Category: 06-07 Essays

2007 Championship Speech

The Speech Given by Patrick Farabaugh, founder and inaugural director of the MGHA:

I just want to start by saying thank you to each and every one of you for being here tonight to share this moment together with us. This has been an unimaginable few months for the people you see here, both on the ice and with you in the stands, and for me personally it’s been an incredibly long journey that’s lead to this speech.

Please take a moment and look around at all the people sitting here with you tonight, Madison is a special place. The city you live in, that we all here call home, has given birth to and fostered something that quite literally now has the world watching.

What is here tonight started in 2002 when I learned how to play hockey with the New York City Gay Hockey Association. Discovering that league changed my life. From the first time I stepped out on the ice I felt like part of a family. I felt safe, and I began meeting people and making friends who helped me learn a healthy way of looking at myself and at the world. Those people helped me find my value and a sense of being proud of who I am. But truly nothing there can compare to what I’ve felt happen here.

Back when the MGHA was just a thought, before anyone here had stepped out on this ice together to create our group all that existed was an idea of what I wanted to see built. I wanted what I had in New York. I want you to know now though that all of you here tonight have far exceeded that vision.

Each of these players tonight have shown me something to be proud of, and given me reasons to love life and love who we are. From Sherry and her Gay Straight Alliance high school students, to Mark and his sister Angie getting to play and coach together on the same team…… all the way down to Lora Wilkinson’s simple smile. Together we’ve put a recognizable face on LGBT people that has reached and touched more individuals than I know how to count. One personal example: A few weeks ago my grandmother was profoundly affected by how human our lives really are after she came to watch me play for the first time in her life. It was her first time ever being around gay people. Playing in a gay league has brought us together, made us stronger and moved our visibility into a language that many people can easily understand and relate to — the language of sports.

It’s only been a few years since I was struggling to accept myself. Before finding the NYCGHA I wouldn’t let myself have gay friends. I felt lost and incredibly confused about my life. When I looked out at all of the gay people I could see, I was scared to reach out because all I knew how to see were other scared people.

For me, personally, tonight’s Championship Games and our entire season have been about heros. To me a hero is someone who has the courage to believe in himself and overcome fear to become bigger than who they are. Our first season has been full of these people who, by investing in themself have found and shown that necessary courage to become the visible kinds of role models that I wish had back when I was lost searching.

I would like to read to you a few of the letters that people have had the courage to write:

Here’s the first:

“You all should know now that I officially came out January 1, 2005 as a man. But this is about hockey. I left the UW-LaCross hockey team for a lot of reasons. But many of them had to do with my comming out. I wanted to play with guys and I didnt want to be ashamed of it. I didnt care if I wasnt as big as them. If I wasnt as fast. If I was the absolute worst guy on the team. That never mattered to me. I’d rather be ranked the worst on a team where I belong and can be myself rather than be good on a team that makes me live a complete and total lie. So I left the womens team. Out of no where along comes MGHA. When I thought I wouldnt find a way to play, MGHA came about. A co-ed league of LGBTQA hockey players. Heck yes. So now im back into it. Im dreaming about break aways and penalty shots and angles and keeping my head on a swivel. I love it.”

…And Here’s another….

“If it weren’t for you, I don’t think my parents would know that there is an accepting community of people in this generation “awaiting” my own generation. When I first started to question my own sexuality, my dad sort of said, “You know, if you decide to be straight, though, that’s cool, too!” and… “you have to really be careful… there are a lot of hateful people out there.” I told him… “Dad, when I’m with people like this I really believe in myself.” You’ve really made this an outlet not just for people your age in the community who are already out and want to try something new with people who are accepting… but for people who are trying to come out and are younger and already love the sport. I love Sundays. Thanks so much for this opportunity.”

….And just one last one….

“I had a great time playing tonight. It was the most fun I’ve had since I started playing. My team really worked well together tonight and everyone is improving so much. I know this probably doesn’t need to be said again, but I just wanted to thank you again for starting this league and putting so much effort into it. It has honestly changed my life. You pretty much created a community that I have wanted to have for as long as I can remember. It feels great to know that I have a place that I can feel like I fit in and have people that understand me on a deeper level.”

Those were written by our three youngest players, and I am very, very proud to say, they were written by my heros. Will Basil, Caity and Jay please come up to receive your medal.

Zach Strong – 2006-2007 Essay

“What Gay Hockey Means to Me” by Zach Strong

Little did I know, when I walked through the doors I was going to be doing a whole lot more than playing some hockey. I was playing Gay Hockey. Gay hockey is not a winter sport with a sexual orientation. Identities are fluid and multi-faceted. Sometimes more so than we can contemplate. Fluid and multi-faceted like me, like Gay Hockey. At some point, I’m sure the MGHA might have looked like any other recreational sports team. It did to me. It is a social outlet and something to do with all those boring Sunday nights. Only in retrospect can I see how clearly it means so much more for so many people. One of them being me.

