[dropcap]K[/dropcap]ick, swing, dribble, spike—and drive. For West Hollywood residents who play in the area’s LGBT sports leagues, practices and games mean traveling to parks in Culver City, Glendale, Burbank, Studio City or other parts of the greater Los Angeles area.
Organizers of many of the more than a dozen gay leagues say they’d rather make WeHo home base. But the city doesn’t have adequate facilities for their sports or won’t make its parks available to them. The organizers, some of whom declined to let their names be used for fear of upsetting city officials, said that West Hollywood would be an ideal location for their games, given that 40 percent of the city’s population is composed of gay men. WeHo is also very walkable, which means players could leave their cars parked in a city garage and walk to a nearby restaurant or bar after a game.
Ray Robles, president of the Los Angeles Volleyball Organization (LAVO), said that while West Hollywood is a center of gay life, athletes who have to play elsewhere don’t want to drive to WeHo after a game and find parking again just to go to a restaurant or bar for an after-game drink.
West Hollywood does have some sports facilities that it makes available to gay teams. West Hollywood Aquatics (WH20) uses the pool at West Hollywood Park, for example. The park’s cramped auditorium is also used for indoor sports, however, with little or no space for observers. WeHo Dodgeball games take place there on Tuesday and Thursday nights. Many Wednesday night volleyball games are held in the auditorium as well. LAVO often must hold its events elsewhere, however, because the auditorium isn’t always available.
“We would love to be in WeHo 100 percent of the time,” said Robles.
Will Hacker, founder of Varsity Gay League (VGL), which offers several sports including a popular kickball league, said he has contacted the city about holding kickball games in West Hollywood but hasn’t been able to get space for the games.
“The city has no sports fields that can be reserved for league play,” said Olivia Walker, recreation services manager for West Hollywood, who declined to be interviewed in person or over the telephone for this story and responded to questions only via email. “Both West Hollywood Park and Plummer Park maintain a full special events calendar which is reserved and permitted through both the Recreation and Special Events divisions.”
While that calendar includes no gay sports leagues other than the swimming team and dodgeball and occasional kickball matches, it is full of sports for children, who make up only 4.6 percent of WeHo’s population according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
City programming for the preschool set includes “Baby Boogie” for children age 6 months to 2 ½, “Kidz Love Soccer” for children ages 2 to 6 at Plummer Park;, and “Mommy/Daddy & Me Soccer” for children 2 to 3 ½ at Plummer Park.
There are also activities for older kids. There’s tee-ball (ages 4 to 7) and a “Friday Night Co-Ed Dodgeball League” (ages 9 to 14), both at West Hollywood Park. “WeRun WeHo” is for ages 9 to 18 years old at Plummer Park. The “West Hollywood Gators” swim team offers separate programs at West Hollywood Park for those 10 and under, 11 to 15 and 16 to 18. And there’s a triathlon team for ages 8 to 17.
West Hollywood and Plummer are the only city parks large enough to accommodate sports, although Plummer Park’s four acres are largely covered with community buildings and tennis courts. West Hollywood Park has 5.3 acres, much of it open green space. It was home to a baseball field that was paved over for a parking lot in 2009 when construction began on the new library. When the first phase of the park redesign was completed in 2012, that parking lot was eliminated in favor of the open grassy area and the present basketball courts.
When the park was closed for that initial redesign, the West Hollywood Soccer Club lost the space it previously used for tryouts and practices. The soccer club’s Jamie Gin said it took a couple of years before the club was able to find a new location: at West Adams High School at 1500 W. Washington Blvd. in Los Angeles. Gin said that it would be great to return to WeHo, which offers good “dine and drink” options after games.
Plummer Park, while smaller than West Hollywood Park, is much busier. According to city statistics, an average of 6,700 people a week use Plummer Park — 1,675 people per acre on the average day. By contrast, West Hollywood Park attracts only 3,800 people a week on average, or 717 per acre on the average day. Seven of the city’s tennis courts are in Plummer Park and three are in West Hollywood Park. The city recently gave a contract to a firm called iTennis to manage the tennis courts.
With the city recently granting a contract to LPA Inc., an Irvine-based architecture firm, for the design of the $80 million second phase of the park’s redevelopment, some gay sports league organizers are hopeful that they eventually will have fields to play on in West Hollywood. City Councilmember Jeffrey Prang, in fact, asked that LPA try to work a “multipurpose ball field” into the design. He noted that there is no place in the city for people to play baseball, softball or soccer.
The second phase does include a recreation center with a gymnasium that will house two basketball courts and a rooftop swimming pool, a new children’s playground area and expanded green space. But whether it will include fields where the gay sports leagues can play seems unlikely.
Lisa Belsanti, acting manager of the city’s Public Information Office, said the city is “just beginning the programming and design phases” of the park and that the approved master plan “does not call for a regulation ball field of any sort.”
“Instead it calls for a large flat multipurpose open space area again to be multi-functional in nature,” she wrote in an email to WEHOville. “It is not currently the intent to have that area programmed for a specific sports use but rather for a variety of sports and other recreational uses.”
That means the gay sports leagues are likely to continue playing outside West Hollywood. Some are close. Big Gay Frisbee, for example, in Poinsettia Park at 7341 Willoughby Ave. in Los Angeles, and Los Angeles Flag Football at Fairfax High School on 7850 Melrose Ave. in Los Angeles.
But for many gay teams and their West Hollywood athletes, Culver City, Glendale, Burbank and Studio City will continue to their home away from home.