Category: 17-18 Essays

Tim Tender – 2018 Essay

Every year, the MGHA does these essays and I’ve had the opportunity to read quite a few of them over my three years with the organization. This year, after being tagged by someone in the league, I’ve chosen to write one myself. Now, this probably isn’t the typical ‘What Gay Hockey Means to Me’ essay that you’re used to seeing. This is more of a look back at my experience in this league both in how it has shaped me and how (I hope) I’ve been a positive influence on those around me.

Let’s start a bit with my background. I grew up in southwest Pennsylvania in a rural town where people love their guns and everything that isn’t good is, well, ‘gay’. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great people, but there are also some very closed-minded folks who have never ventured outside of their little bubble. I moved to Madison in 2011 and when I moved here, I had my own little bubble around me, too. I didn’t know much about gay culture and I surely didn’t know any trans folks or even know gender-queer was a thing. Like the commenters on a bad Facebook post, I thought the genitalia you had defined you. I was naive and uneducated about gender identity and sexual orientation.

As for me, I didn’t really know I was gay until a few years ago. It took a good friend to get me to really think about things and connect the dots. When I did, it was quite a relief. I honestly can say that it felt like a weight had lifted. I know it sounds cliché, but I remember feeling it. I had known about the MGHA and decided to sign up.

Unlike so many who write these essays, hockey wasn’t new to me. I started playing as a senior in high school. I worked at an ice arena for six years, too, during high school and college. I had played adult league and was playing with a local group here in Madison. I had experience. I wasn’t the best player, but I could certainly hold my own. I came into the league not knowing what to expect from a gay hockey league.

My first team was incredibly welcoming. I was still trying to get my bearings in this unique inclusive league. It was a different experience for sure, but I quickly realized that success in this league wasn’t measured in goals or wins, but instead it was measured in how well you play with others, your encouragement of the team, and even interactions with the other team. I learned that the MGHA aligns well with my demeanor and style of play. I decided to stick around and even signed up to be on the board for my second and third years in the league.

One of my favorite aspects of this league is the inclusive play. I love the encouragement and the idea that everybody deserves to play. If a lesser-skilled player gets the puck, we let them hold onto it for a little while to get more comfortable. If somebody accidentally knocks somebody down, we ask them if they’re alright and sometimes even help them up. For me, this is huge. Some advanced players may come into the league and struggle with the concept of not taking the puck end-to-end and I admit that I certainly have moments where I want to do just that. For me, though, part of the challenge and fun of this league is improving my other skills while helping hone the skills of the other players. The MGHA lets me work on my leadership abilities while letting me help and encourage those who have less experience. It lets me offer pointers. It gives me the opportunity to instill confidence in people who, due to a plethora of reasons, don’t have that confidence. A little bit of confidence goes a long way, sometimes.

If you remember, I brought a bubble with me from southwestern PA. That bubble shielded me from people who were different. For me, gay hockey taught me that there’s a whole lot more to this world than what’s inside that little bubble. Before I joined the league, I hadn’t really known anyone who was trans or gender-queer. I think I was honestly a little uncomfortable. I didn’t understand it. I didn’t know anything about it. It was just foreign to me and foreign things can be scary. I write this showing vulnerability and hoping that this doesn’t make me a bad person. This league, though, has introduced me to a whole new world (go ahead, sing the song from Aladdin… I’ll wait). I know that I’m a much more accepting and open person because of this league. I also know that I’m always learning. I know that if I don’t understand something, I can ask. This league has given me a space to grow and has helped me expand my worldview.

Most of the time, these essays tell the tales of people who haven’t felt welcome in organized sports or haven’t been comfortable in team settings because of who they are and the love and acceptance they find in the MGHA. I love that this league fosters those moments. It fills my heart to have so many people share success stories of feeling welcomed and loved when they play with our group. My story is a bit different, but the outcome is similar. Gay hockey has given me a place to help the people I just mentioned. It’s given me a way to give back and foster confidence and inclusion. At the same time, it’s given me a place to learn how to be more inclusive. I’m sure I still have a bubble. I think we all do. What I do know, however, is that my little bubble that I brought with me from southwestern PA is now a much bigger bubble thanks to the MGHA and the people in the league.

