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2021 Orientation & Preseason Week 1
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Date: June 30, 2020
Attendees: Amanda Thornton, Alan Silver, Halley Pucker, Gene Zadzilka, Ian Leach, Avery Cordingley
Location: google meet
“while my friendships in the league were still forming, it was my progress as an athlete that surprised and sustained me.”
What does the MGHA mean to me? When I sat down to write about what the MGHA means to me, it was shocking to me how quickly I realized my feelings about the MGHA could be distilled into a single word: love. Love from others in a supportive, caring community; and love for myself as a gay man in that community, and as an athlete.
I joined the MGHA in 2018, on the recommendation of a stranger on the internet, at a time of enormous change in my life. I was in the process of moving, by myself, from my lifelong home in New England to Wisconsin, a state I had been to only twice and knew exactly one person. Knowing that I would need to make friends, I asked Reddit where to meet gay people in Madison, and a former member of the MGHA messaged me and recommended that I join. Despite the fact that I hadn’t played organized sports since middle school, when I had been allowed to quit baseball after getting hit in the face three practices in a row, I put in an application.
My first year in the MGHA is a bit of a blur to me, even just a year later. So much was happening in my life–learning a new job, finding my way around a new city, figuring out how to live by myself–but the MGHA became a source of stability and joy in my life. As the months went on, I started spending most of the week waiting for Sunday night, and for the Wednesdays when I and my new friends would go to the Shell for extra skating practice.
Initially, while my friendships in the league were still forming, it was my progress as an athlete that surprised and sustained me. For the first time in a very long time, I was doing something physical that required patience and practice, and I could feel myself getting better, week after week. After years of complacency in my personal life, I had forgotten what it felt like to be proud of my achievements, and the MGHA gave me the opportunity to play a game and to genuinely enjoy the process of getting better. The inclusive style of play in MGHA allowed me to feel like I was contributing, even while I was falling down, or whiffing the puck, or turning so slowly I was behind the other team’s defense when they whisked by me.
On the ice, the MGHA has given me the space to learn who I am as an athlete after a lifetime of thinking of myself as a watcher of sports, not a participant. But off the ice, the MGHA has provided me with something even more valuable: a community that genuinely cares about each other, both on an individual level and on an institutional level.
One of the things that struck me most about the MGHA was the earnest friendliness of almost everyone in the league. Coming from New England, a place where people are generally reserved about making new friends, I was pleasantly surprised about how open people in the MGHA were to sitting next to new people in the stands and inviting those people into their circles of friends.
This year, I decided to volunteer as a captain and on a number of committees to help give back to the community. What I appreciate most about participating on the “back end” of the MGHA is how that spirit of friendliness and inclusion is cultivated, intentionally, at the institutional level. It’s not just that I happened to sit next to people who were friendly last year; it’s that the volunteers who run the MGHA put hours of thoughtful discussion and effort into making the MGHA a positive experience for everyone who participates. Sometimes they’re faced with tough decisions that not everyone is happy with, but they make those decisions with a spirit of giving back to their community.
But the MGHA isn’t just an exceptionally friendly developmental hockey league. It’s also an explicitly LGBTQ-friendly space, and it is unlike any I’ve ever been in before. What I love about the MGHA as a space for LGBTQ-identifying people is that, as a player and member, it feels so effortlessly supportive of everyone’s gender identity and sexual orientation, while focusing on your inclusion in the hockey community and your development as a player. Before I came out, one of my biggest concerns was that I felt like I didn’t belong in gay spaces because being gay wasn’t a central part of my identity, and I didn’t feel “gay enough.” For me, the revelatory experience of joining the MGHA was finding a gay space that didn’t feel like it was making assumptions about who I was, or what I wanted out of that space. The MGHA is set up to give each player (or fan in the stands) the space to bring who they are to the table, and to encourage all of us to be supportive and understanding as we figure out what exactly that is.
So, what does gay hockey mean to me? It’s my life, it’s my friends, it’s my community. And if it’s not already yours, I hope you join soon.
I joined the MGHA in 2017 and started my 3rd season this year. At the tail end of 2016 I moved to Madison from Boston and had felt as though I had lost a great sense of community and friendship moving here. I was struggling to find a sense of belonging and was actively searching to move elsewhere when I happened to take a day and go ice skating at the UW Shell ice rink. It was there that I had a skater approach me and ask if I played hockey, and if I had heard of the MGHA. Little did I know this was the start of finding everything I had been looking for.
I have wanted to play hockey for many years and always struggled to find a beginner friendly league. The MGHA was not only a developmental players league, but also a LGBTQ environment that supported its players to both learn hockey and have a safe space to be oneself. I quickly gained some of the best friends one could ever ask for and share in learning a sport I have longed to be a part of. As soon as I touched the ice I was surrounded by the most welcoming group of people who all supported one another and cheered for each person’s growth and successes. Over the years I have played many team sports, but playing with the MGHA was the first time on a team that I felt so accepted and a part of something bigger. I have since become a captain and a mentor within the league and love the opportunity to support others starting their hockey journey and seeing them find themselves, as I was able to. This league opened the door to so many of the best parts of my life that I cannot begin to express how grateful I am.
Hockey has been my passion for as long as I can remember. My parents did not let me play growing up but that didn’t stop me from spending as much time at ice rinks as possible. Watching my younger brother play, going to friends’ games, working at a family friends’ rink, attending college games on my own, and finally having my own kids to experience the hockey life with. I’ve been a hockey mom now for 11 years. A hockey board member. A Zamboni driver. Concession stand worker. Game scheduler. Tournament director. The hockey life list goes on and on.
