact that it took me this long to get back into a sport I love.

It takes just one person.

Next thing you know, you’re in the game. You’re no longer watching on the sidelines. You’re ready to make the big play…and you fall on your ass.In front of everyone.

But instead of a laugh, you get a hand reaching out to help you back on your feet. You get words of affirmation, that you’re almost there; that they’re gonna make sure you keep at it, that you get better, and that you succeed.

The hardest part of accomplishing any goal in life is taking the initiative to start. Sometimes we sit on the bench and watch others as they make the big plays. Sometimes we talk with others about our aspirations, that someday, we’ll be successful. Someday, we’ll prove ourselves to anyone that ever challenged us. Someday, we’ll be in a better place. And sometimes we just sit there…waiting for everything to be right.

It takes just one person.

This is the kind of play that everyone faces each day, on and off the ice. How others respond speaks to their demeanor. How you react can speak wonders to your character.

Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, Cis, Straight, Queer, Questioning…

Within MGHA, everyone is viewed as a teammate, regardless of which team you play for. You are viewed, accepted, and respected as a person. And if you can lace up those skates and make it on the ice, you can play. Even after your first time there, you develop the mindset that it’s no longer MGHA and you’re a participant.You get the feeling right away that you are an extension of MGHA.

The best thing that MGHA does is that it embraces everyone looking for friends and community. It becomes a family that you know will be there for you; a group of individuals that you can learn and grow from. You can make mistakes and people will be there not to point them out, but to take the time to help teach you. You learn about far more than hockey. You learn about the intricate diversities in those around you. You learn about yourself.You learn to replace your timid discomfort with appreciation and respect. You learn how to be there for others while you develop more confidence and trust in yourself.

Why join? The better question is, why not? Perhaps you haven’t gotten that push yet. Perhaps you don’t think you’re good enough. Perhaps you have an excuse like I did that hasn’t been dissolved away by someone. Perhaps you’re scared to make that play and fall on the ice. Make that play. If you fall, we’ll be here to help you up.

And soon enough, you’ll be the one who’s helping others up.