Home Valley Advocate A league of their own: Division Q, a new basketball league created...

A league of their own: Division Q, a new basketball league created by and for queer players, hopes to grow after successful first season

10
42980544 scaled 1
42980544 scaled 1

By HANNAH BEVIS
For the Advocate

Every Sunday morning from November to early February, dozens of people rolled up to Easthampton Mountain View school to play basketball.

STAFF PHOTO / JEFF LAJOIE
The Fireballers (from left: Sam Barnes, Allen Riccio, Chris Blake, Jo Kalucki, and Liam Cregan) cheer on teammates against the Fighting Artichokes during the championship game of the inaugural Division Q season earlier this month at Mountain View School in Easthampton.

Games started at 10 a.m., but players always showed up early to shoot around and warm up (some sleepier than others). Volunteers carried in boxes of supplies, setting up the scoreboard and taping “Gender Neutral” signs over the school’s bathroom placards. Every week, a box of Dunkin’ munchkins magically appeared at the scorers table, an unassuming thank you to the referees, scorekeepers and organizers who ran the games. Volunteers handed out pinnies to divide up teams, but some squads didn’t need them —  they’d crafted their own T-shirt uniforms, complete with names and numbers.

This was Division Q, a new basketball league created by and for queer players. They welcome anyone of any skill level who identifies as LGBTQIA+. Some participants had played basketball all the way through college; others had just started playing basketball.

Six months earlier, the league was just an idea batted around during a casual pickup game. Three people in particular — Sasha Morsmith, Brennan Hafner and Vince Thompson — came together to create the league, though it’s the brainchild of Morsmith in particular, a passionate Virgina Tech women’s basketball fan who was looking to get some more hoops in her life.

Morsmith was inspired in part by the Mary Vazquez (Mary V) softball league, a nearly half-century old softball league founded in Northampton. She wanted to take the spirit behind Mary V and create a similar space during the winter season, and a basketball league seemed like a perfect fit.

STAFF PHOTO / JEFF LAJOIE
Collee Williams, left, and Allen Riccio, far right, of the Fireballers try to corral a loose ball with Cathy Potak, center, of the Fighting Artichokes, also in pursuit during the championship game of the inaugural Division Q season earlier this month at Mountain View School in Easthampton.

“Mary V softball is a softball league that was founded in the 70s in Northampton by radical feminists as a lesbian community space, and it still exists today,” Morsmith said. “Knowing that that exists and the positive experiences I had with it, I was like, ‘Okay, I love playing in this league, it would be awesome to have something like that in the winter.’”

Morsmith mentioned the idea of a league to Hafner and Thompson one fateful day, and from there the three set to work making that dream a reality.

Picking up where they left off

Before Division Q came to exist as a formal league, it came about through a more informal pickup space thanks in large part to eventual Division Q organizer Hafner and fellow basketball lover Jo Kalucki. About a year before Division Q’s inception, the two helped revive a queer pickup group chat that proved key to the league’s creation.

Initially, the two found a queer group chat that facilitated weekly pickup basketball games, and they became regular attendees in the summer of 2022. As the weather got colder and the life got in the way, initial organizers of the group chat became less involved and the chat less active.

When Hafner and Kalucki found themselves shooting hoops outside last January, they made a promise to play basketball more regularly again and revive the group chat.

STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE
Mikena Wood, center, of the Fighting Artichokes, goes to the basket for a layup while defended by Liam Cregan, left, and Collee Williams of the Fireballers during the championship game of the inaugural Division Q season earlier this month at Mountain View School in Easthampton.

“We lasted maybe 10 minutes,” Kalucki joked. “But we were just talking about how being part of that small (pickup) community in the summer and fall had been such a nice community building experience and how basketball had played an important role in each of our lives prior to that.”

Through word of mouth, the group chat grew until it had over 100 members, with around 30 to 40 people showing up each week for pickup. That space was where Morsmith floated the idea of creating a more formal league, and Hafner and Thompson were all in right from the start. Over the summer, they met every other week to hash out logistics, relying on Morsmith’s experience in political organizing spaces. It was a labor of love, but eventually the framework of the league began to come together.

“(We had) lots and lots and lots of Excel sheets and forms to keep track of everybody,” Hafner said. “A big piece was writing rules and norms, because not only were we trying to start a basketball league, we were trying to start a basketball league that was different.”

Creating a community

Division Q held a kick-off event in September, and by the time the first game started in early November, the league had eight full teams. The league had bumps in the road — this was its first season in existence, after all — but the organizers were committed to making changes to better the league as needed, and players kept showing up every week, bringing an enthusiasm and competitiveness that was contagious to all who attended.

“I can’t express enough how good it feels to play with other queer people. I went to an extremely rural high school, didn’t even know I was queer, didn’t know any queer people, and basketball was a huge part of my life,” Division Q organizer and player Vince Thompson said. “So being able to bring my lived experience of my whole life, but especially the past seven years of being out and queer, and then doing something I love again, has just been really incredible.”

It wasn’t just basketball that people found community in, though that was initially what brought everyone together. Throughout the season, people teamed up to put on clothes swaps and would drop links in the group chat for their band’s performances. It’s allowed people to meet new friends and connect in other avenues away from the court as well.

“For me, that pickup group and the league has just been a door to an incredible web of queer and trans community that has connected me through basketball to activism, to crafting, to all this stuff and all the ways that we can show up as queer and trans in these spaces,” Division Q participant Cam Anderson said.

Continuing onward

After a month and a half long regular season, Division Q hosted a three-weekend playoff tournament, culminating in a championship day full of festivities; after the final between the Fighting Artichokes and the Fireballers (the Artichokes defended their regular season title with the 31-25 win), the team hosted an All-Star game, a half-court contest and beginners’ exhibition game.

At first, the league thought that maybe the winter season would be its marquee event, with just casual pickup in the interim. But once again, players’ interest surprised the organizers, and now the league is thinking bigger — a 3v3 league is scheduled for mid-March to mid-May, and organizers have talked about wanting to put together a pickup tournament outdoors once the weather warms up.

STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE
Allen Riccio of the Fireballers looks for an open teammate during the championship game of the inaugural Division Q season earlier this month at Mountain View School in Easthampton.

“I was thinking long term because I had been involved in Mary V, which has been around for almost 50 years. I was thinking in my wildest dreams, what if we were around for 50 years?” Morsmith said. “I never really played a lot of organized sports growing up, but I’ve always really loved sports. And I think that especially as a trans woman, it’s hard to access a lot of sport spaces. Being able to create that competitive (space) … and have so many people also want to join is so exciting.”

Individual registration for the 3v3 basketball league will remain open until February 25. More information can be found at divisionq.org, where people can also sign up for a newsletter to get updates on the league. The league is also accepting donations to help keep the league running at paypal.me/divisionq.

Hannah Bevis (she/they) is a former sports reporter with a decade of experience covering athletics at every level. She previously wrote for the Daily Hampshire Gazette as a sports reporter and currently manages communications and events for the Journalism department at UMass.

Source: ValleyAdvocate.com