Softballers Homer in Lauderdale
The South Florida Amateur Athletic Association Celebrates History
February is a magic month for baseball fans. Major League pitchers and catchers cast the opening spell, as they are the first to report. Then the rest of their teammates show up and it isn’t long before Florida is knee deep in spring training.
Fort Lauderdale used to be in the thick of this as its stadium once hosted the New York Yankees, then the Baltimore Orioles’ spring games. When the Orioles announced they were moving to Sarasota, a lot of South Floridian’s hearts were broken.
Little did they realize there is another game in town, one based at Mills Pond Park. Called the South Florida Amateur Athletic Association (SFAAA), this amateur softball league has existed for 15 years and now even sports a reigning World Series champion.
SFAAA Secretary David Campbell says, “It was formed in 1994. It has grown pretty quickly since. In other words, as South Florida has grown, so have we.”
Yet there is one very important element about the SFAAA
“It’s for gay players only,” says Campbell.
“We started out as SFSL, the South Florida Softball League,” explains Dave Litty, one of the league’s founders. “There was George Kessinger of George’s Alibi and Jim Stork, our former mayor and myself. We just played with all of our straight friends. We were all on a team called the Club Caribbean Pirates.”
“Jim used to keep telling us about all these gay folks who used to play ball. There was a gay league in Birmingham, Alabama that actually used to have tournaments. So we went to Birmingham, and almost shit our pants. We could not believe there were that many faggots and sissies that knew how to play ball, could play competitively and were organized in leagues and divisions.”
It was enough to make Litty and company go check it out.
“It was the most fun we ever had!” Litty exclaims. “There were people playing in heels and dresses. It was on Easter Sunday and we were told it was Bonnet Sunday at the softball field. So you had teams in regular uniforms and teams out in their Easter Sunday best, including the most bodacious bonnets I had ever seen in my life.
“We came back to Ft. Lauderdale not only impressed, but determined that our one team was going to split up into six teams, with no more than two of the original players on each team. Sure enough, we did it. Those six new teams became the South Florida Softball League. We eventually started our first season with eight teams.”
Over time, the SFSL would split into two leagues, one the primarily male Open Division while the other became the Women’s Division.
“We’re still part of the SFAAA, but we are separated financially,” explains Carol Moran, Commissioner of the Women’s Division. “We have a separate World Series, so it made sense. When we first got involved in softball, we had five women’s teams. Now we have 22.”
Moran is quick to point out that no one should discount the Women’s Division. Competitively, they can stand toe-to-toe with the Open Division.
“Yes!” Moran says emphatically. “[Like the Open Division] we have four divisions. They have four divisions. We also have A, B, C and D leagues. Our teams are not all out for the beer and to hang out. I think people get intimidated when they see some of our teams play. They come to me and say ‘I’m not that good.’ What they have to understand is that it’s good exercise, good way to meet women, and a great outdoor activity. The league is a great way to also expand social contacts.”
The SFAAA is part of a national organization of similar teams.
“SFAAA is part of two national organizations,” explains Campbell. “One is called NAGAAA. That is the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance. It was started back in 1977 by a New York bar owner who retired to Ft. Lauderdale. He formed NAGAAA while he was still in New York and brought it down here with him. The second group is called ASANA, the women’s half, which stands for the Amateur Sports Alliance of North America. They are very new.
“Basically, the goal at the end of every season is to get to the World Series.” Last year’s C Division World Series Champion was the Sideline Cyclones, based out of Wilton Manors. “That was the team I played for and that was a big deal,” Campbell righteously boasts.
Yet now it’s time for another season. Tryouts for the Women’s Division will be held at Mills Pond Park on February 14. The Open Division will have their own tryouts the following week, on February 21.
This leaves one other opening season ritual, getting sponsors.
“We do need to get some more sponsors involved,” says Moran. “I mean it’s only $350 for a whole season! What kind of advertising can you buy for that? I mean you get 12 women who are going to wear the sponsor’s uniform and play hard for them. It’s great recognition. You can also have a banner out on the field. That’s another way to promote your business. It would be great to have more.”
So while hot stove leagues disband and old timers may lament the loss of MLB spring training, the SFAAA prepares itself for another season and more World Series grandeur.
Publisher’s Note: The South Florida Gay News.com will sponsor a team in this year’s league, provided we are guaranteed first place.