Category: 13-14 Essays

Andrew Brausen – 2013-2014 Essay

Members of the MGHA are more than just a bunch of people getting together to play hockey. They are a family. I was afraid to join at first, but through reassurance from Patrick and a few friends, I went for it. What I found was much more than I had anticipated. I found acceptance, inclusion, and true loving friendships.

I have always had a hard time fitting in and making friends. But from day one of the clinics, I have never found it easier. People come up to me who already know me even though I don’t know them. I always say hi back and then wonder how they know who I am. I am a trans-man, which can make it difficult for people to accept you, whether you outed yourself or others did so for you. This league has helped me have confidence in knowing I am a real man daily.

I have realized in this league that when you give your all, it’s noticed. It also means people love to include you. I’ve never had a more active social life, but not only that, I know that no matter what, these people will ALWAYS have my back. We all come from different walks of life, yet we still come together every week, and occasionally more often. The only place where I really know who I am is out on the ice with these awesome, crazy, fun-loving people.

True friendship is a very hard thing to find these days. With the majority of people so worried about themselves, the little things are often overlooked. But I have had my new friends drop off food when I’m sick and check on me if they haven’t heard from me, and I have been invited to things like Badger hockey games, just because they know I’d love going.

I hope that anyone who has ever thought about joining and was too afraid to do so will read this and realize there’s no need to be afraid. This league will love you no matter who you are.

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.

Dave Esparza – 2013-2014 Essay

I will never forget the Sunday of our first game. I had to work that afternoon, and I spent most of the day with a sick stomach. I had an extreme feeling of fear, and it had gotten the best of me.I didn’t want it to be the end of my shift; that would mean I would have to go play hockey, and frankly, I didn’t know if I could do it.

Well, it happened; my shift was over, and I had my cab on its way to take me to the Hartmeyer Ice Arena—now I was committed. During the ride over, I remember asking the driver to turn around at one point and drop me off at home. I didn’t want to do this whole hockey thing; I couldn’t! I was so terrible and could barely skate, much less play hockey. I didn’t want my new teammates to hate me because I sucked at sports. I was so terrified of positioning and that mixed with being new on skates and the rules of hockey made me want to puke with fear!

Well, it was time. I found the locker room and proceeded with caution, hoping to find a hidden back door to run out of! When I entered, I had forgotten what order to put things on. I remember Mimi was one of the first ones to help me with the order of things. She took one look at me and knew I was a mess! I sat next to Brandon Rounds—I kind of knew who he was, but he was still a stranger to me. He was so friendly and willing to help. I owe it to him for his kind words that first day. I think it was the second game when I had my hockey socks on and he looked at me and was like, “Umm, you forgot your shin guards.”

Anyway, we took the ice, and honestly, I was still hoping for a way out! I couldn’t find a way to escape, so I had to do it. My new teammates were so supportive of me and the other new players on the team. They were so motivational, and still are! I did it, I played; I played my first official game of hockey, in fact my first team sport ever, besides gym class.

Now, don’t get me wrong, just because I survived that first game doesn’t mean the fear went away. I went through the same sick feeling for about the first three games or so, and was still looking for ways to escape. Fast forward to February 9, 2014…I played two games that night—I was a sub in the game before ours. Now, granted, I still suck, but I have improved a ton since that first game. Now I am on the pond playing pick-up games or practicing as much as I can. I even joined and played in a pond tournament this winter and signed up for the Gay Games in Ohio.

It’s crazy; I’m now a full-fledged, shitty hockey player. Haha! Instead of being sick at work on Sundays, I’m bouncing around the room with excitement, watching the clock, counting down the hours until hockey! I get such a high when I’m putting on that smelly gear in the locker room with the teammates that have now become friends. I only get sick when hockey is cancelled for the holidays and that for football thing.

I moved to this city not knowing many people, much less other gay people. I came from a small town, population: one gay guy! I joined this league for a few different reasons. The first was because I wanted to be part of a gay community. I love my straight friends and all, but it’s nice to be around other LGBT people. I also wanted to prove to myself that I could do this: I could be the fat gay kid and still learn to play a sport. The people I have met on my own team as well as this league have been so amazing, and a lot of them have become friends and even family. The ongoing support and willingness to help is such a wonderful thing. People who play on other leagues that I know are always shocked that if somebody knocks you down on the ice, they come back and make sure you’re okay. That kind of sportsmanship is why I love this league so much. This helps take away the fear of playing. I’m thankful every day that Patrick and David didn’t give up on me and were like, “What’s the hold up, you’re joining!” I owe a lot to those guys, along with a few other players from past seasons. I’m so glad that I joined, and stayed, because now I have an extension of my family. I have so many kick-ass new friends and a team that I can say I’m part of. I think that some of my non-hockey-playing friends are already annoyed with me because now I’m the person who talks about hockey 24/7! If we are out at a bar and it’s on TV, I’m watching it. I called Charter and ordered the Center Ice package, so that I can watch games and learn from the pros. I even asked for hockey stuff for Christmas.

