Category: 07-08 Essays

Benji Sudolcan – 2007-2008 Essay

“What Gay Hockey Means to Me” by Benji Sudolcan

Growing up in south Texas, I never had the chance to watch a live hockey game. In fact, my first exposure to the game was the movie The Mighty Ducks. I’m not sure if my nine-year-old brain was focused on the excitement of the game or a cute little Joshua Jackson, but I remember thinking, “I want to play this.” I wore that VHS out from watching it so many times. Little did I know, while dancing to “We Are the Champions” during the ending credits, the impact playing hockey would have on me in the future.

I’m the odd duck in a sports-focused, military family. During childhood, my dad enrolled me in every sport imaginable from the age I could hold a ball (or bat, racquet, or shuttlecock). It didn’t matter to him which sport I was good at so long as I was at least above average in one. Seemingly endless soccer, swim, and t-ball practices saturate my early memories, but the unimaginable terror I would feel before every game stands out above them all. In basketball, if you passed me the ball, I would pass it on or shoot; in soccer, I would pass; in baseball I wouldn’t even get that far, I’d just strike out. No matter how much I practiced, I never quite had the confidence to relax and just enjoy playing the game. Although it was never verbalized, I could feel my dad’s disappointment. You’d think that watching me embarrass myself time after time would weaken his resolve, but it only strengthened it. The more sports I found I wasn’t good at, the more teams he would sign me up for.

Around middle school, my mother decided try her hand at finding my talents. She started taking me to spelling bees, math olympics, and band competitions. Here, at last, I found my place to shine. I would run, beaming, to show my dad the trophies and ribbons. After congratulating me, he would steer the conversation towards my struggling sports career. I would be grilled on my practice regimen or given a lecture on “keeping my head in the game.” It quickly became apparent that he didn’t respect the areas in which I had natural aptitude. I grew frustrated, eventually growing to hate all sports and anyone who played them. No longer was I friendly to everyone. If you were on a team, you were beneath me. I carried my intellect like a shield. My resolve grew as I started accepting the fact that I was gay. Now the enemy had a face. Instead of hating sports because I wasn’t good at them, I hated them because they (I thought) churned out all of the bigoted, hateful teens who made fun of me in the halls, threw me into a headlock in class, and wrote notes about me in the bathroom.

While working through the feelings these experiences left with me, I realized that my misplaced anger had unforeseen consequences. Physical, mental, and emotional health are interdependent, and my narrow mindset was preventing me from becoming a mature, well-adjusted adult. I began to want to play games with people and started to push my body in ways I hadn’t since I was a kid. It started off slowly, a game of kickball here, a frisbee golf game there. I enthusiastically sought ways to be more physically active. I scheduled bike rides and hiking trips with my friends and even had a stint on the gay rugby league. Waiting to be awakened, however, was the love of a sport I’d seen as a child, but never dreamed I’d have the opportunity to play.

In pursuit of a more active lifestyle, I became aware of the new Madison Gay Hockey League. Bars and volleyball courts alike were buzzing with excitement. I went to a game and it was obvious that everyone on the ice was having a blast. I decided that hockey would be my next venture, and went to a MGHA sponsored open skate to see if I could hack it. I quickly realized that I struggled with a basic required skill—skating. This shouldn’t have surprised me, considering I’d only been on ice skates once (at a fourth-grade birthday party), but I was still disappointed. How was I going to play if I couldn’t stay upright? There was only one way to succeed. With almost a year until the next season started, I bought some used equipment and started practicing with my friends.

The anticipation was unbearable, but winter came once again. There was a blur of practices, team rosters, and bruises leading up to the night of the first game. As if on cue my old familiar terror returned, and I was petrified; I threw up and irrationally hoped that I would get injured at the beginning of the game. Anything was better than going out on the ice and embarrassing myself. I didn’t get hurt, but I did fall almost immediately. With my mantra, “everyone falls, everyone falls,” running through my head, I got back up. Without coming in contact with another player or the puck, I fell again. Strangely, I didn’t care. Every time I fell (and in that first game there were plenty), I got back up and just kept going. I started loosening up and realized that I was enjoying myself. I didn’t care if I ever got the puck or if I ever had a super star moment. Just being on the ice, with everyone laughing and smiling, was such a great time.