I grew up, constantly, moving through out “Chicagoland”. The images that portrayed my community, by the mainstream, and role models in my community were both equally discouraging growing up. The images subliminally molding my brain taught me to look up to athletes and thugs and stereotypes because they were the only ones coming out of neighborhoods like mine and becoming icons. I remember RuPaul, Prince, Michael Jordan, and a whole lot of rappers who usually got shot. Impoverished queer black men, the first face of HIV/AIDS.

I was drawn to athletics and possessed natural talent. Playing stick-ball in ‘the yard’ or football in ‘the field’ was everyone’s escape from our reality. The reality that most of us wouldn’t live to see 21, almost none us would make it to a university, and chances were we would end up living in those same conditions all our lives. Mothers and Fathers cheered on sons while daughters chatted or played in the near by playground. Amongst them was a different mother. She wasn’t shouting “Yeah Adam! Go Tim! Nice play Julio!” She screamed “Alright Alicia!”

My mother refers to those days of my early athleticism when we talk about my identity now. “You were the only ‘girl’ who walked up to a bunch of teenage boys and started playing tackle football. I always knew you were special. You were always a boy.”

There is a certain time when the girls don’t play with the boys anymore in athletics, usually some time around middle school. When kids stop signing up for summer recreational teams and have to start thinking about Varsity. For me it was a little different. It was when I moved from ‘the yard’ and ‘the field’ to Baraboo, Wisconsin. I was in my second semester of 7th grade. In the beginning I hated the change from city to small town, but I got used to it. By 8th grade my softball coaches were telling the high school Varsity coaches to get ready for their new clean up hitter. Being a middle line backer on the all-boys football team had me on the front page. After a few practices word quickly spread I wasn’t a ‘girl’ just trying to get attention, I came to play ball. I gained an enormous amount of respect from my pupils early on. And it turns out 8th grade boys and girls found the manifestation of my ambiguous gender quite attractive. I almost always had a boyfriend to hold hands in the halls with and pay for the movies. I also had frequent sleepovers at my girlfriends’ house so we could ‘practice’ making-out all night.

That trend continued through high school. Organized athletics became more and more a way of life than an extra curricular activity. I remained non-sexually active unless it was a kiss during spin the bottle or a slumber-party. And I often heard a “DYKE!” walking to class. But unlike most people’s high school experience, I could yell “Hell yeah! Did your girlfriend finally tell you what we did?” And got a smile and a high five from students I passed in the hall. Unlike so many other queer kids’ experiences, being a high school athletic authority really did make a difference in the way I was treated by everyone in town.

Things began to change when I went to college. I was getting involved with student organizations to learn things and explore myself. I joined the Black Student Unity (BSU) because I had a rough 5 years in Baraboo with little diversity and people of color to relate to. And I missed community and family. I joined the university’s gay and straight alliance (GSA) because I never actually had any ‘out’ friends before and I wanted to have language to describe my feelings. I joined the women’s club hockey team because “ice time” had always been my time and I wasn’t allowed on the university’s male team. It wasn’t long before the GSA had me exploring queer identities and queer theory. I was fascinated with gender studies in my classes. I felt finding an identity that fit me might never happen but learned about fluidity and queerness. I found great comfort in this and began using male pro-nouns and challenging how people saw me and saw my identity. I ran for the executive team of BSU and represented students in the senate. I couldn’t get enough ethnic and racial studies classes.

Something still was not complete. I had found some wonderful groups. I met great people and learned a lot. The only problem being, I found 3 wonderful groups to accept separate parts of who I was. BSU students were ignorant to my queer identity. The GSA was the antithesis of being proactive about recruiting and welcoming QPOC people and QPOC issues. The hockey girls didn’t want anything to do with either one of these groups. I don’t recall a single person from one group being friends with a person in another group. Any exception I can recall would only be if a person was a member of two groups. For example a best friend of mine who was in the GSA and BSU with me. We both experienced this predicament. Each part of my identity is not separate; they are interlocking and intertwined with everything I am. It was like being torn into pieces.

I transferred to a school in Madison in hopes that being in a city rather than a town would give me more opportunity and options for finding a community I could call home. For a year, I found very little of what I hoped for. I found a few more people like me who were searching for exactly what I was. We stuck close together and created our own support and community.

