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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Sports: Nothin' But Ice
2004-08-25

This article shared 6181 times since Wed Aug 25, 2004
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By Ross Forman

Pictured Chuck Jacobson (isn't it a bit cold in that outfit on the ice?), Andy Rogers. FROM LEFT: Ryan Ruskin, Chuck Jacobson, Larry Zyks and Andy Rogers. Photos by Ross Forman

It isn't the wins or loses that really matter to members of the Chicago Gay Hockey Association (CGHA), which plays games once a week in Rolling Meadows. And statistics don't mean too much either, though team founder Chuck Jacobson accepted (and lost) a friendly $20 bet with a teammate about which of them will have more points at the end of this past fall/winter season.

Instead, breaking barriers and silencing skeptics is more important to these Wayne Gretzky wanna-be's.

The team is known as the Spin-Offs and is the only gay ice hockey team in Chicago, one of several major cities with a gay team playing one of the most macho sports around. Los Angeles, Boston, Pittsburgh, Denver and Seattle also have gay hockey teams. New York City is the model, as the Big Apple now features five teams in its gay hockey league and earlier this summer celebrated its fifth anniversary.

'Anyone can play hockey, regardless of your sexual orientation,' said CGHA president and founder Chuck Jacobson, 30, of Chicago, who plays left wing. 'Hockey is an intimidating, macho sport, but that doesn't mean a gay team can't play—and win.'

Take, for instance, the CGHA's game Aug. 1 at the West Meadows Ice Rink, against a team called Thin Ice, which manhandled the Spin-Offs 8-1 earlier in the summer. Thin Ice was in first-place with a 7-0 record going in, but the CGHA club came from behind for the upset win, 4-2.

The CGHA also was a giant-killer during the 2003-'04 fall/winter season, when the team defeated the league champion, Morning Wood (yes, that really is the team's name), twice for that team's only losses of the season.

The vast majority of players in the Rolling Meadows league are straight males, ranging in age from 20 to 60. The CGHA has players 18 to 53, with Blacks, whites, Asians and lesbians on its roster. The team includes, by day, a Federal Express delivery truck driver, a real estate agent, a waiter, the president of a million-dollar packaging manufacturer, a lawyer and a neurologist, among other professionals.

The CGHA's roots are embedded in an online chat Jacobson had about three years ago with Jeff Kagen, president of New York City's gay hockey organization. Jacobson met Kagen during the summer of 2002 at the annual Chelsea Challenge, a weekend-long gay hockey tournament in New York City.

Motivated by his New York experience, Jacobson passed out several thousand flyers at the 2002 Gay Pride Parade in Chicago, hoping to form a gay team locally. Several months later, Jacobson's dream was realized: a gay team was formed and playing in Vernon Hills.

'The perception in sports is that it's not OK to be out in the locker room. Well, we try to provide a supportive environment where you can play hockey and be yourself; that's most important,' said Ryan Ruskin, 35, of Chicago, who plays right wing.

The CGHA has attracted several straight, gay-friendly players, especially this summer, when about five such newcomers joined the team.

'I'm proud to be part of a group that makes it easier for others to understand that, gay or straight, we're all competitive and can compete equally, that sexual orientation has no effect on those motives,' said Andy Rogers, 42, of Chicago, who plays right wing.

Larry Zyks, 46, is one of the team's top forwards and has played in area men's leagues for about 25 years. 'Word of mouth is spreading that we're a good bunch of guys, a very competitive team, and that playing for us is a good time. I think we've earned respect as hockey players, not just as gay hockey guys.'

The CGHA has participated in several out-of-state tournaments, and will venture to Toronto Oct. 8-11 for the 10th annual Friendship Tournament.

'I think we're a lot tougher than any other team out there as far as our mental toughness,' Jacobson said. 'We've had to deal with (adversity) our whole lives. Playing a hockey game is nothing in comparison to what most gay people have to deal with in their everyday lives.

'I think the guys and girls have a good time playing, regardless if we win or lose. I think we've overcome the 'gay team' label. I think we definitely have earned respect within the league.'

The CGHA is holding a name-the-team contest through Sept. 30, in hopes of dropping the Spin-Offs title in favor of a new fan-suggested name. Team names should be emailed to Jacobson. His email is: chuck@chicagogayhockey.org .

They host a season kick-off party Sat., Aug. 28, 6 p.m. at Sidetrack, $20.

For more information on the CGHA, go to the team's Web site: chicagogayhockey.org .

Area players interested in joining the CGHA, regardless of experience, should call the team's hotline. The number is: (773) 509-6398.


This article shared 6181 times since Wed Aug 25, 2004
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