Houston’s gay softball pioneers head to World Series with Diamond Divas.
By Eddie Robinson
On a hot, sunny Sunday afternoon in May, hundreds of softball fans and athletes—mostly LGBTQ—pack the Houston Sportsplex in the southwest part of the city.
Thirty-six teams—with names like the Houston Bears, the Bombers, the Cheetahs, and the Toros—rotate across six fields.
It’s a far cry from the Montrose Softball League Association’s humble beginnings 37 years ago, and one team stands out above the rest.
The Diamond Divas are made up of 20 players ranging in age from 51 to 70-plus, including some of the MSLA’s founding members.
In September, the Divas will travel to Portland to compete in the Gay Softball World Series—the largest annual single-sport LGBTQ athletic event in the world—for a second consecutive year.
The North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance, which has more than 13,000 members in 43 softball leagues nationwide, launched its Masters Division for players over 50 in 2011.
Despite a disappointing finish in their first World Series last August, the Diamond Divas hope to bring home a crown in 2017. But team member Dave Wong, a 51-year-old IT tech, says the MSLA is about more than just softball. “We fund-raise, we have beneficiaries, we help out with the community,” Wong says.
Today, the MSLA has more than 700 registered members. However, some Diamond Divas members can recall when the league had to fight with the City to find a field. “They had given us a field way out,” says 70-year-old Jerry DeSale, one of the MSLA’s founders.
DeSale had played in other Houston softball leagues and knew people from the parks department. In 1979, one of the league’s sponsors, an attorney, approached City Council members and asked for help with the MSLA. “I had to go sit in front of people that I knew who had no idea I was gay at that point and say, ‘We want to find a field in the Montrose area,’” DeSale says. “They finally put us on the field over off of Richmond and Buffalo Speedway on the west side called Levy Park. And that’s where the league played the first three years. So, it was extremely difficult, and it also forced me to come out in some ways that I hadn’t done prior to that.”
The MSLA would soon face even bigger challenges.
Diamond Divas member Bill Sansom, 59, served as MSLA’s commissioner in 1992, when the Gay Softball World Series was held in Los Angeles.
Samson recalls that during a meeting prior to the event, there was a partial display of the NAMES Project’s AIDS Memorial Quilt, and commissioners were asked to read the names of people from their leagues who had died. “They were going in alphabetical order,” Samson says. “Atlanta gets up and reads off like four or five names, Birmingham reads off a couple, and Boston reads off five or six. I had 52 that we had lost in our league.”
Sansom said the MSLA had been losing basically an entire team each year. “I had not honed in on the fact that our city and our league was so much harder hit than most,” he says. “I had personalized the losses, but did not look at the impact comparatively across North America. So now, this growth here for our league is a great tribute to our organization and its leaders. And I know that many of us leaned on our fellow league members to help us through the losses of so many friends.”
The Gay Softball World Series runs September 3 through 10. For more info, visit GSWS2017.org.
This article appears in the August 2017 issue of OutSmart Magazine.