I wanted more, and found very little. But along with a few friends I found something else my first year in Madison. I found out that the biggest “party school” town in the country lived up to its reputation. I found a friend in a keg, or a bottle, or a bomb shot. I found the LGBTQ people the only place I knew how, at the bar. My friends and I could find reasons to drink any day. To celebrate, or to recuperate, or to retreat. “Lets get wasted!” All before I was 21 I found alcohol to be more of a routine than a social tradition.

October of 2006, I was talking to an old high school classmate I ran into here in Madison, we had become friends. While talking sports one night she mentioned a friend of hers learned about a gay hockey team in Madison. “I play hockey”, I explained I had been too busy partying the winter before to even look for a team. She said “Some guy named Patrick from New York City started it.” And that was all I needed to know. Patrick and I had already met in French class 2 semesters before. He was down one path, obviously to succeed, and excelled in French class. I clearly headed down another path, usually from class into a glass, and failed French class. We met once, the second time I met him he would change my path with Gay Hockey.

There was no way to tell what I was getting myself into. “What is Gay Hockey?” I thought. I walked through the double set of double doors. I could already smell the stench of hockey equipment. The reek of feet, mold, and week old sweat was never so refreshing. It’s like the smell of your house, your family’s house, or maybe the house you grew up in. No matter how long you’ve been gone, it might look different and feel very, very different, but it will always smell like home. I got my practice jersey and matching teal socks from the fellows in the lobby and made my way to the locker rooms. “Locker room 1, 2, 3, and 4. There are no genders for these doors.” I hesitated to ask someone where I should go. Taking only a moment to realize I probably couldn’t choose even if they were gender assigned. I stuck with the doors numbers. I went inside, sat down, and tried to remember “huh, what goes on first again?” The door swung open, in came bright eyes and a brilliant smile announcing “Hi, I’m Sarah!”

Shortly, people flooded the locker room. Introductions were exchanged while we changed. The room was filled with excitement and bubbly personalities. But I didn’t understand. So far “Gay Hockey” had given me more nervousness than excitement and the only thing bubbling was my gut. I stared into my bag and didn’t casually converse with anyone.

We hit the ice, practiced hard, and when we were done we retired back to 1, 2, 3, and 4. I changed as fast as I could without looking hurried. I was so shy and nervous. Giving a nod and a “see ya” I scurried from the locker room through the double set of double doors and into my car. There was no way to tell what I was getting myself into. After that first night I sat in my car, still not able to grasp the meaning or the purpose. “What is Gay Hockey?” I thought.

For me, Gay Hockey-the Madison Gay Hockey Association- is the most unexpected creature I have ever experienced. I have found a place where my many facets of identity are actually welcomed parts of my athleticism. I have found a group that is aware and loving of my cultural and ethnic identities. MGHA gave me the opportunity to meet the first QPOC athletes and teammates I have ever met. And now they are my friends, my family.

It is also a place where my friends can come and see me play hockey and feel comfortable cheering loud in the crowd. My family can see me play hockey in a place where we are all welcome.

We are challenging all institutions of gender when we play together. The beliefs in stereotypes about queer athletes of all genders are being crushed by Gay Hockey’s very existence. For the first time I really looked at myself and saw who I was. I don’t know that without experiencing a community that gives me this safe place to grow would I have seen this day. I am beginning understand myself in such beautiful clarity. I am seeing farther than before, especially when it comes to gender identity. We are always growing, discovering, and evolving-I am just glad I found the perfect place to do it.

I look in the mirror see a positive work in progress that I can be proud of. But most importantly, I see the role model I have searched for my whole life. In this day in age the mainstream does not represent but a selected few of privileged people. Because of Gay Hockey, I am privileged to represent something much larger than myself for so many people. Everyone is this league is now a role model to people in our community, our state, our country, and even the world.

Because of Gay Hockey, I have a healthy community and an amazing foundation of people who I can grow with. This new road was unexpected. I have the confidence and the support to succeed in all my endeavors. I challenged my own understanding and beliefs about being a queer athlete and can now believe in myself. That is what Gay Hockey is to me.

Caity Strong – 2006-2007 Essay

“What Gay Hockey Means to Me” by Caity Strong

“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” -Friedrich Nietzsche

I’ve heard it been said that women have it easier than men “coming out” in our society. I’d like to let it be known that, in my opinion, it’s definitely a person-to-person experience. (Take into consideration all of the closed-minded families and all of the open-armed families whose willingness to accept their child has nothing to do with their gender.)

My personal experience with identifying myself was and still is a fluid experience. It’s something complicated and emotional– a process that to this day I still believe is evolving. I cannot and will not believe I am done growing, nor is anyone else who’s still living and breathing.

