North America’s longest-running queer sporting event celebrated its 24th anniversary Apr 13-16 as Calgary’s gay community hosted the Western Cup.
The Cup is run by Apollo Friends in Sport, a volunteer-operated non-profit that organizes sporting and social events in Calgary year round. This year’s competition attracted hundreds of athletes to compete in six sports: bowling, badminton, volleyball, curling, running and swimming.
“We have a tradition of providing a safe environment for sports,” says Apollo president Don Buckley. “It’s all about having fun. Our slogan is ‘come out and play with us.'”
And play they did. Vancouver curling team Kipp has competed for four years running. Kipp skip, Kelly Kipp, remarks: “The organization at Western Cup is amazing. It’s the most fun spiel in the country with great teams from all over, like Toronto, Edmonton and Calgary.”
Competition at the bonspiel was stiff. Although knocked out of the tournament, team Kipp was rooting for team Ezzy Sleazzy, two guys from Toronto and two guys from Vancouver in baby blue T-shirts that read: Skank, Whore, Slut, and Tramp, respectively.
Phil Ivers, an Apollo volunteer who runs the curling competition, notes that gay sport has come a long way since Western Cup’s early days.
“As long as I have been running the curling bonspiel, the entire staff of the Calgary Curling Club-all straight-just embraces us. We are so much fun, we are low maintenance and we drink a lot,” he says impishly, adding, “I think 20, even 10, years ago most people would have had a stereotype of a gay bonspiel as flamboyant sissies curling but, in fact, we have some of the best curlers in Canada in our ranks. There is a team from Toronto that curls in a competitive straight men’s league which they win consistently, and this year they got beat out here at Western Cup because the calibre of our competition is so high.”
At the volleyball tournament, spectator David Ostoforoff says, “the Western Cup puts Calgary on the map for gay sporting events in Canada. Instead of being a competitive, points-getting type tournament, it is more fun and is more social. A lot of people who attend have been coming for years, so it is almost a way of reconnecting with friends that they only get to see once a year from Vancouver, Winnipeg, Regina, or wherever. I always make sure I am around this weekend.”
Bruce Howell from Calgary (formerly Victoria) plays on this year’s champion volleyball team, Safe Sets from Victoria. “This is a great tournament,” says Howell. “I have been coming for over 10 years.”
Teammate Axel Omoding adds that they had to work hard for their victory. “The competition is tough,” he says, “but that makes the games good, plus I like coming to Calgary.”
This kind of feedback is exactly what Western Cup organizers are looking for. “My greatest satisfaction is if all participants and sponsors enjoy themselves immensely,” says Western Cup director Brad Bostock. “It is important to me that we provide a safe environment, where no one is going to be judged. The Western Cup is about connecting. We are just not Calgary, Toronto, Winnipeg. In many ways we are a community that stretches across Canada and North America.
“The challenge to overcome now is that we have to get the word out there about Western Cup, and I think that over the next year Apollo is going to be coming out in a big way,” he continues. “We want to say to North America, that we are here, we have been doing this for 24 years. Stand up and pay attention.”
Apollo has also committed to host the next version of Outgames in 2007, to coincide with Western Cup’s 25th anniversary.
“We know for a fact that we can lay claim to the longest running annual sporting tournament in North America,” says Bostock, “and we are almost pretty sure that we are the longest running one in the world-and people say, ‘Calgary?'”
Several board members from the Gay and Lesbian International Sport Association (GLISA) were at the Western Cup, cementing alliances with Apollo members for next year’s Outgames. GLISA directors Thomas Dolan from Vancouver and Debbie Storrs from Houston say they are excited to be working with Apollo. Though it is important that the Western Cup has pre-eminence next year, they note.
Montreal Outgames spokesperson and GLISA director Mark Tewksbury was also at the Western Cup, promoting his new book as well as the first World Outgames in Montreal this July.
“Growing up in Calgary I did not know about Apollo and the Western Cup,” he says. Tewksbury muses that if Apollo had a swimming competition in its early years, he might have been inspired to come out sooner.
Next year’s Outgames will not only add two sporting events-ice hockey and squash-there will also be a week-long cultural festival, tentatively titled OUTfest, and a two-day human rights conference.
“I am looking forward to the Outgames next year. I think it will enhance Western Cup, not change it,” says Ostoforoff. “If you go to other tournaments, they tend to be one sport, one event, and are very small. The Western Cup brings an amazingly diverse group of people together. Each sport’s demographic is substantially different, which makes Western Cup unique-it is in a league of its own.”
Also in a league of its own is the Western Cup Heroes dance. One of the largest community dances of the year, the Heroes dance pulls in about 1,200 revellers who hope to work up a non-competitive sweat. Held this year at the Westin Hotel in downtown Calgary, the dance feels like a party at a great wedding rather than an aloof dance club.
At the dance, Gary Courtney, a Calgary lawyer and Apollo curler says, “The Western Cup people are the friendliest group that you could ever deal with. Everybody goes up and introduces themselves. The winners buy drinks for the losers.”
Trevor Harris from Winnipeg says he loves that there were so many participants (he especially likes the guys) and adds, “You can make some great friendships at Western Cup.”
When asked if Western Cup is more than just the event, Buckley says, “For a lot of people who have grown up in Calgary and rural Alberta, the Western Cup is a way of being recognized. This year one of our curling teams was a father and two sons of which only one is gay. That, to me, says a lot. That talks about our sense of community. That’s what community and family is all about.”