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March league openers are just another reason that it’s good to be gay in Atlanta.

By Mike Fleming

In an era when gay athletes are coming into their own, Atlanta stands out as a rare city to offer multiple sports options for gay and gay-friendly jocks. Other metropolises have gay rugby, softball, flag football, volleyball, swimming, or tennis. Our fair city boasts all of those and more. Call it another reason that it’s good to be gay in Atlanta.

The gay sports scene emerges rejuvenated each spring after an off-season that lasts only a few cold months. Local gay jocks are known for camaraderie, and for welcoming all skill levels without the shaming that gay players may remember from adolescent sports.

Three of the most popular groups kick off this month with plans to play hard on the field and off. Here’s a sneak peek.

Hotlanta Softball League

With 35 years under its belt, HSL is home base for more than 500 members on some 35 teams in four divisions. There’s something special about softball that draws so many people, says HSL board secretary Jay Malloy.

“Softball is a game that you can play with very little skill and learn fast from your fellow teammates,” Malloy says. “This allows you to be as good as you want to be. We make no judgments on ability and include everyone.”

Every year, top-flight HSL teams compete in the Gay Softball World Series, and Atlanta hosts the national Big Peach Tournament each Memorial Day Weekend. On the lighter side, look for events like the fun Mr. and Miss HSL pageants. In the end, it’s all about community, Malloy says.

“I am so proud of all of the women and men who make up our league,” he says. “I would have never met so many great people without joining HSL.”

Hotlanta Softball League throws its first pitch on March 20 and plays Sundays thereafter at Metro Sports Complex. Each game day is followed by an Extra Innings Beer Bust at various venues. hotlantasoftball.org.

National Flag Football League of Atlanta

The men of NFFLA kicked off the spring season at their annual Super Bowl party. Now it’s time for the league’s teams to face off each week to find a champion. Plus, there are myriad opportunities for players beyond the games, says Brent Baur, NFFLA president.

“The NFFLA provides a social sanctuary for those looking to meet new people,” he says. “We have a draft every season, which provides a better opportunity for players to meet other players on a yearly basis. If you are nervous joining as a new player, we allow you to be on a team with another new or existing player that you already know. The love of football is an excellent reason to join us, too!”

But it’s not football and forget it. These are the same guys who let their masc4masc veneers down for Ladies of the League. The drag-tastic fundraising pageant that puts the men into heels and wigs to see who comes out on top.

“My favorite thing about NFFLA is the friendships I’ve made over the years,” Baur says. “Doing that, playing the best sport is even better.”

National Flag Football League of Atlanta plays a pre-season scrimmage on March 5, with Opening Day on March 12. They then play each Saturday at Boulevard Crossing Park. nffla.com

Atlanta Bucks Rugby Football Club

One of gay Atlanta’s most beloved sports teams is known for its burly boys, rough-and-tumble games, rowdy parties, and big ol’ hearts of gold.

“I joined the Atlanta Bucks because I wanted a sport that I thought would challenge me,” says Gary Durden-Oswalt. “Rugby does that, but I stayed because the people in this club grew to be my family.”

The Bucks play gay rugby clubs from other cities, as well as predominantly straight squads. Their schedule also includes a big tournament with a global reach.

“This club has taken me places that I probably otherwise would not have gone,” Durden-Oswalt says. “The Bingham Cup [named after gay 9/11 hero Mark Bingham], which is held every other year, has been held outside of the US three times since I joined the Bucks, those being Dublin in 2008, Manchester in 2012, and Sydney in 2014.”

In addition to their matches, the guys also host monthly bar nights, the fun annual Purple Dress Run through Midtown, and the raucous Miss Ruck N Maul drag pageant.

The Bucks wrap the regular season in Atlanta at the end of April, then they head slightly north for the Bingham Cup. The tournament kicks off closer to home this time, in Nashville on May 27.

Atlanta Bucks Rugby Football Club hosts its Home Opener against the college jocks of Georgia State on March 12. atlantabucksrugby.org.

You might also look into the gay sports groups Atlanta Team Tennis Association, atta.org; Hotlanta Volleyball, hotlantavolleyball.org; and Atlanta Rainbow Trout Swim Team & Water Polo, atlantarainbowtrout.com.

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