Because of the societal constraints that have been thrust upon us since the bombardment of images were first allowed to devour our heads: one image of a gay boy and one image of a gay girl were what sticks out when we close our eyes as a 12-year-old and imagine ourselves as gay, right?

But I dreampt this image was wrong. With capital letters and bold, italics, underlining, whatever. I knew there should exist so many multi-faceted images of what we’re allowed to be and what really remains to be true that no two images are even remotely similar. That 12-year-old should close their eyes a hundred times and never picture the same image twice.

This is why I questioned my sexuality constantly. Why do I possess both the qualities of this stereotypical gay woman and the stereotypical qualities of the straight woman? I have long hair but I love to play tackle football with the boys. I always want to be the dad when we’re playing house, but I still want to do my nails.

Throughout middle school, I was grappling with the normal middle-school-aged things. I yearned for attention, and all the other girls got it through getting boyfriends, so that’s what I did. Little did I know the reason this didn’t work for me was because boys weren’t my thing. I needed to get help fast and find answers or else things the dark end would find me soon.
Although the downward spiral tried to catch me several times, I found myself hanging on with the help of two awesome parents and drowned myself in schoolwork and the great sport of hockey. I didn’t come back up for air or to pay any other attention to my sexual identity until the summer after I graduated high school when my mom decided to leave my dad unexpectedly.

With big changes at home and big changes for my future as I was to live on my own for the first time, I decided to start figuring myself out. After joining a local women’s hockey league, my friend Lora asked me if I was also interested in joining a local Gay hockey team. She warned me that the skill level wasn’t what I was used to, but that the people were great and I’d be a good role model for the beginners.

Little did I know that the role I’d be taking on would not be as a role model, but yet one to be looking up to these amazing men and women who’ve survived and lived and smiled and cried… thriving and beautiful people in a community I never knew existed.

Not only does it exist, but it exists in the multi-faceted way I knew it did in my dreams; the way where I can close my eyes and dream myself gay one million times over each a different time never the same.

Gay hockey is so much more than hockey to me. Although hockey for me had been an escape for so long, something to knock out having to deal with my sexual identity, now facing it without fear and knowing I am part of a diverse population– that sense of community is what brings me back week after week.

And that is what Gay Hockey means to me 🙂

Mark Sadowski – 2006-2007 Essay

“What Gay Hockey Means to Me” by Mark Sadowski

Let me just start by saying, whoa. This whole season has continued to impress me and grow me as a person as well as change every expectation I’ve ever had about people’s motivation to learn, in this case, a sport they may have never thought they could and also those people’s yearning to build a community. Through this all, I have not only made 4 or 5 amazing friends all of whom I have no doubt in calling a best friend (yeah, I have more than one), but also 50 some other people who have a common interest, creating a sense of common identity.

When Patrick Farabaugh approached me to help start this league back in July, I was immediately on board. I never knew that gay hockey leagues existed before I met him. Of course I was in on it; I grew up playing hockey and had identified as a hockey player seven years before I realized that I was gay. In that sense, I never really could see any reason why a gay person couldn’t or shouldn’t be capable of playing a sport.

After learning more about expectations that are put on many people with regards to their sexuality, my views changed. Many of this year’s new players never felt that they fit into sports because as gay men, they never saw themselves as manly men, or as women, were afraid or ostracized by men who forced masculinity on the sport. The latter, I always saw. My sister started playing hockey when women in the sport were few and far between. There were coaches who wanted her injured and off the ice because they felt hockey was a man’s sport.

Why? Why is a sport any different than any other part of our lives? Sure, because of biological reasons, men tend to be bigger than women, but as a smaller person myself, I played against scores of guys twice my size. Does your physical make-up define your ability to play? In turn, does your sexuality define your ability to play? I never saw that, so I came into this as a beacon to show the new players that anyone can play the sport as long as they have the dedication to learn.

Personally, I’ve grown into someone I never thought I could be, a leader, someone who doesn’t just sit back and roll with the punches but, rather, one who is responsible for what he says and does. I’ve always fostered in my team the notion that in hockey, you have to make the plays, not wait for them to happen.

I’ve grown into a person who willingly takes on that responsibility. That notion that passing on a great love in my life to others is a contribution to my community and beyond. By offering up whatever I knew about hockey and skating, I was able to become more comfortable talking to people. I have seen what this league has done for so many people and it literally brings a tear of joy to my eye – the friendships that have been created, the confidence people have learned, the passion to win (we know we all have it), and overall, the smaller sense of community built team by team that has generated what in my opinion is a rebirth of Madison’s gay community or at least given a much stronger, visible sense of it.

