Follow The Bouncing Ball: The North American Gay Volleyball Association Serves Equality to Local Players

Photo by Stoycho Stoychev/Bigstock

“As many gay people know, sports, especially male sports, are pretty homophobic,” Scott Kilburg asserts. “I had been called homophobic slurs while playing in the ’90s with straight people.”

Sometimes the slurs were less personal but no less disturbing. “Even if it wasn’t directed at me, I would still hear homophobic comments thrown around while playing sports growing up,” Kilburg recalls. To say that these regular occurrences had a dampening effect on Kilburg’s enjoyment would be a gross understatement.

Happily, Kilburg was able to find a league that could de-slur-ify the court, the North American Gay Volleyball Association. “I first started playing NAGVA back in 2002,” Kilburg, a current member-at-large, remembers. “I had a friend in Des Moines who asked me to play, but I wasn’t sure what to think of it. I had been playing with straight people since the early 1990s and didn’t realize that NAGVA even existed.”

According to its website (www.nagva.org), The North American Gay Volleyball Association is “a not for profit 501(c)(7) organization, committed to promoting and developing the sport of volleyball in the LGBT community. Our membership is diverse and non-exclusionary. NAGVA is an organization of over 17,500 members in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Puerto Rico.”

As for Kilburg, his apprehension about joining was quickly spiked into the floor. “The great thing about NAGVA, as well as any other gay sports organization, is it’s inclusive for all of the LGBT community,” he enthuses. “It provides a place of tolerance where you can also play some competitive ball and make friends while doing it.”

NAGVA, Kilburg found, took that “competitive ball” part particularly seriously. “Another great thing about NAGVA is there is a level for everyone,” Scott Kilburg points out. “If you just picked up the game or are an experienced college player, you will be put in the division that fits your skill level. And there are definitely cutthroat matches as well as teams just playing to have fun. It’s whatever you want it to be.”

Another prominent local member, Bill Christman, seconds this emotion. “NAGVA offers a number of divisions to accommodate various skill levels,” Christman confirms. “Generally speaking, players at tournaments want to be competitive and do well, but for a lot of people, it is also about the community. Playing over the years, I have developed a number of very close friendships with people from cities all over the country through playing NAGVA.”

Joining NAGVA represented the consummation of a love that had begun to take root during the college years of both men. “It was actually in college in the ’90s when I started to fall in love with volleyball,” Kilburg says. “I had friends who played a lot, and I had played recreationally before high school and enjoyed playing.”

Christman’s experience runs parallel to his colleague’s. “I started playing in a recreational league while I was in college, as a social activity with people who lived in my dorm,” he reminisces. His experience in joining was more positive and proactive than Kilburg’s. “I had moved back to the Minneapolis area and was looking for opportunities to meet people and expand my social circle. I got involved in the local volleyball community back in 2005 and played my first NAGVA tournament in 2006. I enjoyed the competition and social aspect of the weekend and have kept playing ever since.”

A specific reason behind that enjoyment is an important component of Kilburg’s enthusiasm. “It’s a team sport so it’s difficult for one person to be successful if others aren’t performing well and vice versa,” he acknowledges. “And as team sports usually do, they build camaraderie and I think that’s why I fell in love with the sport. I’ve been able to make friends around the world because of the volleyball.”

Just as gay men can be burdened by ugly stereotypes, so, too, it turns, out, can volleyball players, regardless of their gender identity. “Gay volleyball players are no exception as to how society views us,” Kilburg confirms. “We don’t fit a prototype for how we should act as we are gay and we are athletes. But within the Twin Cities we are fortunate to have a very tolerant volleyball community as many of us gay guys have been playing competitively in the ‘straight’ leagues and breaking down stereotypes.”

The sport’s appeal has…matured for both men over the years. “It used to be passion,” Kilburg says, describing his evolving relationship with the sport he loves, “but after having shoulder surgery a few years back, it’s turned into more of a hobby and I don’t play as competitively as I used to. I play now more for fun.”

Bill Christman confirms his colleague’s evolution. “I’d say it’s somewhere between hobby and passion, as well as a social outlet for me,” he posits. “I play in local open gyms and tournaments as my schedule permits, but I am also the director for the Minneapolis-hosted NAGVA-sanctioned tournament that takes place in the fall every year, and I also have season tickets to the Gopher women’s volleyball team with a group of friends.”

But still, his current enthusiasm is something Christman is eager to share. “There are lots of opportunities to get involved in the local gay volleyball community through GLASS — Gay and Lesbian Amateur Sports Society — through open gyms, weekend leagues, and various skill development clinics throughout the year. We are hosting our NAGVA-sanctioned tournament this fall on September 23 and 24,” he further reveals. “We typically attract 35 to 50 teams from all over the country for a two-day tournament.”

The event is known as the Minnesota Autumn Classic, and, in addition to local teams, will be visited by teams from Atlanta, Chicago, and Saint Louis. And that’s not all. In just under a year, the City of Lakes will be home to a most prestigious event. “NAGVA is hosting our end-of-season Championship tournament in 2018 at the Minneapolis convention center,” Kilburg declares. “It’s over Memorial Day weekend and should be a big event with gay men coming from all around North America. Please watch for details on our website.”


www.nagva.org
www.glassports.org

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