Milwaukee hosts gay softball tournament

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Camaraderie. Competition. Camp.

The Dairyland Classic takes place Labor Day weekend, drawing dozens of teams to Milwaukee for two days of co-ed softball, plus pre-tournament and post-tournament good times.

“It’s been a great way to get people together,” says Doug Weber, an IT manager from Whitefish Bay serving his first year as tournament director. He’s been involved for about five years with the Saturday Softball Beer League, which runs the classic. SSBL, which has provided gay softball in Milwaukee for 34 years, is associated with North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance and the Milwaukee Gay Sports Network.

Weeks before the event that for many players closes out the summer softball season, Weber says he hopes to be organized enough on tournament weekend to play outfield for the Fluid Force.

Planning for the classic begins as early as February, when frost – if not snow – covers Milwaukee’s turf. There are preliminary meetings, assigning of duties, searches for volunteers. The tournament director and the SSBL board handle the earliest work.

Tournament weekend, Sept. 1-2, Weber says he’ll rely on about three dozen volunteers to help with the registration, field activities, party bartending and souvenir sales.

“We have a great group of volunteers. And we hope to have 30 to 40 teams,” he says. “That would be a typical tournament for us.”

Most of the teams, which typically have 15 to 20 players, come from Wisconsin. But some competitors travel from as near as Chicago and as distant as Dallas.

“We do get teams from other parts of the country – Texas, Florida, Arizona,” Weber says.

In mid-August, a couple of Milwaukee teams headed to Minneapolis for the 2012 NAGAAA Gay Softball World Series. And in early September, a couple of Minneapolis teams likely will be bound for Milwaukee.

“Minneapolis and Chicago, they do a great job supporting our town,” Weber says. “And the teams enjoy coming to Milwaukee, playing in Milwaukee. ... Milwaukee always seems to have a really fun tournament. It’s a great time and good camaraderie.”

The camaraderie is a major reason Jeff Weigand has played six seasons of softball with the SSBL, as well as the tournaments.

“I really enjoy my teammates,” says the third baseman and contact hitter for Woody’s Silver.

Weigand, a Chicago transplant who stayed in Milwaukee after graduating from Marquette University, says the league helped him find a community.

“It’s a good group of people,” he says. “A fun group of people.”

Weigand had played college intramural softball before the recreational league. He also played some Little League baseball.

Now, as then, playing the game is about competition and camaraderie. And now, as then, playing the game can bring thrills.

“There’s still that excitement when you make a great play or score that winning run or get that big hit,” Weigand says. “It takes you back to that place, that free place.”

A self-described “huge sports fan,” Weber didn’t play organized sports in high school but he took an interest in intramurals in college and then the recreational leagues.

Weber has played in two Dairyland Classics, two world series and “lost track of how many other tournaments” he’s played in.

The Dairyland Classic competition takes place at two venues – Wirth Park at Pilgrim and North Avenue in Brookfield and Wick at 51st and Vliet in Milwaukee.

On Aug. 31, registration begins at the host hotel, the Doubletree at Sixth and Wisconsin, with cocktails at the bar.

On Sept. 1, there’s round-robin play, with C Division teams at Wirth and D Division teams at Wick.

On Sept. 2, there’s a full day of play building up to the championship games – two or three, depending on the number of teams in the tournament.

Organizers expect to see more fans in seats on Sunday than Saturday.

Weigand says his dad, with whom he goes to Brewers games, probably will drive up from Chicago for the tournament. “He loves his gay softball,” the son says.

After the sporting, comes the celebrating.

“That’s something unique for us,” Weber says. “Milwaukee always puts on an end-of- tournament party.”

And he promises a good one.

“Without a doubt, it’s a highlight,” Weber says, adding that this year’s celebration, Party at the Ritz, takes place from 4 p.m. to mid- night on Sept. 2 at the Pritzlaff Building at Plankinton and St. Paul Avenue. Entertainment includes a DJ and Chris America’s “Madonna Tribute.”

“She doesn’t lip sync and has a couple of very hot guys as back-up dancers,” Weber boasts.

Brian Reinkober, the SSBL commissioner and a player for La Cage Nemesis, says the party helps make the classic a “world-class event.”

On the field

The Dairyland Classic – billed as “Big Time in Brew Town – returns to Milwaukee Sept. 1-2, with registration on Aug. 31.

For details about the gay softball tournament, go to www.ssblmilwaukee. com.