Enough about me. This league is not about one person in particular. It’s about a player who played hockey for 13 years but didn’t until this year come fully to terms with his homosexuality until he found the strength through leadership. It’s about his sister, who would do anything for him. It’s about a man who for years wanted to see this happen in Madison and jumped on board as soon as he saw it could. It’s about a transgender person who since coming out had never before felt a sense of acceptance until playing in this league. It’s about a young out male who has never before identified with the gay community who now finds himself friends with some of the best in it. It’s about an 19 year old student who only came out this year and found a positive outlet where more dangerous ones loomed. It’s about a college graduate looking to soon go back who is so humble, yet so good that all I want to do is tell him over and over how good he is. It’s about a player who never was into team sports but has learned that through the spirit of teamwork, you can have that personal sense of achievement. It’s about a man who saw a gap in his life and took it upon himself to initiate what now has become something we all can cherish.

So, I thank Patrick. I thank you David. I thank you Matt. I thank you Galen. I thank you Vivian, Sarah, Michelle, Angie, Kevin, Jay, Steve, Emily, Derick, Tim, Austin, Jen, Gilbert, Kristen, Max, Angie A., Dan, Caity, Joyce, Jason, Darren, Shawn, Lora, Kim, Tammy, Wendy, Bri, Greg, Sherry, Glenn, Brian, Kristina, David, Tim S., Christopher Z, Bill, Tim F., Chris G, Gerry, Peter, Mike, Laura, Terrance, Sean, Tony, Christopher, Michelle W., Bazil, Deb, Andrew, Cory, and Paul. Thank you to all of the fans who came out to see us play and supported us. Thank you to our sponsors and all of the community groups that have come together. Together we are all the MGHA and we are all a community.

Patrick Farabaugh – 2006-2007 Essay

“What Gay Hockey Means to Me” by Patrick Farabaugh

I was raised in a middle class family in Northwest Indiana by a steel mill worker and for most of my childhood, a stay-at-home mom.

I had no gay role models. I was from a town where homophobia was far more common than tolerance and LGBT visibility. All the people raising me often unknowingly had adopted a fundamental and blindly bigoted approach on how a family is built that I contribute to no visible presence of a functioning, constructive and most importantly, healthy gay community. I’ve been told that necessity is the mother of invention. Without the need to consider diversity, that singular mentality in my region went seriously unchallenged.

As a boy, and somewhat still into adulthood I have had a tendency to gravitate towards masculinity, both in my personal character and in what I’ve found sexually attractive. I grew up with a general interest in sports, but found that my sexuality left me at odds and usually made me uncomfortable around my male peers. I started to withdraw. I became excluded. And with no resources available to turn to, I was left with my own naive observations that were socially stigmatizing. I started to unconsciously replace my erosion of self-esteem with shame, not cognizant of it happening.

That shame, and the secrets I used to hide it, let the opinions of others gain more influence over me than my own. When this happened, my need to be accepted left me looking for solutions to my feelings in unhealthy places. The internet was just beginning to gain popularity and online chat rooms quickly became the only social escape I could find. Those rooms matched against my narrow teenage sensibilities were a toxic combination loaded with malicious attacks on my confidence. When you can see and talk to someone there is an accountability that gets lost online, and people can very quickly be reduced to a crude list of meaningless measurements that essentially tell them they don’t always measure up. In my state, the internet was a forum where anonymity fostered unhealthy compassionless assaults on my character from others who were just as unknowingly desperate as myself.

But was there an alternative to this?

I lost the ability to value or even recognize my individuality and personal goals when I first realized I was gay. The idea of coming out was terrifying. Everything I had been taught now seemed challenged and I didn’t have the right tools for defending myself. The shame I felt was often overwhelming. Somewhere inside, my intuition insisted I was a good person—as good as everyone else. I just couldn’t convince my head to agree with my gut. The lessons life had already told me were saying that if I was honest and followed my feelings, and my heart then I should feel like a second-class citizen. I couldn’t accept this, and my answer to that was a shallow solution that left me using terms like “straight acting” in an effort to avoid adopting the social stigma that was attached to the word gay. I was doing everything I could to try to present myself with as a stereotypical “guy” and the cost was destroying my self-esteem in the process.

I’ve been told that the root of promiscuity is shame. It hasn’t taken much to identify the connection. People are sexual beings, and as if being gay alone wasn’t enough to recognize how emotion doesn’t listen to reason, when your sexuality collides against a conflicting social system, the result can be pretty damaging. As long as I wasn’t able to understand how my inability to recognize this deeply internal conflict influenced my personal behavior, I was left wading through anonymity and mentally shallow relationships to search for affection.