Thank you so much, MGHA, for what you have done for me and others who thought that we’d never be able to do this. Thank you for picking me up when I’ve been down on the ice, frustrated; thank you for not letting me quit; thank you for telling me that I can do it; thank you for cheering me on and making me feel part of this amazing thing called the Madison Gay Hockey Association. Also, thank you to Sexy Train for your ongoing support, and thank you for passing on the MVP sash and rainbow hat to me this season. That made me feel so great, I almost wanted to cry tears of joy. You are an amazing team and group of friends for life!

Jay Filali – 2013-2014 Essay

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (well, by long I mean five years, and I guess you could consider Mequon “far, far away”) I was a freshman in high school playing on an all-boys lacrosse team. At the time, I was hoping to join an athletic community where I would be able to develop as a person and be able to figure out who I was…sadly, I wasn’t able to find that on my high school lacrosse team.

The boys I sweated, suffered, and played alongside hated me. I was encroaching on their space, and since I’m biologically female, they wanted nothing to do with me on the field. I gave lacrosse my all only to be met with continual abuse. This kept on for a solid two years, and by the time I was forced to quit the team, I had committed social suicide and was isolated from the community I so desperately wanted to join. Additionally, I had no idea who I was because of it.

A couple years later, I graduated and headed to UW-Madison to pursue a degree in [fill in the blank here]. I moved into a small apartment, and for first time ever, I was alone.

Now anyone who’s ever spent about five minutes with me is acutely aware that I talk a lot and I need human contact. Between living alone in a new city and going to a school as big as Madison, it took a while for me to find friends, and for those first couple months I was stuck in my own head.

That doesn’t seem like the worst thing, eh? For the most part, my thought process tends to rotate among school, hockey, and Canada, so spending a lot of time in my own head doesn’t seem like too much of a problem, right? Wrong.

For the first time, I started to synthesize and actually realize everything I went through in high school and how it was affecting me now.

Even though the team was made up of butt-nuggets, I can say I learned a few things from them. How to be tough.How to stand up for what you want.How to believe in yourself when no one else has your back. Not bad, right? But even though my time on the boys’ lacrosse team was able to teach me that, it was never able to provide me with a sense of community or a safe environment in which to figure out my identity.

When it came to my identity, circa the beginning of last year, I was lost and confused. As far as gender goes, my gender was flipping between male and female so much I was getting gender whiplash. On the sexuality front I was…as I so eloquently explained it to a good friend, “hella confused on a good day.” Growing up in a very conservative and bigoted community my entire life added to the general confusion and stress.

Now, cue the uplifting music. The turning point in the film, the chance encounter, the miraculous discovery.For me, it came in the form of meeting someone at the Shell.

It was like any other day, really, dragging a couple of friends to the UW-Madison Shell so I could get my daily ice-skating fix. At this point, hockey was something I was hoping I’d get to play in the next three to five years, if I practiced skating enough. Never in a million years did I imagine I’d be gearing up for my first game a little less than six months later.

I think I was in the painful process of figuring out backward crossovers for the first time when a lady came up to me. Her name was Dana, and she asked me if I played (I said no), if I wanted to play (I may have screamed yes), and that if I was interested (another yes), there was a gay hockey league in Madison that was looking for players for the next season.

After I expressed my interest, we parted ways, exchanging contact information. I was completely over the moon, and for the next six months I would rant and rave to anyone who would listen about this hockey league I’d be joining next season.

Now, right before the season started I had a brutal thought. Hockey and lacrosse had always been very linked in my head. The style of game play, culture, and mentality were incredibly similar. What if this league was just going to be round two of what happened a couple years back?

Turns out, I was worried for no reason. I managed to stumble upon a league that values the comfort of the individual. One that values the creation of a supportive community that allows people a safe place to figure out their own identities.

For the first time ever, I wasn’t nervous about being judged for my level of play while in a sport. After meeting with my mentor, Suzanne, I knew this league was going to be a great experience. I mean, let’s be honest, when you can make a “breaking the ice” joke to another hockey player and have them laugh along with you, you know that friendship is destined for great things!

