Timothy Shelton – 2006-2007 Essay

“What Gay Hockey Means to Me” by Timothy Shelton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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