Best of the CRANDIC 2021 winner: Best Community Sports League
In three short years, the Lambda Softball Association (LSA) of Eastern Iowa was founded, became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and grew to include three beginner rec league teams, three competitive D-division teams and the Dirty Divas, a traveling team that competes in cities across the country. After their Sunday games, the players gather at a local bar, restaurant or bowling alley to relive the best plays.
LSA Board Chairperson Steven Holter played on LGBTQ softball leagues in Houston, Chicago and Des Moines before joining the LSA in 2018. He and league founder Jose Maldonado are working to make Iowa City the 47th member city of the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance (NGAAA), which hosts the huge annual Gay Softball World Series.
Why do you think LGBTQ adults enjoy gathering around softball?
It’s really about community as much as it is about the softball itself. A lot of [LGBTQ] kids are bullied or picked on in youth sports and even in high school sports, so for a lot of people it’s an opportunity to play an organized sport, a team sport, when maybe they never have had that chance in their life before.
Do you see participation from players from across the LGBTQ+ spectrum?
Yes, and that’s something that I’m really, really proud of. Our diversity this year was just amazing. … We’re more than 50 percent female, nonbinary and genderqueer. I’d like to continue to see the balance. It’s just easier to welcome new players when they see someone they can identify with — it just makes them that much more comfortable.
Do you have to identify as LGBTQ to join LSA?
No, and we make it really a point not to ask people. We have allies in the league. Here’s a cute story: We hold a dart tournament in February as a fundraiser, and it’s open to anybody. In 2019, a lady named Kate came with one of her friends that was part of the league, and a gentleman named Adam came with somebody that he knew that was part of the league. They ended up drawing each other as dart partners. They got married this year. So we even created a love story through softball!
Have there been moments when a rookie player surprised themselves with a great play or hit?
All the time. In our rec league, there was one team that was certainly, you know, the most novice out of the three. The first four or five games, they didn’t win. When they finally got their first win, holy cow, you would think that they won the World Series. Everybody was just cheering them on.
In the city leagues, the beer leagues, it’s really competitive. In this league, somebody strikes out, it’s “great swing”; somebody drops the ball, “great hustle, you were right there, next time you’ll catch it!” We’re all pulling for each other, which is really cool.
What do you have planned for the year ahead?
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One of the things that we’ll be working on over the winter is expanding our eastern Iowa footprint. We made some really good connections in the Quad Cities during Pride, and our goal is to start a chapter in the Quad Cities this year.
We want to make opening day a true opening day: have a little ceremony, collaborate with The Quire in Iowa City to come and sing the national anthem, something like that. I think that’ll help draw in more spectators.
In February, Jose and I have to go to Dallas for a weekend. We’re attending the winter meetings for NAGAAA and that’s where we will make our official five-minute presentation and our bid to join. NAGAAA has been around for 45 years and they just signed an exclusive partnership deal with MLB this year — the first major sport to sign with an amateur LGBTQ athletic association, which was amazing. So we’re excited.
LSA holds two seasons a year, one starting in April and the other in September. Games are played on Sundays, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., at either the Hawkeye Softball Complex or Mercer Park in Iowa City. Anyone 18 or older can register to play at lsaiowa.org.
Update: On Feb. 5, 2022, LSA was accepted into NAGAAA.
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 301.