by Jim Provenzano
Cloistered away in a small yet efficient sports center in North Sydney, basketball games played out on four courts throughout the week of Gay Games VI with the squeak of sneakers and the chirp of whistles.
The gold medal for the Games ended up going to the LA Heat, and the silver medal to the Long Beach Rebels. The bronze went to United American Ballers, leaving the Gay Games V gold medal San Francisco Rock Dogs in fourth place.
But in the days preceding the medal rounds, players were slotted in an exhausting schedule of up to twelve games for the week.
On court one, a handsome French team defeated a Dutch squad. On another, a Taiwanese women's team warmed up as their coach hung their flag on a wall. Next to them, a young Sydney team was fouled left and right by an overly aggressive US squad. It was Davids vs. Goliaths, and the Davids had more bruises than points as souvenirs.
Not that being American assured victory. Several pick-up Yank teams had already been defeated by East Sydney and other teams. But many talked of the impending threat of facing the San Francisco Rockdogs.
They played another San Francisco squad of friends, the Castro Eagles, and courtly behavior was friendly. Ellison Pork of Dallas, Texas, played in Sydney for San Francisco Eagles.
"We have people from Virginia, Detroit, all over," said Pork. "We never played together before, but we have a good chance of doing something special. We'd never met each other, but we're like a family."
Jasinski played with the Castro Eagles, but knew that one of his other hometown teams, the Rockdogs, would end up in the closely contested finals, where the difference between medal and fourth place was decided by a mere few points.
"We were just trying to keep our intensity, not trying to showboat," said coach Alex Herrera, who remained calm amid the hoop hoopla.
Rory Ray has played with the Rockdogs for over a year. "We're a pretty young team compared to most of the other. It's a time to learn how to play together, how to move on the court together."
Chris Johnson, the youngest of the Rockdogs, said, "You learn something more about these players every day. I want to learn more about them. If you see me, I'm always smiling, because I'm really enjoying this. We're playing hard, but not aggressive and negative."
"This is my first Games, but I've played in a few gay tournaments," said Caldwell, whose team has won tournaments for the past several years. "A lot of guys from Long Beach and LA know each other, and they've competed together before."
Anderson's track schedule included the 800meter, 4X100, 4X400 relays, while Caldwell ran in the 110 hurdles and the 4X400meter relay.
"Our schedules are going to conflict a little bit, but it'll work out," said Anderson. "Besides, the more medals you get, the better. That's what it's all about, winning and having fun."
And win they did. The LA Heat's gold was not won easily, beating the Rockdogs by a single point in the semi-finals.
"Out of our four San Francisco teams, three of them were in the final eight, out of 20," said Jasinski.
"We had two women's teams, too, but both failed to win many games," he added. "The better team was hamstrung with only five players for most games and could not sustain their leads." The other women's team lost players to conflicting softball schedules.
OUT AND OUT
The bronze medal match was said to be lackluster, in that the teams did not really want to win the third place, having set their sights on gold. But for the most part, it was about playing.
For 21-year-old Myan Nolen of Detroit, the Games provided a chance for him to come out to his parents before scoring over 40 points as a fill-in player for San Francisco.
With up to a dozen games per week, a grueling schedule not even endured by professional teams, Jasinski noted that it was the result of suggestions made to the Sydney organizers to allow for more games.
Said Jasinski, "If you're going to travel that far, you want to play."
With its Northeastern location, Montreal's Games VII stand to have a lot more teams. Vancouver's Games awarded medals to two brackets, an idea that may work for the anticipated increase in players and teams.
Either way, Bay Area hoop jocks are still playing, here, and in Sydney. Basketball games continue on Sundays from 5 to 9pm at 100 Collingwood Street (at 18th Street).
The next big gay basketball events are San Diego's February 2003 Tournament, and the Chicago Hoops Classic, April 19 & 20, which will host more than 80 games with 300 athletes on 30 teams.
The focus of this year's tournament is to draw in new women's teams, international teams and to lure back men over 35 years old. New women's teams and international teams will be eligible for entry fee discounts and plans are underway for limited hosted housing. A new '35 and over' division will be added for men.