The first group to support You Can Play with a women’s sports video has continued to be the most aggressive in promoting inclusion on their teams. Saturday night’s championship banquet will be a culmination of an awareness weekend and months of work by the Ontario Intercollegiate Women’s Fastpitch Association (OIWFA) in supporting LGBT teammates.
Since releasing a You Can Play video in 2012, the women and men of the OIWFA have continued to press for equality in sports. In addition to sharing resources related to fighting homophobia in sports, schools have provided speakers on the history of homophobia and meetings with diversity staff. The University of Ottawa Gee-Gees have made their own You Can Play video and other schools have provided game balls or bases in rainbow flag colors, and worn “We Stand with Stonewall” and You Can Play t-shirts.
“Education is the key to understanding,” said OIWFA president and Wilfrid Laurier University softball head coach Matt Allen. “We are so proud to continue as one of the leaders in Canadian women university sports to make this stance and continue to partner with You Can Play. As an “out” coach myself in the OIWFA, we have made it clear that any athlete, coach, or fan can be rest-assured they are welcome to compete on any of our 12 teams, regardless of sexual orientation. When it comes to university softball in Ontario, there is no questions that if you can play, you can play.”
The participating schools across Ontario are Ottawa, Carleton, Queens, York, Toronto, Guelph, Laurier, Waterloo, McMaster, Brock, Western, Windsor. While the sport is not recognized at the varsity level, the commitment remains high with athletes paying their own way to participate in the self-funded league.
“As an athlete, playing in the OIWFA has been one of the best experiences of my life. I want every single athlete in this league and in sport to have that amazing kind of team experience,” said Windsor Lancers captain Steph Manson. Manson, the 2009 Provincial MVP and 2013 Windsor Lancers Club Athlete of the Year, continued, “It really does come down to ‘if you can play, you can play. If you can hit, you can hit.’ And if you can, I know I want you as my teammate. Sport should be a place of inclusion and comfort for every single person involved, regardless of sexual orientation. I’m proud to be a part of a league that sees the importance of an event like this and has brought all 12 teams together to take part in this fight.”
“All of us at You Can Play are extraordinarily proud of the difference OIWFA is making not just in Ontario, but across Canada and in North America,” said You Can Play co-founder Brian Kitts. “They’ve gone beyond the initial steps to a consistent and sustained discussion about what makes teammates – and friends – valuable. OIWFA is providing a model for how teams can talk about diversity.”
All-Canadian Pitcher and University of Ottawa standout Jean Cardona takes the discussion personally. “As a member of the LGBTQ community, I may be more aware of homophobia than others as it affects me personally. Educating people with LGBTQ issues and making people aware of the struggles some people may face can really make an impact towards removing homophobia completely. Increasing awareness can in turn increase acceptance, allowing someone to feel like they can truly be themself. With the OIWFA awareness weekend focusing on the LGBTQ community, it shows that if you can play, I can play too.”
Cardona’s coach, Ottawa’s Scott Searle, sees the progress year after year. “We are proud that the uOttawa softball team has created a culture of acceptance where, in our 11 year history, nine of our athletes have chosen their Gee-Gee teammates as the first people to tell they are gay,” Searle said.