Halfway through the season, I was surprised to realize that I was no longer nervous before my game. The amount of acceptance and good sportsmanship that exists in the league makes it impossible to carry all those feelings with you. Instead, I wanted more; I was no longer content with just playing. I wanted to score, I wanted to have an awesome pass, and I wanted to grab that puck from someone as though I owned it. Don’t get me wrong. I still missed passes, easy shots, and fell, oftentimes taking other people down with me, but being on the ice was so invigorating I couldn’t help wanting to play harder. I was playing offense this game, not my usual position. We were ahead by a couple of points, so Mark, my coach, decided to switch up the lines to allow us to practice playing other positions. I turned to him and said, “I really think this is my game to get a goal. Can I stay on offense until I do?” He smiled and told everyone, “Ok, new goal for this game, get Benji his first goal!”

I went out excited, knowing I would get it right this time. We took the puck down the ice, and I was on fire. I loved the feeling. I was playing better than ever before. I was passed the puck, and I took the shot. Deflected! That wasn’t how it was supposed to go. I turned around, with my back to the goal, to get the rebound. I got to the puck and backhanded it. I really wasn’t trying to shoot; I just wanted to get the puck closer to the goal. I looked over my shoulder just in time to see the puck slide into the net. I was stunned. I had always thought I would go crazy when I got my first goal, but I couldn’t even raise my hands. I just skated back to the bench. It took a little while to set in, but the crowd cheering my name definitely helped! For this reason I’ve taken to telling everyone that my first goal was an accident. I laugh about it, but I’m still just as proud.

I called my father on the way home from the game to tell him about the goal. He was pretty excited and said, “See, I always knew you were more athletic than you gave yourself credit for.” I fell quiet, mumbled an “I love you,” and hung up. I realized then that I didn’t need what he was trying to give me. I had pushed myself so hard to show him I was worthy of praise, and when the time came, I realized that I stood on my own. I’m an adult, and my confidence comes from within. I appreciated his vote of confidence, but it wasn’t necessary anymore. Like the taunting and harassment I’d received from my peers as a teenager, his behavior didn’t bother me anymore.

This is what gay hockey means to me. It’s a place where anyone, regardless of athletic prowess, sexual preference, gender, or gender identity, can learn to play a sport that is not only fun but also empowering. When I get on the ice I know that I’m doing something that most people don’t have the courage to do, and I know I’m doing it with people who care about me and want to see me succeed. When I fall on the ice, if someone laughs, it’s because I’m already laughing. When I accidentally knock someone down (something I still do frequently), I look into their eyes to help them up, and I see them smiling. When we lose a game, I’m just as excited during the post-game “Good game” conga line than when we win. In the many seasons of gay hockey that I will play in the future, I will wear many jerseys and sing many chants. I will never forget the Skyhawks, my first hockey team. In my team, 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. The most important thing that I have learned from the MGHA is that I can do whatever I set my mind to, and if I don’t know where to start, someone’s always there to help me.

Geoffrey Gyrisco – 2007-2008 Essay

“What Gay Hockey Means to Me” by Geoffrey Gyrisco

Few things have brought as much joy into my life as playing hockey. A year ago, I never imagined I would be out on the ice, playing hockey, on offense. Through most of the season, each time I put on my gear, I would feel a rush of emotion, and say to myself, “I can’t believe I am actually doing this.” I was realizing something that was a part of my deepest longings—so deeply buried that I was not consciously aware of it—and that a year ago seemed so far out of reach, that it truly was beyond my imagination. Like so many who have shared this experience with me, I learned that I am more than I had ever known myself to be.

In the process I began to pick up a piece of my childhood lost long ago. In the process I found an amazing community of incredible people, a community of which I am immensely proud to be a part. In the process I joined other LGBTQIA people exercising leadership in a new arena, hard contact team sports, an arena widely regarded as not for gay people, at a time when we were being publicly marginalized.

