Tampa’s Largest LGBT Sports Organization
The Suncoast Softball League, formed in 1993, is a 501c(3) organization.
Our Mission Statement
“The Suncoast Softball League was organized in 1993 to promote a friendly, competitive and emotionally safe environment for LGBT people in the Tampa Bay area to participate in the sport of softball. While we realize opportunities exist outside of this league for softball play, our league exists as our special place, affording opportunities to us as a group that aren’t available elsewhere. Our goal as a league is to promote sportspersonship, tolerance and acceptance of gay and lesbian men and women as well as those in our community who are friendly and supportive of our ideals.”
Gay softball started at the national level in 1977 in San Francisco. While there were multiple places for athletes to play softball, gay softball was started as “our special place”. Not only were players free to socialize, to be who they were in a time where LGBT rights were anything but secure, but they were free to enjoy sports as well. This was contrary to stereotypes that exist even to this day! In the fall of 1993, a group of men and women who participated individually in gay and lesbian softball elsewhere decided in was time to formally bring LGBT softball to the Tampa area. A few meetings later, a plan emerged to do several bar raids at popular night spots, spreading the word and seeing if interest was there. LGBT bowling was already successful in the Tampa area and many other locations nationwide.
Several people involved in this effort were involved in bringing LGBT softball to other areas of the country. One of our founders and Hall of Fame member, Rick Ritt, was involved in forming NAGAAA: the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance. NAGAAA produces the annual Gay Softball World Series held at the end of summer each year. The group also enlisted the help of the Hotlanta Softball League in its efforts.
One fall weekend, several Hotlanta Softball League members led by Jim “Bubba D. Licious” Marks invaded Tampa. Thursday, Friday and Saturday the group merged with our Tampa guys and gals to play exhibition softball games. More importantly, they raided several of Tampa’s local establishments spreading the word that LGBT softball was coming to the Tampa area. The efforts were a hit! In the winter of 1993-1994, the group held a few more public recruiting sessions, then held an organizational practice at what is now known as Gadsden Park near MacDill AFB. 6 teams of players emerged to play in our first season, the Spring 1994 season. We played on Friday nights, followed by a Host Bar event held on a rotating basis at our sponsors.
Subsequently we held a Summer 1994 season, from which the Tampa City Side team emerged to represent Tampa in the summer classic. It was the City Side team who originally seeded our league. The Tampa City Side team went on to complete in the 1994 Gay Softball World Series in Nashville, Tennessee, finishing 3rd in the B division, our first GSWS trophy.
At that point the league realized it had a hit on its hands and was likely to grow. We also realized it was too hot to play a full season in the Florida summer heat! So in the fall of 1994 we switched to the Hyde Park fields in south Tampa. Our permanent calendar was therefore set: we’d play a full fall season (unlike many northern leagues who play a modified “fall ball” fall season), a spring season that we would use to qualify teams for the GSWS and a summer season (similar to northern cities’ fall ball). After several successful seasons, and as our league doubled in size to 12 teams, it became obvious that our Hyde Park location would not work, as it had only one field. The only option we had was to move play to Tampa’s largest softball fields: the Greco Softball Complex. We also went from one big division to two divisions then to three divisions where we are today. We do not currently field a team in the NAGAAA “A” division — although we have in the past –finishing as high as 5th in the A division in 1996.
We’ve played at the Greco Softball Complex since this time. However do to another doubling of our teams and membership, we now play additionally at the New Tampa fields and at Woodlawn Softball Complex in St. Petersburg. While our original mandate was to field a Tampa LGBT softball league, we now serve members from most of the Tampa Bay area counties.
Our league is currently at 25 teams in the NAGAAA B, C & D divisions. Like other leagues across the U.S and Canada, the D division makes up about 50% of the total players in NAGAAA.