Suzanne and all the other wonderful people I’ve met in the MGHA have taught me that this is a supporting and caring community. Identity-wise, I still haven’t totally figured myself out, but for once I’m not worried about it. I know the people I’ve met through the MGHA will have my back no matter what. All the fantastic friends I’ve made in my first year here have allowed me to be myself, all my weird almost-Canadian quirks included, and have made my first year playing hockey truly amazing.

Kit Hamada – 2013-2014 Essay

I’ve never been any good at sports. Before joining the MGHA, the last time I tried to play a team sport was in high school gym class, where it seemed like everyone else instinctively knew how to play the game and I was left in the dark. If someone happened to pass to me, my options were to flail wildly or duck and hope the ball wouldn’t hit me. My teammates generally avoided passing to me after the first few times. I tried my best to look like I was trying hard, but I had already learned the one thing that gym class had to teach me: I just wasn’t cut out for sports.

Fast forward ten years. In the summer of 2012, I moved from New Mexico to Madison to start a new job. Madison was an entirely new city for me, and I hardly knew anyone, so I was determined to get involved with something where I could make new friends.

Around the same time, my friend Lexi had dragged me into watching hockey with her. I was living in Canada in 2010, so of course I had to watch Olympics hockey, which was probably my first inkling of interest in the sport. But I didn’t have the time or attention span to keep up with NHL hockey…or so I thought, until I found myself actively seeking out games and watching with bated breath, even though I didn’t understand half of what was going on. I thought maybe if I watched for long enough, a light bulb would go on in my head and all of the whistles and plays would suddenly make sense to me. When that didn’t happen, I started entertaining the thought of learning how to play hockey, because then at least I’d get an explanation of the rules. If that were my goal, I decided, then it’d be okay if I were terrible at it.

I wasn’t thinking about hockey when I decided to move to Madison, but I quickly realized that I couldn’t be living in a better place for it. On a whim, I googled “Madison hockey” and the website for the Madison Gay Hockey Association came up as one of the top results. It sounded perfect—too good to be true.

The problem was, I was nervous enough about the idea of hockey and trying something new. And the thought of joining the Gay Hockey Association felt terrifying for entirely different reasons.

I’ve never been a part of a gay community before. I’ve never really felt like I fit into the communities I have been a part of, but rather like someone lurking around the outskirts, unsure of my welcome. That’s how I was used to living my life. Growing up, the few gay role models I had were teachers involved in the GSA, whom I observed from afar. I was too intimidated to talk to people I knew were gay and too scared to talk about being gay. Gay people were brash and unafraid. They wore rainbows on their backpacks and wrists and didn’t care what other people thought. They talked about girls they thought were cute—classmates, actors, coffee shop baristas—in places where anyone could overhear. Whereas by the time I graduated college, I could count the number of people I’d come out to on one hand.

Heart hammering, I filled out the new player form and submitted it anyway. Which is how I found myself a month later, armed with a bag full of hockey gear and a stick I had no idea how to use, having one of the weirdest thoughts possible asI walked into the locker room: What if I’m not gay enough? All of the returning players looked so cool, and clearly knew each other, and I couldn’t imagine myself fitting in. And even the other newbies seemed at ease with both each other and themselves.

I don’t remember much from that first practice anymore, but a few moments still stand out vividly. Watching Ames hockey stop inches away from the boards like it was easy, and despairing over ever being able to do that. Me falling over backwards every time we would stop and gather to listen to the coaches, because I was used to figure skates and kept forgetting that in hockey skates you couldn’t lean back as far. A kid with the biggest smile on his face, who skated fast even though he looked like he barely knew where his feet were and crashed into the boards at both ends. I got up the courage to smile back at him, and he introduced himself as Chue.

I was about as awful at hockey as I expected. I could skate around okay, but I couldn’t stop at all. I had no idea what to do with my stick. And I couldn’t carry the puck for even a second unless I slowed down to a snail’s pace. None of that mattered though, because no one was yelling at me for not doing things right. The complete opposite, actually—all I ever heard was constant encouragement.

Our second practice was a week later, on my 24th birthday. Even though no one knew it was my birthday, I remember thinking that learning how to play hockey was the best possible gift.