The dissonance between my self image and sports began early. As a young child, growing up with minimal contact with persons outside my immediate family, I was unprepared to enter a 700 student elementary school. An inability to effectively track small fast moving objects did not give me good basic playground skills. (When Vivian Lin was patiently coaching me on how to catch the puck with my stick by letting the stick give with puck so it didn’t bounce off, she explained it was like catching a ball. Well Vivian, I understand the principle, but I never learned to catch a ball.) By sixth grade, I was convinced that I was truly un-athletic. After high school gym class, I succeeded in avoiding all team sports and most casual team games.

Thus, when I stepped on the ice with the MGHA for our first game, it was the first team game of any kind I played in 16 years. The last time I had played a team game, it was monastic volleyball, veggie prep vs. kitchen crew, played in our aprons, at a yoga ashram.

So how did I wind up on the ice in full hockey gear, playing with the MGHA? A few years ago I started to notice that I was not as completely un-athletic as I had once believed. I grew comfortable swimming in the Wisconsin River, in an area where the current is swift and deep channels are hidden beneath the silt-laden water. For the past 20 years I have downhill skied one day a year, and I finally noticed that I am a good skier.

I came to Madison to work at the Wisconsin Historical Society, with a vision of history as fascinating, having emotional power, and being fun, but discovered that the historical society wanted someone else. Inside I felt like a piece of driftwood washed up on a beach, even if Madison is a nice beach. I felt the pull of my roots back on the East Coast and my family home near Montreal, Canada. Yet I felt with some certainty that I was not in Madison by chance but to meet someone. By summer of 2007 I was tired of waiting for my purpose in Madison to appear, and was in crisis.

One day, someone mentioned Patrick Farabaugh, the founder of a hockey league and a new magazine, as though surely I would know who Patrick Farabaugh was. I had never heard of Patrick Farabaugh, and, of course, did not know there was a hockey league.

I got the first issue of Our Lives and read several times the articles on the hockey league. I studied the website. To pull me out of crisis, a friend encouraged me to seriously consider joining. A long dormant gene began to express itself. I sent an e-mail planning to arrange a face-to-face meeting, not so much to answer 10 big questions in my mind, as to seek reassurance. The meeting never happened and a deadline drew near.

With much anxiety, I made a bold move; I posted my name and photo on the MGHA website, on the players roster, having met no one in the organization.

Next came the stick taping party, so I bought the cheapest stick I could find, figuring it would not make any difference. It was a large, friendly and overwhelming crowd of people I had never met. During a presentation on hockey sticks, I realized that I knew nothing about hockey. I had not even watched a game in 20 years. Furthermore I had skated only once in a couple of decades, and before that was a mere beginner. I looked at the schedule. Only four practice sessions before the games began. I needed to learn how to skate. Quickly. Gerry Haney kindly helped me select a good pair of skates, and I started practicing at the Shell. There I enjoyed the support of fellow MGHA players and dinners together. And I began to love skating. Then came the practice sessions.

When 10 minutes into the first formal practice we were instructed to skate out to the blue line, stick in hand, and throw ourselves down on the ice, I realized that the adventure had only begun.

I found an extraordinary community, where members are so generous in sharing their knowledge, coaching and supporting each other. Most importantly, for the first time in my life, I found unconditional support and encouragement, no matter how poorly I skated or how badly I played. I did not feel self-conscious and that I was letting somebody down. For the first time in my life, I was in a safe space to learn a sport, any sport; and this sport was a complex sport, a team sport, inevitably a hard contact sport, and a sport few take up in middle life.

One game, for my first unassisted goal, I actually gained full control of the puck, took it down the ice, and fired it into the net. A few minutes later, with only a few seconds left in the game, I again gained control of the puck, skated it down the ice, and team-mate shot it in. It was nice; that was all. It never had the emotional impact for me of a previous game. During that game, when I passed Vivian Lin on the ice, although on the opposing team, she offered me encouragement, knowing I was a raw rooky, and Patrick, the loudest voice on our team called out encouragement to individuals on the opposing team. I still cry when I think about that, something so rare and so precious, I do not have words to express it.

