It's really cool, the diversity and the variety with everybody coming together," says Ron Griffith. "It's just a really healthy way to meet new people, a healthy way to spend your leisure time and to be part of a bigger community."
Griffith is the director of the Apollo, Friends in Sports' 26th annual Western Cup, North America's longest-running lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender sport tournament. The meet, running on the theme reFresh is set for Mar. 20-22 and features competitions at various levels for badminton, bowling, curling, hockey, swimming and volleyball.
In addition to the actual sporting matches, the tournament provides an opportunity for those in the LGBT community to get involved in a different way than the normal bar and party get-togethers.
"The six sports, most of them are two-day tournaments, so of course that absolutely gets everybody together meeting and mingling," Griffith says. "The thing about this tournament is you're bringing everybody from six different sports together at the socials and making a community on another level, a deeper level so to speak."
Western Cup's host organization, Apollo, was created in 1981 after many in the LGBT community expressed interest in a multisports tournament in Calgary. After its success in Calgary, involvement from surrounding areas and cities like Edmonton increased, adding to the organization's momentum.
The majority of those involved in the tournament are volunteers who begin donating their time to organizing everything starting as early as Sep.
"We have a main organizing committee and there are reps from each of the six sports on that committee," explains Griffith. "This year, we have six sports. That number changes a little bit--we almost had seven this year. We've got a treasurer, someone to take care of marketing, and someone do sponsorship and then a few just people to do general sorts of things. Then, each of the tournament directors have their own little sub-committees as well. We've got a volunteer webmaster and a volunteer graphic designer, [too]."
Many of the participants are part of teams that play during the year and then enter into the Western Cup. Given the small size of many of the participants' leagues, the tournament gives players the opportunity to compete against new opponents and athletes, adding thrill to the sport to which they already devote so much time.
With the addition of the many different levels of skill and competition, there is also a great chance to take on more difficult teams.
The planning of the tournament places a great emphasis on many meet-and-greet prospects throughout the three days, featuring a cocktail and dinner night Mar. 21 and the Western Cup dance, taking place at the Westin Hotel Mar. 22.
"It's the biggest dance in southern Alberta and it's a pretty big hit in the community," says Griffith.
Because of Western Cup's long-reaching influence, the tournament draws participants from farther than its original Calgary and Edmonton bases.
"I've talked to people and talked to some guy in Vancouver and he's been coming curling for 15 years, so it's just on his calendar every year," says Griffith.
Ultimately, it seems Apollo's mandate and Western Cup's existence provide, more than anything, a place where people can be themselves.
"The good thing about it is that it gives gay people a comfortable place where they can go and not worry about any judgment in terms of their sexuality," says volleyball player Eddy Gee. "Again, it's a great place to go and meet new people, if you don't have a lot of gay friends and you're not sure how to make friends, it's a great way to go and make new friends--versus, say, going online."
Gee adds that a lot of involvement from heterosexual participants, while not "normalizing" LGBT community, brings home the point that people really aren't that different in the end.
"There still is a lot of internalized homophobia within the gay community," Gee says. "I think when you're around other gay people, then you're like, 'Okay, there are other people like me,' and you feel less alone. It's an environment where you don't have to worry about who you are and you can just be yourself."