From then on, I was hooked. It didn’t seem to matter that I was awkward and didn’t know what to say to anyone off the ice, because we were all awkward on the ice, and no one cared. We came from vastly different backgrounds and experiences, and we came to the MGHA for a variety of reasons, but now that we were here, we were in this together. As we learned how to play hockey the MGHA way, I made more friends than I ever expected. Just being surrounded by people who accepted me for who I am made some vital part of me that I didn’t even realise was constantly on guard relax.

I look up to every single person in this league. For being brave enough to play hockey, for being brave enough to try, for not giving up, for having fun, for falling down and laughing about it. For loving hockey enough to dedicate countless hours to it.For leading by example, in both hockey and life. For showing up to play, week in and week out, as much as you can. For being amazing.For being yourselves.

This is what gay hockey means to me.

It means that even when I could barely keep track of the puck, much less the rest of the game, I never once felt like my teammates resented me or wished they could have a better player in my place. They had more confidence in me than I had in myself. It took a while for it to truly sink in that no one was going to be mad at me whenever I went offside or turned over the puck or failed to catch an easy pass. But once it did, I stopped worrying about making mistakes and started trying to prove myself wrong about not being good at sports.

It means that the amazing level of support I felt from my team exists throughout the entire league. We help each other up when we fall down and we celebrate each other’s achievements like they’re our own. We show our support and caring for each other in so many ways, both on the ice and off, that listing all of the moments I can think of would be overwhelming. I know many people have their own stories to tell—personally, the one that blew me away the most was when a group of us played in a pond hockey tournament this year. Despite the well-below-freezing temperatures, our friends showed up at 8 a.m. to cheer us on (with a cowbell!).

It means that I am not only a part of a community—a hockey community and a gay community – but I’ve found myself right in the middle of it. Even a year ago, I wouldn’t have believed it if you told me I would be one of the people in charge of planning championship night. I’m not that good at putting myself out there, and I never expected that I could be a part of something so big and feel like I truly belong, but you guys drew me in and showed me what it feels like to be surrounded by wholehearted acceptance. Because of this league, I am proud to be a gay hockey player.

Gay hockey means challenging yourself to do things you’ve never done before. It’s about overcoming things that you think are impossible. It’s about having the courage to even try.

Before I joined the MGHA, I could skate well enough to get around the rink without falling, but not much more. I couldn’t skate particularly fast, but it didn’t matter—back then, skating with my arms spread wide felt like flying.

Two years and 287 hours of ice time later, I can feel my skate blades dig into the ice with each stride. I don’t feel like I’m about to launch myself into flight. Instead, I feel like I’m landing. Like I’ve finally found a place for myself. Like I have something in my life that’s worth holding on to. Like I’m coming home.

Chris H – 2013-2014 Essay

“Eat the frog.” Throughout the first half of our season, this phrase was on mental repeat and volume eleven. Over and over again, as I entered the arena and stepped onto the ice, this mantra helped me keep going, kept me pushing forward, kept me coming back. You see, I’m what I call a chronic worrier. The medical establishment has some different words for this, but they all end in “disorder,” and I’d like to think that I’m anything but dis-ordered—at least, not in that sense. I mean, I’d be slightly concerned if somebody found his or her life in all ways and at all times to be ordered. It’s right there in the physics of life, right—that whole entropy thing? But when doctors start talking about disorders, they mean something different, something bad, something stigmatized and dis-eased. I’m just a worrier.

And besides, we all know what worry is; we’ve all experienced it and, fortunately, most people can ignore it. For me, however, my worries tend to be a bit much. I get obsessive over little things, I sometimes avoid people and things I shouldn’t, and when that doesn’t work, my guard goes up, often leaving me unable to do seemingly routine and everyday things. As it turns out, though, the fix is, well, to just do it, to do what freaks you out—to eat the frog. “Eating the frog,” however, didn’t look quite right on the new-player interest form. So, instead, I wrote about wanting a break from my dissertation, wanting to engage with the broader Madison LGBT community, and wanting to get a little exercise. And all of these reasons were true, of course, but the main purpose for joining the Madison Gay Hockey Association was to do something that, well, freaked me the hell out.

Oddly, perhaps, I don’t think my sexuality has much to do with all this worry, at least not anymore. I’m lucky and privileged enough—not to mention old enough (a sort of privilege in its own right)—that being completely out as a gay man feels like a done deal. On the other hand, I’ve read enough Freud in my seemingly endless years as a student (as I explain it to my four-year-old niece, I’m in the 27th grade) that I can easily tread into the dangerous world of self-analysis. Surely—to name but one frog that needed to be chewed on this year—my obsessive and irrational fear of exercising and sweating in front of other people was at least partially shaped by the mental and physical violence I, like so many other kids, queer or otherwise, experienced in the merciless gladiatorial arena that is junior high gym class. (Seriously, though, junior high is some sadistic shit.) But thanks to the MGHA, if the hockey gear on the back porch grossing out the neighbors is any indication, that’s one devoured frog.

