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Hardwood Heads to Cologne

Team Harwood, Salt Lake City’s gay men’s basketball team, will represent Utah at Gay Games VIII in Cologne, Germany, July 31–Aug. 7.

Players who will represent the team at the Gay Games VIII are Clark Cutler, Stewart Ralphs, Greg Perkins, Jeffrey Sanchez, Ralph Ingersoll and Tracy Taggart. Although the economic downturn has made it hard for local athletes to commit to paying the registration fees, booking the travel to Cologne, and paying for lodging during the games, the experience is one that is memorable — especially if the team brings home a medal.

“We are still looking for players to represent Team Harwood in the 35+ division. We picked up two players for the ’06 Games from Canada and Wisconsin and managed OK,” Said Ralphs. “Accordingly, we have picked up Sam Foster, from Long Beach, California, who played with us in Chicago at the Coady Classic.”

The team also is working with the National Gay Basketball Association to find other available players that might want to attend the Gay Games but are not part of a team.

“Playing in Germany and being part of an international gay event is exciting. I’ve never been to the Gay Games before,” said Cutler, who has been a member of Team Hardwood for three years, and also plays flag football each summer. He is also a Utah-based management consultant and community advocate, and has recently helped form Team Utah, a local gay and lesbian non-profit sports group that is presenting fundraisers through the summer to help raise additional funding to get Utah athletes to Cologne.

At the last Gay Games held in Chicago, Team Hardwood won the bronze medal in tournament play. The team would like to bring a medal home from Cologne, hopefully a gold this time.

“It was such an amazing experience and we played teams from everywhere. We played two games a day and after four days, they seated us in the medal round and we took the bronze,” said Sanchez, who along with Perkins and Ralphs, represented Team Hardwood at Gay Games VII. “For the closing ceremonies it was cool to see 12,000 athletes and then see a very small amount with our jewelry.”

Team Hardwood members are no stranger to traveling for tournament play. The team travels to other U.S. cities throughout the year to play in gay basketball tournaments. All six athletes heading to Cologne are familiar with traveling to another city, having a practicing in a limited time, then playing all day if the team makes it through the brackets — and celebrating afterward at a local bar with the other tournament teams.

‘The thing I like the most about our team is the camaraderie and the bond of shared competition … the chance to play a perceived ‘straight’ sport and excel at it as a team,” said Perkins, who is a family and cosmetic dentist in the Fort Union area and has a husband and three children. “We are so excited for this Gay Games, but my family can’t go with and this leads to lots of bargaining and honey-do lists before I go.”

Team Hardwood just got back from the XX Coady Classic, a popular gay basketball tournament that the team makes a point of attending every April. The team took second place in the C Division.

Ingersoll is no stranger to participating at the Gay Games. He played volleyball for a team from Chicago at the New York Gay Games IV in 1994 and went to Amsterdam for Gay Games V in 1998. He skipped the Sydney Games VI, but played football at the Chicago Gay Games VII.

“I think I like the opening ceremonies and it is overwhelming to have all those people there,” he said. “It is fun meeting people from all over the world.”

Taggart tore ligaments playing flag football last year and has been slowly repairing his right knee and practicing basketball and football this spring. “My lateral movement is getting better and my knee is feeling stronger,” he said.

While the team doesn’t have an official coach, all of the team pointed out Ralphs as the coach at a recent practice, as well as one of better players on the team.

“I’m the den mother. They fired me as coach because I’m such a rag,” said Ralphs. “I’m the nice guy they know in public who turns into the Wicked Witch of the West.”

Practice is low key with players forming teams and playing against each other, regardless of their skill levels. Twelve basketball players showed up at practice this past Saturday.

“I began playing pick-up basketball with the team in the fall of 2005. Our first ‘outing’ was the Chicago Games in ’06,” said Ralphs, who grew up in Ferron, Utah and is Executive Director of Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake, a non-profit that provides free representation to victims of domestic violence and low-cost representation to individuals in family law cases in Salt Lake County. “We hosted the Fall NGBA tournament in October 2006 and have attended several tournaments in other cities including LA, San Diego, Memphis [and three times in] Chicago.”

Ralphs’ goal is to organize a Salt Lake gay and lesbian league to play throughout both summer and winter months. “The think I like most about playing with Team Hardwood is the fun we have together and the friendships I have made,” said Ralphs. “Although I have a tendency to be intense about basketball, we have a lot of fun and it is for players of all levels of ability.”

Team Hardwood will stay in a hostel in Cologne with other Utah athletes, who will mostly be members of the Queer Utah Aquatic Club team.

“The Gay Games provides an incredible forum for gay individuals to associate with athletes from all over the world in a competitive, yet supportive atmosphere,” said Ralphs. “I look forward to experiencing all that on an even more international stage in Cologne and we will have the opportunity to play again more teams from outside the United States.  I also look forward to celebrate with over 15,000 athletes from around the world in one of the most beautiful cities in Europe — there will a lot to see and do.”

Gay Games VIII will take place July 31–Aug. 7. Check out Team Hardwood practices every Saturday, 10 a.m. at the First Baptist Church, 1300 East 800 S (enter on the east side through the red door). Find out more about Team Hardwood at slcgaa.com and click on the Mountain West Basketball League logo, or send an email to [email protected]

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