A few years ago, after moving to this area, a hockey dad convinced me to play in a “Kids vs. Parents” game. They didn’t have a goalie, my son is a goalie (not for this particular team), and would I play goal for the parent team? Sure, why not? As is often said, goalies are crazy! So, at the age of 43, I played goalie and I fell in love! From there, said hockey dad, who has become one of my best friends, convinced me to play in their Friday Night Beginners League, which I love. Then I was asked to play on a women’s team, which I did not love; too much drama! I play as often as I can. I’ve played on teams of those I have never met. I’ve played where I travel and stay in VRBO’s, like a sailboat. I play with friends that I look forward to seeing on the ice each week. I play with a group of guys that make me laugh while trying to beat me up. And I fulfilled a bucket list item by playing Pond Hockey in Eagle River. While wearing goalie skates!
Forward to the current hockey season. A friend, Keith, from another group asked me if I would be willing to play goalie on his team for Madison Gay Hockey Association (MGHA). I’ve heard of MGHA and I have heard they are a great organization. But, should I be on a team for gay hockey? I am not gay.
The funny thing is, without even knowing what was going on in my life, Keith extended the offer for me to play, we chatted about it, and I finally I said I could do some games but couldn’t commit to all. I wasn’t sure this was the right group for me, but I was willing to give it a try. What was going on in my life at the time? My oldest child, my first baby, “my Girl” as I’ve always called him had started the process of transitioning to a male. As a mother this was very difficult to accept. I couldn’t understand why and I had a lot of unanswered questions. I was hurting, but mostly I was scared. My child has a chronic disease and I was scared of what hormones would do. I was also scared the decision my child had made would lead to a very difficult lifestyle for him. I wasn’t familiar with the LGBTQ community and I didn’t know how I was going to support my baby.
I showed up to my first game with the Avalanche Avengers knowing only 1 person. I had not spent much time in the gay community but I am very open to everyone being their own person. The first person I met was extremely friendly and offered me a hug (it’s a funny story). Everyone I met after that were just as friendly and welcoming. They were all ready to have fun. They were all extremely supportive of each other and encouraged each other to play the MGHA way. I wasn’t sure what to expect, I was nervous, this was a new experience for me, and I can say I went out to play my first game with MGHA and I sucked!
Since that first night, I have come to love my Sunday nights with all the people involved with MGHA. I started to refer to MGHA as “Happy Hockey” to my friends. Everyone was so happy and we have so much fun playing. Cheering each other on, encouraging new skaters to try something different, helping each other up, and laughing! Oh, the laughing! But that was only the on-ice fun stuff. Happy Hockey became the place I learned more about my child. The place I have met people from all walks of life. The place I look around and see an amazing community that I know my child will be safe in. And a place that I so badly wanted to get my child involved in! With a little pushing, a lot of support from my team Captains, and the Board, my son is now an Avalanche Avenger along with me. The joy I get from watching him skate and make friends, and be 100% himself, is priceless.
What is MGHA to me? Happy Hockey!
It’s 2016 – I’m going into my sophomore year of college living in a brand new city in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Desperately looking for community and not really knowing how to find it in the predominately-high income school I was attending, I decided that one of the best options would be a semi-local gay soccer league near Detroit. I thought that playing in this league might give me the opportunity to find a like-minded community that cared about social justice and inclusivity, especially in a sport I had played for the majority of my life.
The experience ultimately turned out to be one of the most problematic queer spaces I have ever attended. Frequented by nearly all cis- and gay men, I encountered fatphobia and transphobia in many of the people I played with. My body image and self-esteem ultimately tanked and, frankly, I would struggle to count on only two hands the number of problematic statements I found from the people within the league.
When I left the league after only one year of playing, I thought that queer sports might not ever fit into my life. I questioned if the activity of sport could ever shed its heteronormative and transphobic nature to create an environment that was supportive of all people and cared about improving all aspects of life for queer and trans folx. That is, until I found the MGHA.
I honestly don’t recall how I found the MGHA after moving to Madison in 2018. Whether it was a message from one of the recruiters on various queer applications or a Facebook advertisement, I ultimately decided that I was going to get onto the ice despite never having played hockey before. And I am so, so grateful that I did.
It all started with a 6-week clinic that showed me and my cohort all of the ropes of skating. It started as one of the challenging experiences of my life – as someone who carries a lot of pride and issues with perfectionism, it seemed a daunting task to show that I wasn’t “good enough” at something to anyone. It became much easier when my group of never-skaters were so supportive of one another. Every Sunday, we strapped on our hockey gear, fell a few times while practicing and learning, and finally spent the night messaging one another how grateful we were to be doing this together. It’s challenging showing to a 200-person league that you’re not yet good at an activity, but it’s a lot easier when you reframe this as an opportunity to be vulnerable in front of 200 people who care and support you in all aspects of your identity.
Only two weeks after I started the league, my father passed away from brain cancer. As with many queer people, and to put it lightly, I had a complicated relationship with my family – my father never fully accepted me as an out-and-proud gay man and I hadn’t talked to nearly all of my biological family for most of my years throughout college. My father’s passing was and still is one of the most challenging experiences I’ve ever experienced; finding any constructive escape to the reality of picking up the pieces of my life has been something I was and still am desperately been searching for.
Thankfully, the MGHA has remained a constant in my first year without my father and, perhaps more importantly, in my first year of finding my new normal. Like nothing else I have been able to find, in sport or otherwise, I feel like a kid again. Every Sunday night, I sign up to sub in literally every game I can – I think I’d play 100 games on a Sunday if I could. Despite traveling extensively for work, I make sure I get back every Sunday so I can play hockey every week.
The MGHA ultimately represents roots for me here in Madison. It represents a future for sporting activities that I so deeply believe in – that it really is possible to have sport be a supportive space for learning and community. Finding my new normal after tragedy has certainly been hard, but I know hockey and the MGHA will have a big role in helping me get to that place in life.