Matt Jelinek – 2008 Essay

“What Gay Hockey Means to Me” by Matt Jelinek

People often say that a picture is worth a thousand words . . . what if that picture is a memory or an emotion?

How do words describe a single emotion much less so many emotions from so many people?

Gay Hockey, particularly the Madison Gay Hockey Association (MGHA) is much more than a picture, a single memory or an emotion. It’s so much more and finding the right description is difficult to say the least.

In my second year with the Madison Gay Hockey Association I’ve come to recognize that although some of the faces may change, the feelings are just as strong as they were before. The emotions those faces and this community evoke inspire me to work harder instead of giving up. I remember a smile as someone scored a goal, or the face of a satisfied coach or captain leaving the ice as one of their newer players started skating really hard, or the roar of the crowd as a goaltender has one of the many amazing saves I’ve seen from all of them. In these moments I’m inspired and find the energy to keep working. For those faces are my vice. The happiness, inspiration and sheer joy that comes from a group where everyone, regardless of talent, is equal.

Although I spend no time in skates or on the ice, the feelings are just as real and just as strong as the emotions of those who do. They wash past the protective panes and into the stands more easily than water over a small fall in a swift river. Frustration quickly turns into joy as players overcome their boundaries and realize all too quickly that they’ve achieved much more than they ever anticipated and are now rethinking their goals, not just on the ice, but in life . . . they realize that nothing is unattainable.

In an environment that is free from the judgment, ridicule and embarrassment which I experienced in the small farming community high school I attended in Northeastern Wisconsin, I feel very secure being who I am without the need for the crutches that other environments promote. There is rarely a moment when I am not excited at the anticipation of the next play or the next game. Even when I know I’ll have to wait until the next Sunday Evening to see how the players progress and cheer them towards their next goal . . . both literally and figuratively. I’ll be cheering the goaltenders on their next save because I know they’ll have another . . . and another . . .

So what does Gay Hockey mean to me? It means family. For family life is all of these things and more. And for those of us who have lost our families to death, not being accepted, substances or any of a number of other factors, the MGHA provides that. Family life can sometimes be challenging, but nothing that love, respect and the care felt for one another can’t transcend.

For when I’m down or depressed, all I need to hear is any one of the more than 100 voices I’m so familiar with and my heart instantly grows wings. It is in these moments, the moments when I could choose any number of vices to quiet the rising need, that a single voice or a number of them can bring me into the reality of what I’m involved with. The simple memory of any number of players’ first achievements is instantaneously more powerful than any drug. In these moments, I feel that I’ve become the man that I wish my Mom were alive to see today. And these are the people that I’m most proud to spend my time and energy with and to support.

I believe it was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who said, “The heart of the Nation is in the heart of a Volunteer.” I contend, “The heart of a Volunteer is in the heart of the MGHA.” For the MGHA is much larger than one picture, one word, one emotion, one memory or one person.

I write this essay not for the opportunity to attend the Chelsea Challenge in New York City, but because the MGHA has given me so much . . . more than I could ever give back.