In an ironic twist, however, it was ultimately the junior high, male-bodied social imperative to “butch it up, or else,” that got me interested in hockey in a way I never was before. Growing up in Minnesota, the sport was, of course, ever-present. I went to many of my cousins’ high school games, but can’t remember actually ever seeing a play. I may have been too short, but really, I think I was just disinterested. And in the age of rabbit-eared televisions I can vaguely recall seeing, through the static, Northstars’ games on TV. But even then, the 1991 Stanley Cup loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins was tragic for me not because the team lost, but because my pet newt died minutes before we left to watch the game at my grandparents’ house. His name was Newton; may he rest (which was pretty much all he did) in peace.

But then came junior high and the start of my ongoing love affair with Saint Cloud State University hockey, my hometown team. It’s fair to say I became a little obsessed, in a total fan-girl way. I had the jerseys and the programs; I saved my ticket stubs; I begged my parents to take us on road trips; I even amassed an impressive collection of VHS recordings of games aired on television. I was into it. It was fun, but it was also a way for me to “prove” my masculinity and shun my queerness. I became a student of the game—learning the rules and the strategy and all the minor details needed to talk to the talk. But I never walked the walk. By junior high I was too old to start when my peers had begun skating at three or four. And I didn’t really want to. I’ve never much liked playing sports with the guys. Too much worry. And, as you all already know, I completely lack any natural athletic ability. In two years of little league, for example, as a denizen of right field, I managed to catch the ball just twice—on two consecutive pop flies…in practice.

Still, somewhere along the line I had fallen in love with hockey, and when I moved to Madison four years ago for graduate school, that love meant that I actually knew about the MGHA soon after my arrival. My chronic worrying, however, kept me from joining. Would I be able to skate well enough? Would people accept my comical lack of athletic skill? Would it be like junior high gym class all over again? Would I just fold under the pressure? But sometime last summer I finally decided to join—to finally feast on the frog. And after two, or three, or eight glasses of wine, I hit the submit button on the interest form.

As it turns out, of course, I had nothing to worry about. I still did worry—a lot, in fact—but the emphasis of the league on community and player development, and the friendliness and camaraderie that fosters, meant that those worries subsided relatively quickly. Now my biggest worry is when and where to find more ice time.

So, what is gay hockey to me? For starters, it’s the antithesis of junior high gym class. It’s an alleviation of worry. It’s finally being able to play the game I oddly fell in love with. It’s a welcome break from school and my dissertation, and a bit of exercise—even if those calories are quickly replaced after the game. But most importantly, gay hockey is community and camaraderie and new friends. And in the end, it’s me, eating one giant frog*—and it’s delicious.

*No actual frogs were harmed during the duration of the season. I prefer chicken strips.

Tony Jovenitti – 2013-2014 Essay

Seven years ago, on a blistery winter day in Pittsburgh, I hopped on a bus with my college roommate and a neighbor to go stand in line outside of an arena shaped like an igloo.

We arrived two hours early, yet we were still near the back of the line. Luckily, when we made it to the box office, there were still tickets remaining. We flashed our student IDs and were given three standing-room only seats for $20 each. The ticket stub said, “Must be 5’5” or taller to see over wall.”

I’m 5’6” (on a good day). I had to peek through the top of the wall and a railing to get a glimpse of the ice. I could barely see the far goal, but for the first time, I got to see an ice hockey game in person. The Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Dallas Stars in a rather dull game, but something ignited a spark inside me—and I fell in love.

I threw everything I had into the sport of hockey. I followed the Penguins like only a die-hard could—I watched every game, stood in the cold all day for tickets, and camped out in front of the arena to watch playoff games on a big screen. I even got up at 4 a.m. to get a good spot to watch the Stanley Cup parade in 2009.

In 2010, I surrounded myself even more with sports, as I became a sportswriter for the college newspaper. I also managed to snag an internship with the Penguins during my senior year. In just four short years, I did everything you possibly could as a hockey fan, save for one thing—actually play the game.

Watching hockey made me happy. Writing about hockey gave me validation. Arguing with Philadelphia fans gave me purpose. And all of it masked the biggest issue in my life—one I was too afraid to face.

