A CMSA volleyball player digs. Photo by Ross Forman
If nothing else, the beach volleyball league run by the Chicago Metropolitan Sports Association ( CMSA ) is easy on the eyes, arguably, the best sporting visual in the LGBT community.
No wonder a record 700 signed up this summer for the 11-week, Friday night gig at Montrose Harbor that features plenty of gay men flaunting their golden tans and chiseled chests, wearing just shorts and maybe sunglasses.
'I can't argue with that,' the sexy sporting scenery, said Matt Lagen, the league's commissioner. 'I'm sure [ the scenery ] has a lot to do with the record number of participants, though not the only think.'
The league has a record 114 teams ( 99 men, 15 women ) this year, 20 more than last year, with players ranging from 18 to 60, some coming to play from Indiana, not to mention many Chicago suburbs.
About 98 percent of the players fall into the LGBT community, Lagen said.
'Chicagoans love the summer and they want to get outside as soon as possible [ in the spring ] , and everyone wants to go to the beach,' said Lagen, 33, in his second season running the league.
'I think, by word of mouth, people have really started spreading the word about the beach volleyball league. More and more people keep coming to the city, including more and more gay people.'
Lagen started receiving emails about the current season at the start of 2007.
But he never anticipated 700 participants.
'During a Board meeting in, oh, April, I said then that we were at capacity, that I couldn't handle anymore teams – and we were only at 94 teams then,' Lagen said. 'Well, after registration, I realized we'd have 20 more teams [ than first anticipated ] and I didn't want to turn anyone away. We try to give everyone the chance to play.'
There are seven men's divisions, starting with Novice and going up to Competitive. There are only two women's divisions: beginner and competitive.
'The players in the men's competitive division are really, really good,' said Lagen, who plays beach and indoor volleyball, plus softball and bowling. 'Those in the novice division are first-time players. It definitely is a social thing for them.
'I think the women's divisions have the best attitudes of all; they really are out here just for the fun of it, the friendships, the camaraderie.
'Beach volleyball is supposed to be recreational.'
So, will there be more teams and players in 2008?
Yes, probably, he said, 'but we are really, really close to using up all of the available space and courts.'
The season runs through the end of August.