Maggie Augustin – 2018 Essay

There are two significant periods in my life; before the MGHA and after the MGHA. You might be thinking that I’m over exaggerating a tad, but I assure you that I am not! In truth, my seasonal depression winter hibernation world was flipped upside down 2 years ago when my lovely partner in life and crime, Ames Barker (you might have heard of them), introduced me to hockey and the Madison Gay Hockey Association.

At 30, I did not anticipate learning an entirely new sport. I had some confidence in my ability to stay upright on skates thanks to years of rollerblading, but I had no idea what the fundamentals of hockey were and I, of course, was anxiety- filled by the idea of learning all the hockey skills all at once. Oh, my goodness, with my gear on, I could barely function much less use a stick to poke a puck around on ICE! But then, I attended my first meeting and my anxiety levels dropped significantly. Everyone was incredibly friendly and inclusive. For the first time, I knew what it felt like to play on a league where all folx were welcome; no matter where they fell on the gender or sexuality spectrums, if they had 20 years of hockey experience or never put on a pair of skates. In that first meeting, they made it clear what the MGHA was about and how important it is to honor pronouns and shed assumptions. Let me be clear, I have been a part of several organizations in my life, athletics included, and I have never met an organization so open and willing to help out its new players and support everyone from various backgrounds.

Finally, I had something to look forward to on Sundays during the winter! I knew a handful of people when I joined the league and now I can say that I am incredibly blessed to add dozens more to the list. I had the privilege of not only being a mentor to a wonderful hockey new-comer this past season, but I also got to try my hand at being a co-captain at the 2018 MGHA Classics. I have to admit, I was incredibly shocked that I was even asked to fill either one of these roles. I have rarely been comfortable in leadership roles and I usually fill the spot of “supportive teammate.” However, the confidence that the Board Members instilled in me by asking me to mentor and lead has empowered me to apply for membership and to get more involved in the league; ready, happy, and willing to give back all that they have given to me!

I am so excited to have found my niche and core group of amazing friends and chosen family. I don’t know what I would do without the support of all of you. At every opportunity, I try to spread the word about the MGHA and incorporate the core values and inclusivity in my other social and work endeavors. Overall, I have grown as a person and I continue to learn how to improve my hockey skills, build up my self-esteem and overall worth by giving back to the league. I am looking forward to what the next adventure with the MGHA might be!

Gene Zadzilka – 2018 Essay

I’ll be honest, initially it was 95% about the hockey. I started skating at 22 with the UW Comp Sci group (thanks, David Parter) and loved it. Soon afterwards, I left Madison, joined a “beginner’s non-checking” league, and came to think that hockey wasn’t for me after all. Keeping score and standings makes it just aggressive enough that it wasn’t fun.

Thankfully, I returned to Madison and joined assorted fun pick-up groups over the years. Hockey was fun once more, I avoided leagues, and decided that a life goal should be to play hockey, in some capacity, until I’m 70.

MGHA needed another goalie, and multiple friends recommended that I ask to join. I had enough friends and hockey contemporaries in the league and playing in the Classic that I suspected it would be my kind of hockey fun, and I was accepted for the ‘17-18 season. On the hockey side of things, it was more than I could have hoped for. The whole league is set up to be one giant collection of league-mates first, teammates second. It was extremely beginner-friendly, so I could be useful in helping noobs (I’ve experienced beginner-friendly groups turn more advanced, and that always comes with a sense of loss), just as I was helped. Games were quite intense for me, but the pressure was just internal – it was OK for me to laugh at my own mistakes, and it was wonderful to have like-minded teammates looking to extract fun from hockey. Hockey-wise, MGHA was already a great fit for me. Would recommend, could end story here.

