Eastern Iowa’s queer softball league has had a home run of a year

LSA of Eastern Iowa players pose for a photo in August 2022 at their home fields, the Hawkeye Softball Complex in Coralville. — via Facebook

It’s been a promising year for the Lambda Softball Association of Eastern Iowa (LSA).

After a two-year process, LSA and Iowa City became the 48th member of the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance (NAGAAA). To become a member city, LSA had to meet with the NAGAAA board of directors and delegates from each member city twice annually, maintain at least four teams in the league and send at least one team to compete in the Gay Softball World Series.

There are currently 52 member cities in NAGAAA after four new cities were voted in last August. LSA has been pursuing this goal since the organization began in 2018.

NAGAAA is the first LGBTQ sports organization to have partnership agreements with major sports leagues like the MLB, NBA, WWE and Impact Wrestling. NAGAAA membership provides LSA and Iowa City with more resources and support. They get discounts for equipment through NAGAAA’s partners, like Monsta Athletics and AD Starr. Member cities also get automatic acceptance to compete in tournaments held throughout the year.

One tournament was the Saguaro Cup in Phoenix, Arizona. In April, The Dirty Divas, LSA’s travel team of around eight players, went undefeated against the other 33 teams in the division and won the tournament.

In October, The Dirty Divas traveled to Kansas City, Missouri, to compete in the Amateur Sports Alliance of North America (ASANA). This was the first time Iowa City and LSA were represented in a Women’s division tournament, and while the team didn’t place in the tournament, it was a “wonderful experience,” said Steven Holter, LSA’s chairperson.

In late August, The Dirty Divas traveled to Dallas for the Gay Softball World Series. LSA had never competed in the tournament prior, and The Dirty Divas made their mark, placing third out of 79 teams in the division.

“The GSWS experience was amazing,” Holter said. “Our league umpire, Mike O’Neill, was able to attend and represent LSA, umpiring games at every level throughout the entire week.”

O’Neill is the former Cedar Rapids athletics program supervisor. He became LSA’s umpire by accident after Holter reached out to find a replacement umpire. O’Neill agreed to umpire their Sunday game and help find a permanent replacement.

“Mike came out and umpired that Sunday, and he hasn’t left sense,” Holter said.

The players and members like O’Neill are the reason Holter donates his time and effort to LSA. Holter, a Wisconsin native, hopes the league will bolster LGBTQ participation in sports and help them find a community.

“I didn’t get bullied or teased a lot as a child, and I played sports in my youth. But I know so many individuals in the LGBTQ community that don’t, either because they are targeted, or just simply because they’re fearful of being targeted,” said Holter, who played with his dad growing up.

“Some of the most marginalized are transgender, nonbinary and gender-fluid individuals, who can just come out there. And once they hit the field, it’s just a bunch of ball players out there, which is amazing,” he continued. “I have seen so many stories firsthand where LGBTQIA individuals have found themselves playing in NAGAAA softball leagues, individuals that never felt as if they had a place in youth sports or high school sports.”

While LSA is designed for LGBTQ people, the league is open to anyone. Holter guesses that 85 percent of LSA members are queer, and 15 percent are straight allies, friends and family members who want to play.

LSA had four teams in its spring and summer league, and three teams for its fall league. LSA hopes to grow by one to two teams each year. Fifty-eight players competed with LSA in the past season, ranging from 18-year-old players to people in the early 60s. Anyone can join — all you need is a glove.

“We had several members join LSA for the first time. It is always exciting to have fresh faces join our fun,” Holter said. “We’re just always welcoming new members, you know, from the beginner to the most experienced.”

LSA players pose for a photo. — courtesy of Steven Holter

In the future, LSA is planning to form three to four teams in the Quad Cities. Eventually LSAs will have a rotating schedule, where teams from Iowa City travel to the Quad Cities and vice versa every other week. Holter said they’re looking for local leaders to coordinate the Quad Cities teams alongside the LSA board.

LSA has also begun work to form a pickleball club to keep people active over the winter. Like the softball teams, anyone is welcome to join. They’ll start with a few introductory sessions in January, followed by open play games throughout the season. Interested pickleballers can email to get connected.

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