As Badgerland Softball League celebrates its contribution toward 20 years of providing LGBTQIA softball in the greater Madison area, I took a moment to pause and reflect on what a momentous achievement this is, as well as how my involvement in Badgerland, and in its predecessors, has helped to shape the individual I am today. Many Our Lives readers may be familiar with Madison Gay Hockey Association (MGHA)’s annual essay contest “What Gay Hockey Means to Me.” Inspired by that theme of autobiographical openness, I decided to share my story of Badgerland with others. This is not a history of the league, but rather my own personal experience.
February 2006, I was a bright-eyed freshly turned 21-year-old who would soon be wrapping up my third year at UW-Madison. College was supposed to be all about finding yourself, becoming an adult, figuring out what to do with your life. As I looked toward my future, I was still lost. My inner self was still tormented with self-doubt and self-hate. I still had yet to figure out where I belonged in the world. And I still felt very alone. I didn’t want others to know about my inner turmoils so I carried on with my head held high. My best friend at the time wanted me to meet his new boyfriend for the first time, so off we went. As we approached his boyfriend, my ears perked up as another patron kissed his cheek and said, “See you next week at softball registration.” I was immediately excited. After a few pleasantries, I was eager to get back to the softball discussion. “I overheard you play softball? Where do you play?”
This recreational softball league was not like any other I had ever heard about. It was open-gendered, so teams weren’t based on strict binary “co-ed” rules where teams must have an even number of men and women, where the assumption is that men are better athletes than women. I found a place where gender was less rigid and not always binary, sexuality wasn’t criticized, and a place where it was safe to be who you are, no matter who you are. I signed up the first chance I had. There I got to know my first girlfriend, experienced life in Madison outside of downtown and the bar scene, and of course got re-acquainted with my love of sports. I would likely not have joined MGHA or LGBT volleyball if I hadn’t found Badgerland Softball first.
At 21, I was not out of the closet yet. Not to others. Not even to myself. Discovering this league was more than finding a place to ball. It allowed me to find a community. It allowed me to discover myself. This league has helped turn a rather shy, timid, in-the-closet kid into an independent-thinking, forward-minded, out-and-proud woman. In the 16 years I have been with the league, I have grown from player, to coach and mentor, to commissioner and national delegate. Badgerland has afforded me opportunities that I never would have otherwise been able to achieve and given me lifelong friendships that are more than priceless.
After my inaugural year on the “Black Beauty” team, one night a week was no longer enough. I was recruited to join the L-Team for the Tuesday night women’s league. Of course, I couldn’t say no. With a few years under my belt, it was time to start giving back to the league in the form of coaching and managing. As Badgerland kept growing, so, too, did the number of days a week that I played softball. I added Sundays to the list of Badgerland Leagues I played in, an open-gendered competitive league. This is where I was introduced to traveling in more competitive tournaments.
With the help of Badgerland’s generous, shared fundraising events, I was able to travel across the country with my fellow Badgerlanders to several tournaments. I have been to Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Austin, Kansas City, St. Louis, New Orleans, Long Beach, Virginia Beach, and this year, Washington, D.C. My teams have brought five trophies home to Madison from these tournaments, but win or lose, these experiences can never be forgotten nor would they have been able to happen without Badgerland Softball League.
My most recent endeavor with Badgerland has been that of Women’s+ Commissioner. The opportunity to help carry this league into the future has been both a privilege and humbling experience. Our league has had its fair share of struggles throughout the years. Some decisions have been made that some, including myself, may not have necessarily agreed with as well. However, despite the flaws, I will always stand by Badgerland Softball League and be grateful for its existence when I needed it most. And I have promised to dedicate my time to ensure that this league endures so that someone in need in the future may also stumble across its wonderful community of humans.
Badgerland Softball League Info
Open Recreational: Sunday afternoons, McGaw Park (Fitchburg), 8-week season
This league is for anyone who just wants to have fun. It’s open to all genders, and knowledge of softball is not required. Here everyone registers as “free agents,” and we try our best to balance each teams’ skill levels to make for safe, fairly matched, and fun games. Historically, we have been able to accommodate reasonable play-with requests.
Open Competitive: Sunday late mornings, McGaw Park (Fitchburg), 5-week season
This league is for anyone that has quite a bit of experience and is ready to take their game to the next level. This league comprises two divisions (C and D), but all play against each other in a single schedule. This league is open to all genders. Registration for this league is as a team, but free agents are always welcome to register to be considered for a roster. This league is the primary source of qualification for the NAGAAA World Series. (Need not attend the World Series to play in the league.)
Women’s+ Semi-Competitive: Tuesday evenings, location TBD, 10-week season
This league is for women, trans, and non-binary folx. This league’s aim is to create a safe space around the sport of softball. Some softball experience is encouraged but not necessary. Historically, this has been a more competitive league but all skill levels are encouraged to register. This league is the primary source of qualification for the ASANA World Series. (Need not attend the World Series to play in the league.)