3 min

Slo but stylish

Nineteen years of Miss WESA

We often speak about fusion in Vancouver: fusion cuisine, fusion music. But who would have imagined that for the past 20 years, the West End Slo-pitch Association (WESA) has been practicing its own unique brand of fusion of sport and drag in the form of the Miss WESA Pageant, and that this marriage of the stiletto heel to the baseball diamond has befitted Vancouver gays and lesbians and their friends?

WESA was started in 1978, “when gay and lesbian sports-minded, fun-loving people gathered on Sunday afternoons at the Lord Roberts School playground to engage in some recreational softball,” reads its website. “As more interested people joined in, a loosely structured organization of teams took shape… WESA’s original six teams were The Castle, Neighbours, The Gandydancer, The Playpen Central, The Luv Affair and The Shaggy Horse.”

In 1986, Celebrities became a new sponsor and its team wanted to thank them. Greg Welliver, Mark Sutherland and Art Gullet devised the idea of the Baseball Beauty Pageant in which each team would field a member. Its success was such that it became an annual event–only one year has been skipped–raising over $40,000 for assorted Vancouver charities.

Gullet, who has attended all 18 pageants, describes some past highlights:

“One of the special moments from the first year was The Crown. It was designed and constructed by a class of Surrey elementary school students whose teacher was one of the WESA members. It was a simple cardboard crown with lots of glitter and points. The winner proudly held it on her head as she paraded across the stage, dropping it a few times and watching it bounce around the floor.”

In 2003, Drew as Céline Dion was magnificent, continues Gullet. He took Céline from a young French singer dressed in diapers with an old René hanging around, to singing with Barbra, standing on the bow of the Titanic, and finally throwing her stuffed baby into the audience as she hit the high notes in Vegas.

“Jamie’s performance as Bette Midler is one to be remembered. Jamie’s costume [consisted of] large rose petals attached at his waist. A number of bees, who were Jamie’s straight, female co-workers, pollinated him and his petals opened as he belted out the words to The Rose.”

Competing in the pageant, with its swimsuit, evening wear and talent competitions, and of course the skill testing question, calls for a certain kind of ball player.

“I entered the pageant in my second year of ball,” says Miss WESA 2000, Ivanna Bendova, aka Miss Brockton Clubhouse. “I joined to challenge some childhood emotional traumas I had endured while playing Little League as a skinny gay kid. My dad was the coach. As [a young] child, my sister used to put her dresses on me and I would prance around. One awful summer this came to an abrupt halt when my visiting aunt and uncle were horrified by my performance. I believe this was when I first felt the sting of shame. Anyway, doing drag for my ball league was naturally going to bring up all kinds of issues for me… The pageant [that year] was hosted by Lava Lounge [and] the bar was packed. I was so terrified, I drank scotch for courage. I drank and drank, but no amount of scotch helped.

“When I was crowned, I was handed flowers and gifts. I remember stumbling down the stairs and [coming] face-to-face with a man who asked me to join him upstairs in the hotel; a first for me. Later that evening, the cab driver who drove me home felt my rice-filled boob while I was struggling with my purse for the fare. Was I that convincing, or was he tempted by a drunk guy in a dress?”

Once crowned, the new Miss WESA has her work cut out for her–or him, the first Mr WESA being Buster Cherry–points out Ivanna: “My reign as Miss WESA was a lot of work. I needed to perform at the [Pacific Cup Slo-Pitch Tournament] in September and at the draft party the following spring. I quickly had to add a half-dozen numbers and outfits. This seriously taxed my closet.”