In the fall of 2002, while living in New York City, I stumbled across someone who told me about a gay hockey team in the city and immediately my interest was piqued. The concept seemed like a bit of an oxymoron, but hope that this kind of dichotomy was real made me plug “new york gay hockey” into a search engine. When the New York City Gay Hockey Association website first loaded on my computer I remember clicking on all the pages with a level of excitement that ignored patience. I couldn’t believe this truly existed, and was full of the kind community that cemented how my need for a family was so much greater than my self-imposed isolation. Impulsively, I joined.

Few endeavors in my life have been able to match the amount of emotional growing I did while playing with the NYCGHA. I began making gay friends, and was finally able to relax my own social barriers enough to experience an LGBT group that before any labels could be applied were just people playing hockey. I also noticed, for the first time a real sense of pride coming from the community and extended family I now felt a part of. My life had been changed, significantly, for the better.

What Gay Hockey Means to Me:

There are three fundamentals that I believe gay hockey offers me, personally. Community. Identity. …and Confidence. The first happened so fast that it was sometimes difficult to recognize. I noticed myself often forgetting that I was around other gay people. Even the word gay began losing the stigma that haunted me whenever I had to speak it. I was beginning to make friends who knew openly that I was gay and it didn’t affect their opinion of me. I was part of a group of people with diverse perspectives that could offer intimate insight into what it’s like and how to reach the kind of self-acceptance necessary for living both out and proud.

The second gift I got from my association with the hockey league was a sense of identity. I found a key that opened a defining door to who I am. I often will refer to gay hockey as a ‘bridge’ sport. For me, it was an outlet that offered a safe crossing from the strict definitions I used in male gender roles to the relaxed variations that I’ve now come to accept as being as natural as eating and sleeping. There was something behind the reputation of the sport of ice hockey that incrementally allowed me not to feel like my personal philosophies were being compromised by exploring a queer adaptation of what I saw as a traditionally masculine arena. Unknowingly, this league became a right-of-passage that added a layer to who I am.

Finally, it’s greatly contributed to restoring my confidence. After feeling excluded from sports like ice hockey as a boy, with joining the league came a feeling of reclaiming my right to be able to play, reclaiming an assertion that nothing would degrade me to living with second-class status. The game created opportunities for contributing to a team and a chance to learn skills and a sport that kept me moving and active. It made me feel productive and each week, after I would step off the ice I would notice myself already wishing I didn’t have to wait another full week before I got the chance to play again.

Now, again ice hockey is giving me a chance to build confidence in another capacity as I have crossed over into a mentoring role. I’m able to find personal value in teaching the sport to the next round of peers who are ready to learn, and very appreciative to be in the position where the skills I’ve collected are able to be put to use. I look forward with an unparalleled anticipation to the start of the MGHA and welcome anyone ready to join us with both enthusiasm and support.

This essay is by Patrick Farabaugh, the Founder of the Madison Gay Hockey Association. It is being published here as a testimonial to the value of groups like the MGHA and not meant to be considered for the scholarship

Timothy Shelton – 2006-2007 Essay

“What Gay Hockey Means to Me” by Timothy Shelton

Generally, I tend to lack confidence in great things coming to fruition in the environment of a bar. I work as security at a bar. I go in night after night seeing people at their worst. One watches with sober eyes the goings on of people intensely impaired in thought and judgment. They often do or say things, which a sober mind would never consider. This job has seriously molded my ideas on drinking. So, I sometimes find a bar to be a surprising place to find myself in a moment of realization.

