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Buffalo Alternative Volleyball

By: Jeffrey Hartinger

Buffalo is constantly ranked among American cities as having the most devoted sports fans and a progressive and accepting culture, so it is no surprise that Buffalo Alternative Volleyball has been a thriving organization in our great city for the past few decades. The BAV is a predominantly gay, semi-competitive volleyball league that is an important fixture in the role of club sporting in the Western New York area. This organization not only brings a diverse group of athletes together, but also helps debunks some common stereotypes that surround the LGBT community, specifically involving gay men, such that they are effeminate and are not able to excel in athletic endeavors, which is not the case.

The season runs from September through June on Thursdays from 6:30pm to 9:30pm at the Maryvale Community Education Center. On a weekly basis, they have anywhere between 18 and 30 players. Every week, the organization takes the participants that come and breaks them up into teams (balanced as equally as possible) and rotates team play for the night. Anyone is welcome to attend and the cost is $6 per week.

The coordinators of the Buffalo Alternative Volleyball are Eugene Harvey and Ron Degenfelder, both who have been with the organization for many years. I was given the opportunity to ask them a few questions regarding the BAV and other topics relating to the LGBT culture of Buffalo and Western New York.

Buffalo Rising: What was the motivation behind starting a gay/gay friendly league?
Ron Degenfelder: I was not involved in forming the league twenty some years ago.  I have been involved since 2001.  I like the idea that our group provides a social alternative to be with other gay people with similar interests, which doesn’t involve hanging out in a bar. Our goal is to provide a safe and comfortable environment for people, gay or straight, who enjoy playing volleyball. You don’t have to be gay to play.
 
Eugene Harvey: I joined the league in 1992 and became a coordinator within a couple years. Even though I was not involved in the original development of the league, I was happy to have a recent conversation with Curt Beall, one of the league’s “founding fathers,” who shared with me the history of BAV. In the late 1980s, a group of gay, indoor volleyball players decided to start an outdoor league in Delaware Park. 

So many people joined that they started having v-ball tournaments in Buffalo with all of the gay bars sponsoring different teams. Also in the late ’80s, this core group of players joined the North American Gay Volleyball Association (NAGVA) and started playing in regional gay v-ball tournaments. The “league” grew over the years, and some players branched out and participated in the 1990 and 1994 Gay Games. In a sense, the formation of our league stemmed from these players’ commitments to the local gay community while they created and shared their love and passion for the sport of volleyball. Like any organization, we’ve had ups and downs over the years in terms of attendance, but BAV continues to be one of the longest-running organizations in the Buffalo gay community today.

Buffalo Rising: In regard to the Gay Games (which is the world’s largest sporting and cultural event organized by and specifically for LGBT athletes, artists and musicians) does the organization ever plan to attend again?
EH: The 2014 Gay Games will be held in Cleveland, and I know I want Buffalo to have a strong showing both in terms of players and volunteerism. This event occurs only every 4 years, and basically it will be in our “back yard” in 2014. I can’t think of a better or more fortunate opportunity to become involved and to show our support!

Buffalo Rising: The LGBT community in the United States of America has been on a slow but steady path towards equality over a few decades, but over the past few years, this issue has became an increasingly public matter and more prominent.  Since of founding of the Buffalo Alternative Volleyball, how has Buffalo changed and evolved over the years?
RD: As there is generally a broader acceptance and inclusion for gay people in society, to be honest, our group might not be needed anymore. In the Buffalo area, there are several volleyball leagues and groups that people (gay or straight) can play in.  Being gay shouldn’t matter when you are on the court. 

EH: Although it’s difficult to determine the overall acceptance of LGBT individuals in the Buffalo area, I’ve noticed some interesting changes over the years that indicate a move beyond tolerance and towards acceptance and inclusion. I’ve seen several “shifts” in our attendants, perhaps due to changes in our location. But perhaps, too, due to changes in society and local culture. 

When I first started, we had pick-up games in Delaware Park during the summer only, and we would get a very diverse group of players. Yes, many players were gay, but certainly not everyone…straight, gay, male, female, Hispanic, African, Native American, Asian, any age, any background, any skill level–we’ve had them all over the years! Even after our move to Maryvale about 15 years ago, we’ve maintained an incredible diversity within our league.  To me, our diversity truly is our most outstanding characteristic, and maybe that is one of the most promising signs of acceptance and inclusion.

Buffalo Rising: Is there anything else you would like the Buffalo community to know about your organization?
EH: We have been careful to not include the word “gay” in our organization’s title. In fact, some people have criticized this decision, saying that the gay community may not be clear that we are a “gay” organization. Yes, it’s true that our league sprang roots from the efforts of volleyball players who were gay–and many of our players today identify themselves as such–but our league has become much more diverse than we ever imagined. Calling it “Buffalo Gay Volleyball” would not be inclusive of the many talented, fun, dedicated players that do not necessarily fit the “gay” label.
Our goal is quite simple, to provide a healthy, social sports alternative where people of all backgrounds are welcomed and accepted, where anyone can come and be respected and appreciated for who they are. Maybe that’s the reason why our league is one of the longest running “gay” organizations in the Buffalo area!

The Buffalo Alternative Volleyball organization is a great addition to the diverse city of Buffalo. The LGBT community is often denied the rights of mainstream America, such as marriage and the opportunity to serve our country, but the right to play sports is still granted, warranted a conservative and homophobic politician doesn’t attempt to take that away, too. Grab some friends, an open mind and come check out with this great organization has to offer.

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Jeffrey Hartinger, who was a four sport athlete in high school, is currently a senior at Canisius College who identifies with the LGBT community.

Written by queenseyes

queenseyes

Newell Nussbaumer is 'queenseyes' - Eyes of the Queen City and Founder of Buffalo Rising. Co-founder Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts. Co-founder Powder Keg Festival that built the world's largest ice maze (Guinness Book of World Records). Instigator behind Emerald Beach at the Erie Basin Marina. Co-created Flurrious! winter festival. Co-creator of Rusty Chain Beer. Instigator behind Saturday Artisan Market (SAM) at Canalside, Buffalo Porchfest, and Paint vs. Paint. Founder of The Peddler retro and vintage market on Elmwood. Instigator behind Liberty Hound @ Canalside. Throws The Witches Ball at Statler City, the Hertel Alley Street Art Festival, and The Flutterby Festival.

Contact Newell Nussbaumer | Newell@BuffaloRising.com

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