The great emotional power of the MGHA is that we matter to each other. When someone lands hard on the ice, often it is a member of the opposing team who pauses to check if the one down is OK. Between periods, in a game where one goalie was having a bad night, and no doubt needed encouragement, the opposing goalies met in the center of the rink, in front of everyone. It was a sweet moment.

Yes, there is such a thing as gay hockey, and you don’t have to be gay to play. Gay hockey is having persons of a vast range of age, size and level of skill on the ice at the same moment, and somehow figuring out how to play together. Gay hockey is the joy of the game played with the support and encouragement of one another, celebrating each person’s achievements. Gay hockey is emotionally embracing one’s team-mates in locker rooms with both genders and a broad spectrum of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. It is about embracing each individual history that led us to that locker-room. I am glad that people refer to us as the Madison Gay Hockey Association, or the gay hockey league, not as Madison Thunder.

I found a lost piece of myself and I found community. I learned to enjoy being aggressive and competing for the winning score. I also learned that when we play with enthusiasm, with joy, with love, with respect, with integrity, to the best of our ability—regardless of the scoreboard—we win the game. So it can be off the ice as well.

Cory Moll – 2007-2008 Essay

“What Gay Hockey Means to Me” by Cory Moll

My life began on a cold January winter day in 1982, born as the only child of a single mother. It was just outside of Madison that I spent my childhood and adolescence growing up in near-isolation from most of the mainstream world. Aside from attending school in an environment with kids who were deemed to have learning disabilities, I didn’t really have much of a life. My main outlets growing up were when I spent time with my grandparents, and in the late 90s, the Internet.

I don’t have any resentment toward my mom, who always worked to help keep things afloat for the two of us. She preferred me being inside at her watch, and I contented with watching television and playing Nintendo, or playing around in my room on the computer my grandfather gave me as a gift. I could count my friends on my two hands, and I more or less gave in to being a societal outcast before I made it to 7th grade. I had no real exposure to sports except for television, and the occasional summer drive through parks where little league teams were playing baseball. I grew envious of those kids – being active, playing outside with their peers, and with full support of their parents and friends. I wasn’t allowed to join, for reasons that have never been explained to me. Maybe it was lack of money, or fear of me getting hurt, or that I might find myself involved in the “wrong” crowd.

My first experience as a spectator at a sporting event was when my mom got tickets to a Madison Monsters hockey game at the Dane County Coliseum. I was excited to sit so close to the ice, and watch the players skate by so fast and effortlessly, and scoring goals to beat their opponent. I never really gave any thought about playing hockey, but over the following winter I did attempt to ice skate on a pond with skates that were way too big. I tried rollerblading also, and I didn’t have too much success with that either. That was the last time I skated on ice or wheels until the fall of 2006.

I made my way through Junior High and High school, continuing my ability to count friends on just my ten fingers. It was during this time that I acknowledged my sexuality and came out to my family and friends (Thanks, Ellen!) When I turned 18, I signed the pink piece of paper that ended my obligations to public education, and moved to Madison. I was now in a position to get what I wanted to make myself happy.

I was chatting on with local people in the summer of 2004, and they were talking about the summer recreational softball league in Madison. At the time I didn’t have a big interest in softball, but it was a chance to get out and be social and experience softball firsthand. It was at Olbrich Park where I had my first exposure to Madison Gay Softball, a league consisting of a few teams of men and women with varying skill and abilities. But they played as a team. And they were having fun, regardless of the score. And I found myself cheering whenever a player made it around to home base. I was having fun. And I was increasingly feeling an urge to be a part of it.

The next summer, I joined the league. I made many new friends, and was having a lot of fun. One week after a game, a group of us went to a local bar, where I met one of the new bartenders – Patrick Farabaugh. Little did I know, that meeting him would have a profound affect on my life. I later learned of his struggle to make it on his own and find his own happiness – and hockey was a big part of that. I had no idea of what was to come from our chance meeting that summer.

