When some 49 LGBT softball teams gather at the Metro Atlanta Softball Complex (“Metro fields”) over Memorial Day weekend, chances are that there will be as many rainbow colors as there will be bats and balls.
Set for May 24–26, the Big Peach Softball Tournament is one of the—if not the—largest gay softball tourneys in the United States, according to Kyle Miller, commissioner of Hotlanta Softball League, which produces the tourney.
“Over the last few years, the Big Peach tournament has gained amazing attention, and we have heard that our tournament is the premier tournament to go to in the East,” said Kyle Miller, commissioner of the Hotlanta Softball League, which produces the tournament.
Official game play takes place on Saturday and Sunday, but the fun kicks off two days earlier. On Thursday, the HSL will hold a swag bag stuffing party and beer bust at F.R.O.G.S. Cantina in the Midtown Promenade shopping center. On Friday, a registration party takes place nearby at Burkhart’s Pub in Ansley Square.
“[W]e have encouraged our players and fans to come and enjoy an extended weekend in Atlanta!” said Miller.
Miller noted that registration for this year’s tournament is now closed at 49 B-, C-, and D-division teams, all of which are listed on the Big Peach website. Teams include men, women, and transgender players.
“This year we had a tremendous response and had over 20 teams on our waiting list,” he said. “We will look at different options for next year’s tournament, to be able to accommodate the additional teams.”
Miller added that Big Peach registration slots have sold out as far back as he recalls, and teams don’t always hail from the Peach State.
“We always usually pull one or two teams from out West who want to come play ball with the Southern boys,” he said. “We have teams from eight states this year, as well as the District of Columbia.”
After the dust settles from the first day’s sportsmanlike competition on Saturday, teams will converge on The Hideaway Atlanta—a casual bar tucked away in the back of Ansley Mall—which is hosting an event for Big Peach players.
On Sunday night, closing ceremonies will be held at Heretic on Cheshire Bridge Road.
Other local bars and restaurants will offer special discounts throughout the weekend for players who wear their Big Peach wristbands.
As the Big Peach is the capstone gay softball tournament in the region, its victors don’t advance up to subsequent tourneys. However, the winning teams usually fare well at other events throughout the year, including the Gay Softball World Series and the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance, according to Miller.
Miller is quick to give credit to give due credit to the Big Peach’s sponsors for its longevity and continued success.
“We could not do it without the help of our sponsors. Our local bars have been the most generous with offering their continued support to the tournament. We also have other organizations in the community who sponsor our tournament,” he said.
Big Peach beginnings
The Big Peach was founded in 1984 as the Armory Classic, and it was held at the Metro Fields on Memorial Day weekend. In 1995, it was renamed the HSL Challenge and relocated to the Southside Sports Complex for the 4th of July weekend. In ensuing years, the tournament’s timing alternated back and forth between Memorial Day weekend and 4th of July.
When it was eventually set for a permanent Memorial Day weekend spot several years ago, the tourney also returned to the Metro fields, now its permanent home.
“There are six fields at Metro compared to four at Southside, so we are able to accommodate additional teams in our tournament,” Miller said.
Miller said that when the Hotlanta Softball League launched in 1981 under founding commissioner Greg Troia, its prevailing mission was clear: to provide a fun and competitive environment for LGBT athletes to play softball.
That mission had a counterpart desire for the League’s players to have a unique atmosphere in which to meet, socialize, and network within the community, both on and off the field, Miller added.
What’s more, the lure of sports—in this case, softball—firmly dispels any possible notions that LGBT people are disinterested in athletic competitions. That would hold particularly true for the Hotlanta Softball League, in Miller’s opinion.
“We are the largest gay sports organization in Atlanta, and have one of the largest in the entire country,” he said. “The overall success of our league directly reflects the players who play in it. Without their dedication, energy, and commitment, the Hotlanta Softball League would not be where it is today.”
And today, the majority of players from the current roster of HSL teams are from the metro Atlanta area, “but our territory does extend to all of Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Chattanooga,” Miller said.
The HSL’s teams’ dedication, energy, and commitment also extends to supporting local nonprofit organizations. Every year, the League selects one or two charities to lend its time and money to. For 2013, it has named Lost-n-Found Youth, Inc. as its beneficiary. Through the hard work and determination of its players, the HSL has donated more than $3000 a year to local charities.
In addition to the Big Peach and its charity work, the Hotlanta Softball League hosts the annual—and perennial—Mr. and Miss HSL pageant. This year, the festivities incorporated a “jersey party” early in the season, allowing League players to model their team jerseys; they were also a time to raise funds for teams heading to the Gay Softball World Series.
The Big Peach Softball Tournament runs May 24–26 at the Metro Atlanta Softball Complex (7301 Campbellton Road). For more information, visit hslbigpeach.com or hotlantasoftball.org.
Photo Credits: Action shots by Joseph Brownell. Beer bust shots by Randall Carpenter.
no images were found