Clearwater preps for a new LGBT softball league

By : Zach Caruso
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Clearwater – Clearwater is stepping up to the plate, and swinging for the fences. The city’s Parks and Recreation Athletic Department is currently working to develop an LGBT softball league for its community.

“I did a lot of research reading NRP [National Recreations and Park Magazine] and came across a few articles about the economic impact that an event or a league can have on a city, not only in regards to the community but to visitors as well,” said department intern Anthony Brenneman.
Brenneman, who is studying sports management at Temple University in Philadelphia, Penn., says that his school and the surrounding city is very liberal, and has a widely accepted and celebrated LGBT community. When he came to Clearwater for his internship, he felt that the area needed more activities geared toward the LGBT community.

“When I came down here, I saw that Clearwater had an LGBT demographic that seemed a little under-served,” said Brenneman. “So I developed a survey, talked with some professionals, activists, and leaders in the community and there was a real interest and a want for something like this. The feedback I was getting on my survey was that the community wanted something fun that was focused on recreation.

“They wanted to enjoy the social and health benefits of it, and they wanted co-ed, there are other leagues and activities around the area that aren’t co-ed, and that’s something that we wanted to have.”

So Brenneman and his supervisor, Athletics Director Bob Carpenter, started to brainstorm ideas. “We started to say ‘Ok where is there an opportunity to make this happen?’ and that’s when we started to talk about the Suncoast League,” said Brenneman.

The Suncoast Softball League was formed in 1993 as a way to provide a friendly and competitive recreational environment for the LGBT community in Tampa Bay. It is a co-ed league. This struck Brenneman and Carpenter as the perfect direction to take their project.

“What we’re looking to do is actually partner with Suncoast,” said Carpenter. “Through the research I’ve done and Anthony has done, they are the game in town, so we’ve reached out to them to see if they have an interest in partnering with us and helping us get this thing up and running.”

And while they are hoping for a helping hand from the Suncoast Softball League, they are also hoping to find a leader within the community that can help them reach their goal.

“What we are looking for now are community leaders to help get this league off the ground,” said Carpenter.

“We see the potential for this thing to be successful,” added Brenneman. “We need a voice, we need someone from the community who would be willing to step up, be that voice, and act as a liaison.”

Brenneman and Carpenter say that the community is excited, and they hope that excitement translates into a successful inaugural season.

“There’s a lot of buzz around the community, there are businesses reaching out to us to get involved,” said Brenneman. “I’ve been in touch with Equality Florida and they have given us the endorsement to go for it, they think it’s a great idea. But it takes time to build these relationships, you have to test things out and see how the waters are, and from there you can continue to build.”

Carpenter agrees, and sees potential for success.

“We host upwards of 46 tournaments a year, so with the St. Pete Pride Festival and everything that happens in St. Petersburg, it seems like a win-win,” he said. “The short-term here is ‘Okay, let’s start this softball league, let’s find the right partners for it,’ and the long-term is ‘What’s next? A 5k run?’ So the long term is really based around growing the opportunity for the community.”

Brenneman added that he has high hopes for the future of the project.

“In my research I saw that Orlando has bid for the Gay Games, and that one of the reasons that it wasn’t accepted was because they have never sent a team to the [North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance] World Series,” he said.
That research is flawed, however. Orlando has sent many teams to the NAGAAA Gay World Series and in 2013, the Orlando Fury Unleashed won the Division C title in Washington, D.C. The Orlando Force placed fourth in the A-division earlier this year.

“As we build this league into the future, we want to build that relationship with the community, and build that trust,” Brenneman said. “The door for opportunity is always open.”

For more information on the new league or to help with its formation, contact Bob Carpenter at Robert.Carpenter@MyClearwater.com or Rick Ryals at Richard.Ryals@MyClearwater.com.

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