Hockey had just wrapped up on a Sunday evening. After our game a group of us had decided to wander down to the shamrock to chill out discuss the outcome, and socialize. This has become our general Sunday evening after the game. To me, as well as many people in the league this has been an opportunity to not only play but to greatly expand our social circles. As I wander in past the heavy wooden doors at the entrance I notice the usual dim lighting accented by the glow of tabletop candles placed inside of orange plastic pumpkins. Toni is behind the bar. She catches my eye with a smile and I shout out to her “Hey, Toni how’s it goin’?” “Great, how was the game?” comes back to me in response. She and I continue to make small talk while she gets me a Coke. I grab my soda and glance across the room. David Parter is sitting at a table with a couple of our regular spectators. He gives me a big grin and flags me over. We all begin to talk. David is beginning a conversation about how he hadn’t ever dreamed that he would ever be able to skate in a gay hockey league. As our discourse commences I turn when I hear the door to the bar open. Pat Farabaugh saunters in with his usual swagger. I am sure most would agree he has a distinction to his gate. He walks over straight and confident. Pat joins in on our conversation as Toni comes up from behind and drops off a Diet Coke in front of him. Pat is exuberant with the news of having developed a scholarship for the Chelsea Challenge in New York. Being someone who spends a fair amount of time with Pat this isn’t news to me, when Pat is excited about something you are likely to hear about it a few times over. Even so, his enthusiasm is contagious it is easy to be caught up in the excitement of this new development. This fits well into our conversation about how many of us we have dreamed about having the chance to play but would have never considered playing without a gay league. I have to agree there is no way I would have ever considered playing hockey in a straight league. Just the thought of it gives me flashbacks of being chosen last in every team sport in junior high. Although, I had to add that I hadn’t even considered playing hockey before this. I wasn’t one of those who had followed the sport and always dreamed of holding a hockey stick in hand. As our discussion continued along those lines as we began discussing essays for the scholarship. Pat was talking about his essay. He outlines how the sport gave him a sense of how he could pull together his ideas of masculinity and being gay. These were two items in his life which he never felt fit until he had the chance to play a masculine sport like hockey with other gay men. Talk of his essay had brought me back to a similar conversation He and I had had a couple weeks before the hockey season began while having lunch at The Roman Candle. It was one of those conversations he and I have time and again where we didn’t exactly see what the other was trying to say. I just kept thinking to myself how can hitting a small black piece of rubber with a fiberglass stick be masculine? What makes this action masculine. Adjectives like masculine are so subjective. Where one sees blue, another sees green….. but we all know it’s really teal. People I am sure were surprised that I was planning on playing hockey. I will be the first to admit I am not MASCULINE. I am even sure that some people would say that I am not even masculine in all small case letters. Personally I believe that we all define our own masculinity or femininity. Being a hockey player doesn’t make you more or less of a man or woman. It is who you are inside and how you accept yourself that defines you. I have had the chance to befriend an astonishingly diverse group since starting this sport. People whom I admire and have taught me to be a better player and a better person. People, who have challenged my ideas and made me stronger.

So, amidst our conversation taking place in front of those glowing plastic Jack o’ lanterns David looks over to me with a knowing glance and says, “You need to submit an essay. You have a voice that can present another side, something unique to what an essay like Pat’s has to offer.” I had a realization there. He was right I had a unique story to tell. My voice was different, not more or less valid than Pat’s story yet a truly pertinent from its own point of view.

Pat and I had worked together. While working at the club he had come up with the idea to start up a hockey league. I grew up on roller skates. Heading out to Skateworld was our weekly family event. As a teenager my sister and I often found ourselves with ice skates strapped to our feet out on Lac La Belle with our church youth group. I have always loved to skate. Ice skate, roller skate, to me it didn’t matter I felt like I could fly. Nothing feels more amazing, more freeing.

The first time I watched a hockey game was on an Easter Sunday while visiting my sister in Minneapolis. She was preparing dinner and her partner asked me if I wanted to go catch the Golden Gophers play Cornell. Part of me wanted to stay and socialize with Michelle. I only get to see my closest friend a couple times a year, yet I was curious about the game. I had never seen how it played out. Besides I just had happened to pack a burgundy t-shirt and a mustard yellow sweater. I think it was a sign that the game was calling me. Michelle said I really needed to go since I had never seen a game before, and that it was a really fun experience. I was fascinated by it. Jodi explained some of the rules to me, off sides, icing little by little it was starting to make sense. I have to admit I even imagined myself out on the ice. So, when Pat kept going on and on about starting a hockey league I really wanted to join up. Yet there was also a part of me that was really apprehensive about playing on a sports team. I guess I wanted to be invited. I feel really silly now. I should have jumped at the chance right off, but there was that frightened little boy inside who was afraid that people might laugh at the idea of me playing. Any time growing up where I tried to involve myself in sports I always ended up feeling left out and completely ostracized. It always seemed that if you couldn’t guarantee them a win then they really didn’t want you to play. I did take him a while, lots of him telling me “Hey Tim, I recruited this person or that one” and all the while I was thinking “ask me ASK ME dammit!” Yet not having the guts to just come out and say that I wanted to play myself. Nonetheless, he did ask I am pretty sure from the tone of his voice he didn’t think I would say yes, and yet it was the moment I was waiting for.

I started my first night out on the ice with excited apprehension. Not knowing what to expect and not knowing many of the people it was a real experience in pushing the butterflies in the stomach out of the way. It was a surprising experience seeing others who like me had never played before, and some even braver souls who hadn’t even ever skated. I knew right away this was the place for me. I was loving every minute of it. Yet it was the little things that made me know I this was where I belonged. Like when Sarah Covington came up right behind me on my second night after I landed one of my first successful hockey stops and said, “You did it. Oh my god! I think you got it. great job.” or when Sherry Hollie on one night and Gerry Haney on another came up to me and during practice drills and said “You don’t have a partner yet, you’re with me.” That is what the little boy who was chosen last needed. It may have been something small and it may have been something normally unnoticed, but it was something I needed.