Basically, my hockey and sports obsession kept me busy enough so I didn’t have to think about the future. But once college ended and I was lucky enough to find a good job, I moved to Madison and was forced to.

I still watched as much hockey as possible, but I was no longer immersed in it as much as I was the year before. The issue that I kept sweeping under the rug kept creeping back out.

You see, living life in the closet is like holding your breath—you’re eventually going to have to exhale. I finally allowed myself to realize what I forced myself to not believe for years. I am gay. But that realization led me down a dark path.

For my first two years in Madison, all I did was sit at home, watch hockey, eat junk food, and occasionally go out with the few friends I had. Needless to say, it wasn’t a very healthy lifestyle—physically or mentally. I gained about 40 pounds and I wasn’t a very happy person. I didn’t see an end in sight.

Then, it all changed so suddenly and magically that I still sometimes wake up and think it’s a dream.

On a mundane Monday in late April, I was procrastinating at work and perusing my Twitter feed. A tweet appeared that linked to a Sports Illustrated article, written by a basketball player I never heard of. His name was Jason Collins, and he wrote a beautiful story announcing that he’s gay. I was struck by his honesty, and I admired the fact that he wanted the world to hear it from him first.

Minutes after reading his story, I opened up a Microsoft Word document and wrote the most important story of my life. Collins made me realize that I wanted to tell my story in my own words and not have the grapevine of a small town spread my truth. I am gay, and it’s about time I start being proud of that.

Hockey helped me through a difficult period in my life, but it also played a part in keeping me in the closet. I guess I wanted to divert any gay suspicions away by showing how much of a “masculine” sports fan I am. “He can’t be gay, he likes hockey” was my foolish reasoning. ButI never even considered playing.

And when I came out, I still didn’t think I could play hockey. I still feared the locker room. And I knew I wouldn’t be very good, since I’ve never played before.

Soon after I came out, though, several people emailed me and told me about the Madison Gay Hockey Association. After hearing how the league encourages new players, I decided to reach out and learn more. Two weeks later, I was on the ice for my first scrimmage. Finally.

But I had only been out of the closet for a few weeks. I still wasn’t quite sure what it meant to be openly gay. I think part of me joined the MGHA for the wrong reason—I wanted to prove to the world that a gay man can be masculine just like straight men.

Now that the world knew I was gay, I wanted to try hard to prove that I wasn’t any different, that I’m just like everyone else.

Thankfully, the MGHA taught me a valuable lesson. I am different. It’s time to stop trying to prove myself to people, and it’s time to stop trying to prove stereotypes wrong.

That’s not what gay hockey is about. Gay hockey isn’t about proving that we can do the same things that straight people can do. We all already know that. Gay hockey is about sharing my love of the game with other people who were discouraged from lacing up skates their whole lives. Gay hockey is about simply having fun.

Now, I don’t play hockey to prove that I’m just like everyone else. I play gay hockey to prove that I’m different. We are different. The MGHA is different. We play hockey because it’s fun. We play hockey to make friends and learn from each other.

Gay hockey has helped me find my place in Madison—a place I now consider home.

I lived in a small town in Pennsylvania for 18 years. I lived in Pittsburgh for four years. I’ve only lived in Madison for three years.

But Madison is home, and my MGHA family is a big reason why.

Christina Libs – 2013-2014 Essay

Gay hockey came into my life at a very opportune time. Initially, the Madison Gay Hockey Association was a chance to enhance my individual growth through teamwork and to learn more about the community that supported me (well before I even knew I was a part of it). I had just come out to my parents, which led to openly flirting with girls for the first time in my life. This paired nicely with the newness of a game that I had never formally played. I knew what hockey was, but I didn’t know what gay hockey was. Spoiler alert: I’m still not a professional at either.

Sports have almost always played a direct role in my life. Early on, I learned how to excel individually in softball and bowling. Neither is as physically demanding or as team-focused as hockey; however, both helped me define myself as an athlete. Years of my life were devoted to these sports, and over time I gained confidence, felt useful, practiced commitment, experienced failure, and learned how to quit. I was ready physically and emotionally to join gay hockey.

From the beginning of the season, I never needed to define myself as anything more than a player. During the first clinic, like the first 21 years of my life, external motivations dominated my mind. Stretching, passing, skating, and shooting were the concrete skills I needed to work on, and doing so made me feel useful. Like many activities, it’s an escape. An hour on the ice helps push aside work and life drama, directing focus to the beautifully simple goal of getting the puck in the net. I could go on forever about how athletes perceive and obsess over their passion for sports, but for once in my life, let me get to the point.

