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Serving up Charm

Baltimore volleyball league attracts diverse players

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Charm City Volleyball, gay news, Washington Blade

From left are Adam Bocek, Kent Hansen and Carl Svagerko. (Photos by Kevin Majoros)

It’s not uncommon for the players in sports teams to come from different walks of life. Their motivation to play and the path they take to get there are all part of the process of making a team. The different personalities on the team are what make it a community.

This week in the continuing Blade series on the players who make up the LGBT-based sports teams in the area, we take a look at three teammates, two gay and one straight, from Charm City Volleyball.

Charm City Volleyball hosts social play in downtown Baltimore on Wednesday nights and competitive play and scrimmages on Sundays in Elkridge, Md. On April 29-30, they will host the 32nd annual Charm City Invitational which already has 42 teams registered to play.

For 13 years, Adam Bocek drove back and forth, twice a week, from his hometown in Railroad, Pa., to Baltimore just to play with Charm City Volleyball.

“Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, there just wasn’t much to do if you were gay,” Bocek says. “I began meeting a lot of great guys in an atmosphere where I could be myself.”

As a youth, his primary sport was soccer and along the way he picked up baseball and volleyball. The volleyball continued in college and would be the impetus for his treks to Baltimore.

Bocek has traveled the country with his teammates playing in tournaments and picked up a silver medal with them at the 2014 Gay Games in Cleveland. Just last month he moved to Baltimore after landing a job as a recruiter for HIV research at Johns Hopkins.

“I look at this move as a rite of passage and my opportunity to be around the people who have supported me all along.” Bocek says. “I just love playing this sport and the community that comes along with it.”

After following some friends to move to Baltimore, Kent Hansen was at the Baltimore Pride parade in 2005 and saw Charm City Volleyball marching and hitting a ball around.

“I actually signed up to play that same day,” Hansen says. “One of the people I met on the team is now my husband.”

Hansen, who works as a recruiting manager for a government contracting firm, grew up in Bradner, Ohio and played multiple sports including cross country, track and field, basketball and wrestling. During college at Bowling Green State University he was a varsity cheerleader and also started playing club volleyball.

For six years, he has served as the tournament director of the Charm City Invitational and he is in his fourth year of serving on the national board of the North American Gay Volleyball Association.

He is also traveling the country with his teammates for volleyball tournaments along with traveling for tournaments with the Charm City Kings and Queens bowling league. Hansen and his husband Mike Snyder were also part of the silver medal-winning team at the 2014 Gay Games in Cleveland.

“I have met some amazing people and some of my best friends in the volleyball community,” Hansen says. “Every city we travel to we see so many people that we have known for years. I love the competition and the camaraderie.”

Carl Svagerko was happily playing his sports of football, basketball and baseball along with swimming on a summer team while growing up in Westerville, Ohio. That all changed when he joined his high school swim team because his sister needed a ride to the same practices. He fell in love with swimming and went on to win a state championship in high school and spent four years swimming for the University of Tennessee.

After moving to Baltimore to work as a structural engineer in 2014, Svagerko started playing beach volleyball at Rash Field in Baltimore Inner Harbor. He enjoyed it so much that he moved indoors to the Volleyball House. He eventually ended up on a Charm City Volleyball team as they were playing at the same facility.

“Volleyball was a new sport for me and it was filling the void of not swimming,” says Svagerko, who is straight. “I kind of just started showing up to play with them, then waded in and went full immersion.”

Svagerko has since played in his first association tournament which was hosted by the D.C. Capital Pride Volleyball League. In May, he will travel with his teammates to Columbus for the North American Gay Volleyball Association Championships XXXV.

“I was new to the area and new to the community and everyone with Charm City Volleyball was friendly, inclusive and offered me help with my volleyball form,” Svagerko says. “There is so much respect that I don’t see the sexual orientation. And you know what? They continually ask me to keep playing.”

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Pro rugby player comes out

Devin Ibañez played with New England Free Jacks pre-pandemic

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Devin Ibanez, gay news, Washington Blade

Major League Rugby player Devin Ibañez came out as a gay man on his social media platforms on Tuesday. Sharing pictures of embracing and kissing his partner Fergus Wade, the former New England Free Jacks athlete stated, “as of now I am the only openly gay rugby player to earn a contract with an MLR side. I hope that I will meet others like myself playing a high level of rugby and hoping to inspire the next generation of proud LGBTQ rugby players. So I will proudly call myself ‘that gay rugger’ in hopes that one day it won’t sound strange in men’s rugby”

Ibañez shares on his new Instagram account @thatgayrugger, “as 2020 comes to a close I took the time to reflect on my life and what aspects I could control and make positive changes to that would impact my day to day life and happiness.”

He continues, “I want to start 2021 by celebrating the love of my life and my partner @ferguswade who has been with me through the highs and the (very) lows of the last three years.”

Fergus Wade and Devin Ibanez (Photo via Instagram @thatgayrugger)
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Gay Games announces 2022 ‘contingency planning committee’

LGBTQ sports event expected to take place despite turmoil in Hong Kong

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Gay Games, gay news, Washington Blade

Officials with Gay Games Hong Kong 2022, the committee organizing the quadrennial international LGBTQ sports event scheduled to take place in Hong Kong in November 2022, announced at an online webinar on Aug. 27 that a “contingency planning committee” has been created to address potential “risks” associated with the event.