The next fall, Patrick founded the Madison Gay Hockey Association with a group of sixty or so players, most of whom identified as LGBT, and with varying abilities to skate or play hockey. I was asked to help with scorekeeping and music, and I obliged. Over the next 6 months, I watched a group of people do amazing things for themselves, their team, and the community. During the season, a handful of players attended open skate sessions at the Camp Randall Sports Center. I started going as well, and Patrick along with the other players helped coach me to be more confident, both on and off the ice, and gave me the push I needed at times. I remember being able to skate backwards for the first time, and stop without running into the boards… and then summer came around.

The summer of 2007, I joined the MGHA as a player and participated in the scrimmages at Madison Ice Arena. They held skills clinics for those who have never played hockey before, and we quickly learned things like keeping the stick on the ice and keeping your knees bent! Later that summer, a group of us had the opportunity to travel to Minneapolis to participate in a ‘border battle’ with the Twin Cities Gay Hockey Association. Although we weren’t exactly a match for their players, we had a great time and played our hearts out and made new friends.

This past fall is my first official season with the MGHA, on team Maroon… er… Mulan Rouge! I’ve noticed an amazing metamorphosis in everyone from both sides of the glass – watching players who never skated before transform in to hockey machines, gliding down the ice in a breakaway to make their first goal. They challenge themselves and cheer on their teammates, and put a huge emphasis on having fun. And I have Patrick to thank for introducing myself, and our community, to this life-changing sport.

I think that having experienced it first hand, I can say with certainty that hockey is the best sport to play. I wish I had the opportunity as a child to get involved with it, but it was worth the 25 year wait. And I’m looking forward to many more seasons with MGHA here in Madison and on the road. And maybe someday I’ll be someone’s inspiration to try hockey. It truly is, and has been, a life changing experience.

Jen Clausen – 2007-2008 Essay

“What Gay Hockey Means to Me” by Jen Clausen

Just like every other grade school kid, I was acutely aware of every minuscule difference separating me from my classmates. I was taller than everyone else. My family didn’t own a television. My mom made my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on überhealthy whole wheat bread instead of squishy Wonderbread. Clearly I was a freak.

In the locker room in seventh grade gym class a popular girl with no freakish tendencies asked me if I was a dyke. I said I didn’t know. I had never heard that word before. I quickly learned what dyke meant, what gay meant. It meant bad, stupid, disgusting. The popular girl shouted for the gym teacher and announced that she didn’t feel comfortable sharing a locker room with me.

The more I heard about dykes and fags and homos, the more desperate I felt.”Please, please, please don’t let me be gay,” I begged in my head. “I’m already different enough. I’m already tall and weird.” Tall girl. Weird girl. Gay girl?

Somehow I got trapped in this stage of desperate denial. Even when I knew for sure, in my heart of hearts, that I liked girls, I told myself it was just a phase. It would go away. If I acted like a “normal girl” on the outside, I would feel like a “normal girl” on the inside.

So I kept my guard up and made many misguided attempts at being straight. I zombied my way through middle school and high school and into college. I still wouldn’t allow myself to show on the outside what I felt on the inside.

After college I moved back home. I floundered about socially for a year, and then finally decided to reach out. I happened to mention to my friend and painting buddy, Chris Gargan, that I might possibly maybe perhaps be interested in playing a team sport. He suggested I come play gay hockey because “it’s beginner friendly and you get to wear lots of padding.” That has certainly been my experience. It is nice to be part of a group where I can have fun, learn a new skill, and feel free to be myself. I am just now starting to feel comfortable with myself after feeling like a awkward misfit for so long. Self acceptance has been very liberating.

And (to my relief) my utter lack of hockey experience has not been a deficit. In September I could barely skate or hold a stick, much less do these two things at once. My legs flailed comically as I thrashed about with my hockey stick. My backside got more ice time than my skates. I was offsides at least once per period. And I was head-over-heels in love with hockey.

