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'Acceptance, inclusion, visibility': Why the Gay Softball World Series is more than a tournament

The North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance is hosting the series in North Texas this year, and it's grown over the decades as a safe space for LGBTQ+ players.

DALLAS — Five days of championship softball. Five host softball complexes. Seven days of games and events with more than 250 teams from 48 cities, along with more than 5,000 people expected to attend.

That's what the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance (NAGAAA) has been planning for for their annual Gay Softball World Series (GSWS).

The series is back in Dallas for the fourth time, celebrating 45 years of NAGAAA.

In the middle of running errands during a multi-field tournament across North Texas, John "Jay Jay" Deffee sat in his car to talk about the series with WFAA. Not only is Deffee the NAGAAA commissioner; he's also playing in the series himself.

The organization started in 1977 as a supportive space for LGBTQ+ athletes during a time where it wasn't safe for them to be "out of the closet," especially in the sports world.

NAGAAA started with five host cities altogether in the U.S. and Canada. Now, Deffee's proud to say there are now 19,000 members and 52 associations in North America.

"We created this space then to say, 'Regardless of your skillset, regardless of your sexual orientation or gender, we're gonna create a safe place where you can come and be exactly who you are, not be afraid of sharing that and be around others like you to have a great time and be who you are,'" Deffee said.

The organization started as space for people to play softball in a safe haven, which emphasizes why the game and the World Series are important to them. 

While the competition is a priority for some members, Deffee said there's even more to it than that. People also join to be seen, accepted and included.

"What this has really turned into is a big, giant family reunion," he said. "This is really a one-time-a-year where everybody just plans for it, they do their best to qualify to represent their city, their team, their state, their local associations and more importantly, their community, and sometimes, even their cultures."

Many factors play a part in deciding where to hold the GSWS. Deffee says there are plenty of reasons why NAGAA keeps coming back to Dallas:

  • Multiple fields, venues and hotels to accommodate guests and events
  • Supportive community
  • Heavy cooperation from Dallas Sports Commission
  • Players' experience in the city

The GSWS was supposed to be in Dallas in 2021, but they had to shift a few series back due to COVID. However, the delay didn't affect the support they received from the city.

On Wednesday night, attendees had the option to either go to the Hall of Fame Dinner at the House of Blues, or GSWS Night at the Texas Rangers game against the Houston Astros.

While the series is halfway over, there's still time for others to join the fun. NAGAAA is fully operated by volunteers, and they're always looking for more.

If you want to get in the game next year, you can head to their website and send a note though their "Let's Talk" section at the bottom of the page. You can email board members directly.

The Gay Softball World Series will be in Minneapolis in 2023, then Las Vegas the following year. And you don't have to be a softball pro to take the field.

"We have so many people catching a ball for the first time, getting a hit," said Deffee, holding back tears. "Having people applaud you where ordinarily you wouldn't be recognized or included because of the way you look, or the way you speak, or the way your mannerisms are. And here, you can be unapologetically yourself and be celebrated and just loved and accepted. That's really what the Gay Softball World Series is about."

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