Although those risks include the potential impact of the coronavirus pandemic and ongoing “social unrest” in Hong Kong, organizers stated during the webinar that the Hong Kong government remains highly supportive of the Gay Games. They said a team of more than 100 volunteers is working diligently to safely accommodate the thousands of LGBTQ athletes and spectators expected to arrive in Hong Kong in November 2022.

The webinar took place less than two months after China enacted a highly controversial security law giving the Hong Kong government greater authority in cracking down on pro-democracy protesters who have been holding demonstrations, some of which have become violent, for more than a year.

The Federation of Gay Games, the international governing body that oversees the Gay Games, reaffirmed its decision to select Hong Kong as host for the 2022 Gay Games during its Annual General Assembly meeting in Guadalajara, Mexico last November. One year earlier, the FGG selected Hong Kong over D.C. and Guadalajara, who were the two finalist cities competing with Hong Kong, to become the host city for the games.

FGG officials have predicted at least 12,000 athletes will participate in 36 sports in the 2022 Gay Games, with at least 75,000 spectators expected to turn out in Hong Kong to watch the games and participate in at least 20 accompanying arts and cultural events.

“As mentioned in the webinar, Gay Games Hong Kong 2022 has set up a contingency planning committee and has drawn up a contingency plan to cover specific risks, like the pandemic and social unrest,” said Federation of Gay Games spokesperson Shiv Paul in response to an inquiry from the Washington Blade.

“FGG with GGHK are closely monitoring the health, political, sporting, travel, and international events that could impact the delivery of Gay Games 11 in Hong Kong in November 2022,” Paul said. “Contingency plans are in development to mitigate the potential impact any unfortunate circumstances might cause,” he said.

“The team on the ground in Hong Kong are doing an excellent job in keeping the board up to date with concerns surrounding Hong Kong,” Paul quoted Joanie Evans, co-president of the FGG, as saying.

Paul added, “The GGHK team is composed of a team of 100 passionate LGBTQ+ volunteers and are looking forward to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Gay Games, first in Asia. They happily make Hong King their home, feeling safe in the ability to lead out, productive lives. The organization cannot speculate on sensationalized unconfirmed preconceptions.”

He was referring to a question from the Blade asking whether China might force local Hong Kong officials to arrest Gay Games spectators from Europe, North America or elsewhere if they make statements critical of China during the Gay Games cultural events.

Under the sweeping national security law enacted by China earlier this year, Hong Kong officials have made numerous arrests of dissidents denouncing China for infringing on what dissidents say was China’s 1997 agreement with the United Kingdom to allow Hong Kong to remain a semiautonomous region of China for 50 years after the British handed over its former colony to China.

Paul said the Hong Kong government has been involved in the Gay Games Hong Kong organizers’ application process for holding the Games in Hong Kong beginning in 2016.

“GGHK has been having ongoing and regular communications with multiple departments of the Hong Kong government to ensure that they are kept abreast of the process and support required from the government,” Paul told the Blade.

“In all the interactions GGHK is having with the Hong Kong government, support continues to grow within the Hong Kong government regarding GGHK,” he said. “New allies are offering support as it will be one of the biggest events to take place in Hong Kong during the next few years and stands to positively impact on the city,” said Paul.

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Arts & Entertainment

Irish national track champion comes out as gay

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Another international pro athlete has come out as gay, in a podcast interview dropped by Outsports on Monday.

Denis Finnegan, a 10-time national track-and-field title winner in Ireland, made his revelation on the Five Rings To Rule Them All podcast, telling interviewer Cyd Zeigler that he has been “drifting” toward coming out in recent years even though being gay is only a small part of who he is “as a person, and an even smaller part as an athlete,” in order to help other LGBTQ people in sports feel less alone.

“For younger people it will hopefully give them more confidence in what they’re doing,” the 33-year-old Finnegan said. “There are still people who are scared or unsure of what’s happening, so I hope just telling my story might help one person notice there’s more acceptance out there.”

The athlete, who won his 10 championships in triple jump, said that he eventually gravitated toward track and field – as opposed to team sports like basketball and Gaelic football, which he played in his younger years – because he found the atmosphere more welcoming.

“Athletics was always a place that, because it was quite mixed, it was a place I could have gotten away from everything,” he told the podcast.

“I think those sports, because they were a team sport with males, there were times when it wasn’t comfortable,” he elaborated. “Athletics was always my favorite sport, it was always the sport that was the one that was the most open. I’d be training with girls, I’d be training with guys, and I think that did help a bit. I was never worried about any kind of comments on the track. But when I was going for, say, football, it was more of an issue.”

He also said that after growing up with sports as a major part of his identity, it was important for him to find a way to continue participating after his university years.

“I loved sport and my whole family was sporty. I’d want to be doing the sports, but there was a part of them I wasn’t enjoying at all,” he said, echoing a sentiment shared by many LGBTQ athletes who feel pressured to remain closeted due to the hyper-masculine environment and hetero-normative expectations typically found in male-dominated team sports.

In the interview, Finnegan also opens up about the strains of being publicly “closeted” while maintaining a personal life, as well as additional issues he faced in both the public and private sphere.

As a final thought, he shared a quote from a speech by Theodore Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

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