I still flounder diligently on the ice. I practice skating at the Shell. I go to UW hockey games. And I am meeting so many wonderful people with all sorts of backgrounds who, like me, have become hockey addicts. As I am learning about hockey, I am learning about myself. I am learning to just get out on the ice and play even if it’s scary. I am learning to just be myself even it’s scary. The MGHA is a fun, friendly, supportive organization. I wish I had found a group like this years ago. But it’s good to be here now.

Jenn Rotman – 2008 2007-Essay

“What Gay Hockey Means to Me” by Jenn Rotman

Growing up in an ultraconservative area of Michigan taught me to hide who I was; never admit, not even to the closest of friends or yourself, who you truly are. So, for 21 years, I learned to hate being gay, because where I was from, if you were gay, you should be non existent.

I spent so many years in life doing what I was supposed to do, playing sports, dating, going to church and was even going to marry the guy I was supposed to.

In 2000, I was faced with a choice to accept myself and embrace the person I had been trying to deny for so long and lose those I love, or remain locked away. I would love to say I had open and accepting parents, and that someday they came around. I really wish it was not a story filled with so much grief and heartache, like so many others. I heard things like “it would be better if you were dead” and “if we would have known we would not have picked you” (I was adopted at a young age). I have forgiven my parents for their words, ones I hoped were spoken out of fear and shock, but I cannot forget them. That day was the last day I really had a family. Sure we still talk, but it is more like strangers discussing the weather. But, the weight that was lifted from my shoulders that day tells me that ultimately it was all meant to be this way.

It did not come as a shock to me that I was shunned by my family, which drove me here to Madison with only a couple of acquaintances, no job, and hopelessly depressed. I still do not know how I survived those first few months in Wisconsin, sleeping on floors, couches, and in my car at various parking lots around town. Some days it almost seemed that somehow I was a mistake, that there was something wrong with me, and perhaps it would be better if I was dead. But something in me would not give up, I did survive. Slowly, I began to emerge from my own shell to discover my life had so much potential, I could do something worthwhile, and there were more people like me. And, although I no longer have much of a relationship with my family members, I have made a new family, one of choice, with great people that truly care about and support me.

In the early days community was more about going out to the club but that was not a place I could find substantial relationships. Until, while on the Act 5 ride, I heard about MGHA. I was intrigued by the idea of playing hockey, and I was enticed by the passion and energy I could feel from these women, all for this hockey team! Before I could comprehend how to play, or what I would need, I was signed up and set up with my mentor.

I remember being quite nervous when we went to pick out gear, I had no idea so many pieces of equipment were under those jerseys! I think I had asked at one point if someone would make a step by step list so I knew what was supposed to go on in what order. Being new to the sport and a rookie to the team, I was unsure how people would react to my incessant questions. My teammates and other hockey players were so helpful, always willing to show you something new at open skate or talk you through the rules. It was not about being the best on the ice, but having a good time and a supportive environment.

That first game was probably the most terrified I have been in a long time. Having been athletic most of my life, I was not scared about a new athletic sport; I just knew something would change when I went on the ice that night. My knees were literally shaking as I waited to take the ice, but when it was time to leave, I could not wait for more! That is how my weeks go now… how many days until hockey, and how soon can we get back out there. I look forward to Sunday nights more than I thought I could. It’s about walking in and looking into the eyes of people that care about you. Getting hugs, sharing some hot cocoa, enjoying a few laughs and being who you truly are.

Gay hockey to me means family, a family of choice. One that laughs together, encourages one another, and supports each member. Gay hockey is a community of love and support that I can’t imagine my life without.

Matt Jelinek – 2007-2008 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.

Mike Meholic – 2007-2008 Essay

“What Gay Hockey Means to Me” by Mike Meholic

As I sit here staring at a blank page trying to figure out how to distill down on paper what being part of the Madison Gay Hockey Association (MGHA) has meant for me, I am overwhelmed about how and where to begin. Skating in the league for the past six months has affected almost every part of my life in a very positive way. I realize now that I gained much, much more out of being part of the league than just some great hockey games, good times and bruises.