Gay hockey authenticates how sports represent life. Similar to the way art reflects life and life reflects art, I see sports reflecting and enhancing the connections we have to one another. Not all sports and not all teams are created equal, but in the MGHA we play gay hockey, which means we play for one another. I play hockey for my teammates, my community, and myself. It’s a display of how individuality and cohesion off of the ice come together on the ice. Gay hockey made me understand the importance of sports beyond athleticism and individual prowess.

Most importantly, gay hockey involves me directly in the LGBTQ community. I have less than a year’s experience openly talking about my sexual identity, but I am more educated and supported than I’d ever hoped to be. The ever-present worries, demons, and stories are real; it will take many brave words and acts to share our love outside of the LGBTQ world. Large and small experiences of being brave are the cornerstone of being a gay hockey player. Simply being a part of the MGHA gives us the opportunity to share every part of ourselves with those listening.

Diversity is normal, within people, thoughts, and actions. Coming together to make something tangible for ourselves fulfills my life, and I’ll never take for granted the love that exists within everyone in gay hockey.

J’iordan Oldham – 2013-2014 Essay

Jiordan Oldham

This is my first year playing hockey, and it is a dream come true. Joining the MGHA impacted me in many great ways, but the real extent of it did not dawn on me until recently.

I had always wanted to play hockey. I started watching the CU Buffaloes play while attending University of Colorado – Boulder in the late ’80s. I liked the game a lot. So much so that I started to go to the student rec center and watch the recreational leagues play as well. I loved the fast pace of the game, the strategy, the intensity, and skating and stick skill needed. I admired those who played and the passion they put into the game. I loved that I never once saw a hockey player who was lukewarm about the sport, and this inspired me.

I had always wanted to be involved in sports but never took the step because of my experiences in school. There was a group of jocks at my junior high school who were aggressive, arrogant, intimidating, mean-spirited. They bullied me, made fun of me, hit me, and threw snowballs with rocks in them at me, and I was always scared of them. I never fought back because I knew they would just gang up on me even more. To their credit, I did learn how to run fast. In high school it was the same, so I tried my best to stay under the radar and just get through it.

After coming out, I gained confidence and found groups outside of school to support me. I was more comfortable, but the dream of sports never materialized. Underneath, I still felt unworthy, weak, and intimidated. I graduated and moved on to college. In college, I fell in love with hockey, and I secretly longed to play but had so many misgivings. I was afraid I would break a finger, which would be disastrous to my many years of guitar study. I was suffering from asthma and thought that the game would be too much to handle. I was too skinny and thought that the other players would snap me in two. I was homosexual and wouldn’t be able to stand up to the judgment. The excuses were symptoms of being bullied all those years. Sadly, my friends agreed with my reasons not to play—but I still dreamed. Eventually I finished college and went on to build my life.

Years later, fully involved in my career path of healing and counseling, I was reintroduced to hockey in a most unexpected manner. On September 11, 2001, I was in New York to attend a children’s peace conference at the United Nations. The next morning, the towers went down. Our group ended up volunteering with the Red Cross to counsel victims of this terrible event. One person I met while volunteering was a NY Gay Hockey League member. I was truly surprised to hear that such a thing existed. A seed was planted.

Later that year, I returned to New York to visit people that I had counseled from 9-11. While there, I decided to visit the gay hockey league and watch a game. The website said that visitors were welcome with an invitation to meet the players after the game. I practically ran to Sky Rink. I was so excited and blown away watching gay hockey. I met some of the players and Jeff Kagan, the founder of the league. Everyone was friendly and welcoming. I left New York thinking how unfortunate it was that there wasn’t a league close to where I lived, but seeing NYGHA in action made it seem possible.

Years later, I had become aware of MGHA and was very excited. I started thinking about joining, but there were many reasons why I couldn’t. Work, travel, school, age, etc. I eventually realized that the real reason I didn’t join was because I was still intimidated. I finally decided that I HAD to go for it and finally face these old issues.

I joined MGHA, got in after the season had started. My first day was at a game. Despite my terror, I was thrilled beyond words to be on the ice playing hockey after some 20 years of dreaming about it. Everyone was so friendly and supportive; I cannot express what that day meant to me. Since then, I have had only wonderful experiences. The experience has been healing and uplifting and I am truly grateful for how positively it has affected me. But it is only recently that I realized how much so.