What I did not expect is how much more MGHA would be on an interpersonal level. It’s difficult to put into words, but there’s an inherent closeness to the group that took me by surprise, caught me up in it, and humbled me to be accepted. One day, in casual conversation, a couple of out stories were shared. That’s when it struck me. Straight folk don’t tend to hear such experiences unless it’s someone close or extroverted. I immediately felt a stronger friendship for having been shared with, but it also illustrated the divide to me. These are major life moments, so why wouldn’t I have heard more from other friends and family over the years? That’s when I began to appreciate the “where you can be yourself” facet of the MGHA way, and started to comprehend how much more meaningful it can be, beyond just a great place to play hockey.

Frankly, it bothers me that the world needs more acceptance and suppresses anyone from being themselves. Society should be better. But that’s the world we live in. If I can learn and grow personally, and share my positive experiences to improve this situation a bit, I’ll leave the world a tad better for my kids, who will hopefully continue that attitude.

So, I revise a previous life goal. I would like to play hockey, in some capacity, with the MGHA until I’m 70.

E Posner – 2018 Essay

If you poke around the MGHA website, you’ll find that the only requirement to join the league is willingness to be nice to LGBT+ people. An interest in hockey is good to have, but not strictly necessary. So, I signed up. I had no interest in playing hockey, but I knew how to be polite. Actually, I had zero interest in playing any competitive team sports. It seemed silly to me to get worked up about a game when the difference between winning and losing is kind of arbitrary and almost entirely out of my control. After the first few games, when people would ask me if I enjoyed the game, I would always say “yes,” but in the back of my mind I would think “Hmmm, did I really enjoy game?”

But by middle of the season things started to change. I’d be on the bench watching James or Bob or whoever was on the ice playing right wing and think to myself, would they just please get the fuck off the ice already, so I can go out and take my turn?

The big switch came from learning a whole bunch of new things, including

1. boatloads of practical information about hockey

2. It’s really OK to take the puck, even if I’m not going to do anything smart with it when I get it.

3. To play well and have fun, I need to focus on what I do when the puck comes to my part of the rink. I don’t need to care about winning and losing.

I learned these lessons after weeks of nice, supportive, encouraging talk on the bench and in the locker room. The MGHA isn’t joking when they say you need to be a nice person to play. So, thank you to my teammates and the MGHA for showing me that competitive sports can be fun.

Go Blunicorns! Sparkle hard!

Andrew Brausen – 2018 Essay

Gay hockey to me is not just a sport to play, but a family who cares for each other. A family who’s excited with you and there for you when you’re down. Mentors to guide you not only in hockey, but in life. A safe place to discover and become yourself. Yes of course I love to play hockey and that’s the main objective of the MGHA, but it is so much more than a sport to play.

A family, or as I call them a pack means that it’s members will always be there to support and defend each other to survive and thrive. When a member is down and out the MGHA reaches out to support its members in any way possible. It’s helping you by supporting your business or listening to your recommendation on another. From taking you out to lunch to be an ear to helping you pick out your gear to ensure proper fit and safety.

I don’t know how to play hockey is not an excuse to the MGHA. They will teach you, seriously and help you get better too! My first season I fell all the time. In fact, there’s a move called the “Alpha Tornado” because I fell so much. My assigned mentor and teammates with experience all encouraged the crap out of me every step of the way. I have more mentors now and not only in hockey, but to help me thrive in life. I have and will face many changes with this league by my side.

Over the past 5 years playing with the MGHA I have discovered not only that I might be a little bit athletic, but I have some good leadership skills I’m discovering and beginning to use. This past season I got to be a co-captain and it required me to be responsible for more than just my own gear each week. Although I made a few mistakes along the way, my team and this league made me feel like I was doing a wonderful job as a co-captain. There are so many examples I could give to show what gay hockey means to me.

In the end if you’re reading this you’re probably wondering why you should play. You are probably also wondering if you can play? Trust me, I still fall all the time and I have so much fun. Please come play with me and the rest of the MGHA. We’ll become the pack you never had or knew you needed.