From the moment I took to the ice for our first practice in September, something unexpected started to happen to me. My past began colliding with my present. At times the world would blink and all of the sudden I was a 12 year old defensive player scrapping in the corners for the puck and destroying the other team’s break away scoring dreams. At times I was randomly catapulted back to when one of my only true escapes from the weirdness of growing up gay in a small Michigan town was being on the ice playing hockey. But also in the mix with all the fond memories were a lot of other memories. Very different memories.

These other memories were tough to think about as they were the polar opposite of the good ones. Memories like never really getting along or relating to boys my own age when I was growing up. Like always being tense and nervous in the locker room. Like taking my equipment off as fast as I could so I could get the hell out of the locker room. Like feeling alone and cut off because of this “thing” about me I sensed but really didn’t understand. Like getting the crap kicked out of me by a team mate in the locker room while the rest of the team taunted and made fun of me. Like sobbing in the car afterwards while telling my older sister who picked me up that day what happened. Like having to explain to my parents what happened and why when I wasn’t even sure I knew. Like having to walk back into that same locker room the next weekend and face those guys again.

These hard stinging memories were coupled with still other poignant recollections of that same time period. Like when that same older sister who picked me up that day (she was only 16 and not outspoken at all) went into the ice arena and chewed my coaches out for not being around when everything went down. Like the coaches talking tough to the team that they should be ashamed of knocking down a team mate rather than building him up for the good of the team. Like my Parents helping me to muster the courage to stand tall and walk back into that locker room the next weekend. Like all my brothers and sisters coming to every one of my games for the rest of that season. All these vivid memories came back from the corners of my past and stirred the person I am today to my core. But at the same time, I was able to stay acutely aware of the fact I’m not a 12 year old kid playing hockey anymore. With 25 years of time stretching between me and those memories, I can comfortably say that that was hockey then.

So what about hockey now? From the start I felt like the MGHA had something very special going on. What I’ve had over the course of the last six months was an amazing opportunity to make fresh new hockey memories. And oh, what fun and hilarious new memories I have! Like seeing pink hockey gloves and skate laces on the ice. Like the guy who said “sorry” after we collided by accident during our first game (I found that really confusing at first). Like Tammy’s Suzy baking treats for us every game. Like cheering in the stands for the all the other teams and players. Like being burned (repeatedly) on the ice by Pork Chop. Like taking my time getting out of my gear in the locker room after our games. Like some of our interesting locker room discussion topics—how do you get a black eye from ice fishing anyway? Like Steven’s 3 game scoring streak. Like that crazy auctioneer at the Jock Auction (next year we just have to make sure he gets his meds before hand). Like Jean handing out her farm fresh organic chicken eggs in the locker room. Like the best New Year’s Eve I’ve had in Madison. Like finishing dead last in the regular season with my team who really didn’t care because we had so much fun together on the ice anyway. Like Bill’s patience as he fed me pass after pass in front of the net when my shots usually missed (when I hit the net that is). Like scoring my first goal since I was 13. . Like winning our first play off game! Like feeling safe. Like feeling I belong. Like being part of a team.

What the MGHA has meant to me is hard to describe or quantify. Suffice it to say to me it is, and remains, the gift that keeps on giving. I feel like after 5 years in Madison I have finally found the elusive gay community that I knew had to exist in this town. And what an amazing, diverse, passionate, fun and inclusive community it is. Before I joined the league last fall I had one foot out of Madison and was trying to move to Chicago. But now after a season of gay hockey under my belt, I know I’ll be in Madison for a long time to come. And I plan on getting more active than ever in our league community, the Madison gay community and the entire Madison community. Can gay hockey change your life? It did for me.

Like going to the Badger State Games and having our asses handed to us but still having fun anyway.

All the ladies in the league—they are the heart and soul of the league.

Like Kevin’s cannon wrist shots from the blue line.

Like such diverse, witty, fun passionate and crazy team mates.

Like feeling like I belong. Like feeling safe.