In February,I played in the Madison Pond Hockey Championships. I was nervous because this would be the first time playing against non-MGHA people, so that “safety net” wouldn’t be there. The games went well—I had fun, played hard, and did my best. I felt proud of the progress I had made over the season. Later, I had a realization. Not ONCE during the tournament did I feel intimidated, judged, or bullied. Those old, doubting thoughts about size, skill, speed, gender, and sexuality had not surfaced once the entire weekend! I had been walking around meeting people, sharing stories, cheering teams on, playing. I remembered how the old me would have felt at this gathering, and how I would have treated the “straight” people there like they were the old bullies that used to torment me. None of this happened.

Upon realizing this, I went outside and looked around. Games were happening, there was a light snow falling, rocking music, the smell of beer, and friendly chatter…and me there, a part of it all. I thought to myself, “This is a perfect, beautiful moment. I made it at last.” I got a lump in my throat and tears welled up in my eyes, and I felt immense gratitude flowing through me. It wasn’t that I was just doing the best that I could; somewhere along the way, during this hockey season, my past demons had simply disappeared and what I was now sharing with my MGHA teammates and all those other players was simply the LOVE OF THE GAME. That is what I have dreamed of for so long.

The MGHA is an amazing example of what is important and necessary about having a healthy, supportive gay community. People are given the chance to work through fears, issues, and pain,and are given the chance to be beginners without feeling pressured to perform. The result is that people are able to find confidence, self-esteem, inner strength, artistry, and passion. This, in turn, allows them to share that good energy and well-being with the people in their lives. Playing hockey with the MGHA is a dream come true for me. It’s the awakening from an old scary dream, a chance to make friends, and outlet to blow off steam and have fun. I cannot put into words the positive impact this organization and its members have had on me. I cannot put into words how much I love this game.

Jason Palmer – 2013-2014 Essay

Gay hockey means politely declining invitations to join for years, citing your paralyzing fear of team sports brought on by 12 years of hellish gym classes.

Gay hockey means finally giving in and trusting your friends who are MGHA members that there exists a sports league that is actually supportive.

Gay hockey means doing breathing-relaxation exercises while driving to the rink for pre-season practices and scrimmages because you’re a nervous wreck over how bad you’re going to be.

Gay hockey means meditating on the incongruousness of having teammates discussing the latest episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race while putting on their hockey gear.

Gay hockey means wondering if you’re not gay enough to fit in until you remember that you wash your jersey and socks on the delicate cycle with Woolite.

Gay hockey means being surprised when your straight teammates are the most vocal supporters of adopting unabashedly gay names like “The Green Gay Puckers” as the team name.

Gay hockey means feeling quietly relieved when you realize other beginners are just as bad at hockey as you are.

Gay hockey means obsessively watching the time on the scoreboard and hoping the game ends quickly because you’re embarrassed by the number of times you’ve fallen on the ice.

Gay hockey means realizing that your coach praising you for falling down often was not being sarcastic. (Falling over, he said, is a sign you’re pushing yourself.)

Gay hockey means having to bite your tongue—hard—and simply say “Thanks” to people who say they see improvement in your playing even though you don’t.

Gay hockey means helping members of the other team back on their feet after you knock them over on the ice.

Gay hockey means members of the other team helping you get back on your feet after they knock you over on the ice.

Gay hockey means having members of your team, members of the other team, and occasionally even the refs give you positioning advice.

Gay hockey means appreciating teammates who don’t exclude you from the game despite not being able to contribute much.

Gay hockey means staring at the Facebook photo somebody posted of you during a game and realizing after a few moments that yes, that is you and you are actually playing hockey.

Gay hockey means enjoying wearing your MGHA sweatshirt because after all the spills, bruises, muscle sprains, and aches, you’ve earned it. (And also because it’s really comfy.)

Gay hockey means finally being able to relax at the games and not care about the game clock, scoring, or even team rankings because you’re just there to enjoy playing hockey.

Gay hockey means watching your Facebook friends list explode with other MGHA members—and occasionally with their drag-queen alter egos, too.

Gay hockey means going from being relieved when there are weekends with no hockey scheduled to being annoyed and upset at excuses like “Super Bowl Sunday,” “Oscars Sunday,” and “Christmas.”

Gay hockey means feeling sad when the season begins to wind down because your hockey skills have finally improved from comically bad to just bad—and feeling proud of that improvement.

Gay hockey means feeling excited to sign up for summer scrimmages so you can see everybody again and play some more.

Gay hockey means wondering why you waited so damn long.