When Tim Bocook went to the Gay Olympics in New York last year, he was one of more than 2 million people at the event.
At the same time, he felt alone.
“I felt like I was the only person from Spokane,” Bocook said. “It would’ve just been really fun to come home and have somebody to share it with, somebody who would understand how I was feeling.”
He went to New York as a spectator, but Bocook returned with playing as his goal. He thought others might be interested as well, so he started Team Sports Spokane for gay sports teams in October.
“It’s just for fun,” Bocook said. “Another thing that might come out of it is getting people aware that gay people are in Spokane.”
Bocook formed a basketball team this winter, and there’s talk about soccer and football. Right now, the focus is on volleyball.
Although the 10 Percent volleyball team has been practicing twice a week for more than a month, it still hasn’t won a match in its co-ed division of Spokane’s city league.
It’s a team where bumps can fly off reddened arms in unexpected directions, where sets can thud off flat fingers and where spikes often are a stationary affair.
Skills aren’t necessarily the focus.
“These guys are here to enjoy it,” said Jan, who coaches from the sidelines. “They’re also wanting to learn some skills. They’ve been real enthusiastic so far. They’re already talking about next year.”
The 14 Spokane area team members range in age from 18 to their early 40s. Almost all have been open about their sexual orientation for years.
Members of the team wear T-shirts sporting upside-down pink triangles superimposed with a volleyball and the symbol “10%.”
The triangles are a symbol of the gay movement dating back to Nazi Germany, when Nazis marked gays with pink triangles. “Ten percent” refers to the Kinsey sex studies from 1948 and 1953 that estimated 10 percent of the population is gay.
“Every night, people ask me, ‘What does 10 percent mean?”’ said Bob Ashworth, team manager. “I say, ‘10 more than zero, 10 less than 20.’ Then I tell them the truth. They’re like, ‘How neat.’ Everyone’s been really positive. I’m not really surprised.”
The other volleyball teams have been receptive, Bocook added.
“Nobody’s said anything rude,” he said, unlike in basketball, when some opponents muttered “fag” under their breaths.
The goals for the team are high. Bocook hopes Team Sports Spokane can cobble together volleyball and basketball teams to play in the Gay Olympics in Amsterdam in three years.
The Gay Olympics aims to give gays a chance to compete in different sports and to celebrate gay pride.
“A lot of gay people feel like they’re the only ones,” Bocook said. “I spent a long time feeling that way. This changed the way I feel about myself. I’m not the perverted deviant that I was taught that I was. It just made me feel good about myself.”
Ashworth’s goals are less lofty than the Olympics. He’s hoping to sign up two volleyball teams in the city league next year: one with beginners and one with more advanced players.
Although many on this year’s team are beginners, some are experts. A couple of the men really whale on the ball. So does Marie Kinney, who coaches the team with another woman, Jan.
The group practices Wednesdays in the YWCA gym, where the net’s a sagging, stringy affair which moves when somebody breathes too hard.
At one recent practice, Kinney led the team through drills on bumping, setting, spiking, blocking and serving.
Lisa Sawyer, who recently moved from Fairbanks, Alaska, hadn’t played volleyball since junior high school. “Our team was pretty much a joke,” Sawyer said. “I gave up for years and decided I wanted to try it again. I heard there was a gay team and thought, hah, that’s mine.”
Dallas Lyle joined the team because he wanted to play volleyball and to increase the gay community’s exposure to mainstream Spokane.
“It gives you more credit when you have a face and a name,” Lyle said. “I’d rather educate someone than let them guess.”
Some of the players have more to lose. Several didn’t want their pictures taken or names used. They worried about their jobs.
Jan coached volleyball at a high school for six years. One of the reasons she quit was because she never wanted to choose between teaching and being gay. She feared she’d suffer reprisals if the school ever discovered her sexual orientation.
“You can only chicken out for so long,” Jan said. “You have to take a stand before it’s too late.”
But Jan also worries about her status at her present job. She didn’t want her last name used.