Once again, the nerves hit for the first game. Skills clinics were fun, learning to become a better skater was great, but game play was something I was still unsure I could pull off. Once again that was stepping outside the box. As we were sitting on the bench awaiting that first scrimmage people are being divvied up into positions. Someone leans in and points while saying, “See that guy in the red helmet?” “yeah??” “Well, you’re goin’ in for him.” My response, with what I imagine was a quite shocked look on my face, “He’s playing center….. Are you sure? You want me to play center?” Chris Gargan tags up and I am on the ice. My adrenaline is in high gear. I am chasing people down and going after the puck. From one end of the ice to the other it just seems non-stop. I swear it felt like the longest minute and a half of my life and yet it was an experience like none other. The rest of the game came and went so quickly it felt like a blur. I knew I was hooked. Sarah came up to me after that game and said, “Wow, you were right on top if the puck. You didn’t let the action pass you by. You are gonna make a great center, you have potential.” Me?!?!? Great center? How did that happen???

In for a penny, in for a pound. That is what they say. I can’t imagine a better way of putting it. I don’t think you can possibly be in this group and not be all in. I have met so many amazing people and had so many phenomenal experiences on and off the ice. I have seen us develop as great players and also become better people. I love playing in a league where I can come up against someone like Emily Harris on another team. After chasing each other down we end up on the bench at the same time and I beat on the glass to tell her how much she “kicks ass” on the ice. There is the time when Bri Deyo stole the puck from me and after she passed it off to another player on her team I had to congratulate her. It was an amazing play! The time when my hockey tape sister Caitlin Laubach shot a goal into what seemed like the smallest pocket between the goalie and me. I had to give her the high five. That shot was HOT! It wasn’t just me though. There was always someone from another team to tell you when you “brought it.” Caitlin at first told me that when I made goofy faces at her it distracted her in our face offs. Then a few games later came up to me and said “WOW! You have become a face off master. I can’t believe it. You will have to show me some of your tricks.” For someone who has been playing for years to tell me that meant more than I could put into words. It didn’t matter that someone was on another team. Their accomplishments were all of ours.

This was such an emotional season. I had moments when I doubted myself. I had sat down with a friend to discuss hockey plays and left feeling more distressed and confused than before we started. I spent the next three weeks playing games where I questioned every play I made. I had felt so angry with myself every time I left the ice. I was feeling truly lost out there. I was sill in love with the game, but I was wondering if I should even be playing. One evening that Sarah introduced me to one of her friends as “our star center.” I thought to myself that I wish I felt like a star center. I went home that night and typed up an e-mail about how I didn’t know if I were cut out for this game, I wasn’t sure if I was playing well enough and I didn’t want to let our team down. I hit the send button with tears in my eyes. Her response was like a bolt out of the blue. “Hockey is overwhelming. Not only are you learning all this positioning and strategy, but you are also learning how to skate and handle the puck. That is a lot of stuff at once! I still am messing up all the time, it is finally getting to the point, where I can catch my mistakes and try to learn from them, but before that I could only really do one thing at a time. I think you are doing a remarkable job, Tim. Anyway, I just want you to know how much I value you as a player and as a person (I can’t tell you how many people I have talked to who just adore you!). Please don’t feel badly about your playing. You should be beaming with pride.” She knew exactly what I needed to hear. I sent her an e-mail back that said “thank-you for being my hero.”

Mary McCarthy said “We are the hero of our own story” I found it coincidental that Pat focused his speech at the championship game on heroes. I have felt ever since that night at the Shamrock when David encouraged me to write this essay, I needed to say that what what gay hockey has meant to me has been. A league full of people who are heroes to me and each other. Every time I see Angie Anderson on the ice I think of her bio and how this league gave her the chance to play a sport of which she had only dreamed. I see Steve Stafford and the amazing tenacity of someone who had never strapped on skates in his life and yet gave it 210% all season. I have seen people developing the courage to come out to their families. I have been able to become friends with people like Basil Strong. A man who was told that because he was born with two x chromosomes that he wasn’t man enough to play with the boys. That more than anything makes me feel like I am not the only one who’s masculinity is called into question and sometimes left out of the boys club. We have developed a solidarity that even my mother noticed when she came to see us play. This has been about us, coming together amidst our diversity and making a better community for ourselves. If someone fell, never once did I see them left behind. Someone was always there to ask if they were alright. We were in a group where people were more important than the play. This couldn’t have been a better first season. I look forward to what the future holds for us.