“When someone asks me what I am most proud about in regard to the tournament, [it is] having built a strong foundation for gay basketball’s growth and having empowered individuals to be true to themselves while following a passion and a game they love,” said Sam Coady, the Chicagoan who ran the event for its first 13 years, when it was known as the Chicago Hoops Classic. “When people are able to be a part of building communities, they contribute more in every aspect of their life. They become openly gay state and federal appointees such as Mike McRaith; they become teachers such as Jeff Edmonds, financial industry leaders like Steve Waldron, businessmen like Ted Cappas, policemen like Nenad Marchovich, healthcare professionals like Frank Kisner, sales people like Suzi Arnold, higher education fundraisers like Larry Kuhn and Rob Smitherman, LGBT business owners like David Gassman, Jim Ludwig and Jim Flint, and corporate folks like myself.”
All have a legacy rooted in the Coady.
“We started with just a few teams and grew quickly,” Coady said. “Since Chicago had a tournament every year, players would come back and bring more teams. This was before the Internet and email, so we had to market by telephone, mail and word-of-mouth.”
At the 10th tournament in 2000, the first 16 members were inducted into the Chicago Hoops ( Coady ) Hall of Fame, the de facto U.S. gay basketball Hall of Fame—and this Hall has since grown to 35 members, many of whom are coming back for the 25th anniversary.
“Our tournament started when there were no annual tournaments, and we didn’t hold it for just a couple of years … we held the largest gay basketball in the world for 25 consecutive years,” Coady said. “We went from eight teams where you had to beg and cajole teams to get them to come to Chicago to 36 teams and a tournament that sold out a month in advance.
“We went from a time where I would not give my last name or would give a fake last name to a time where Jason Collins comes out while in the NBA and his jersey becomes [one of] the best-selling jerseys.”
Coady added, “[The event] has brought people together to meet, play basketball, and create an outlet for those who love the sport to play in a safe and secure environment. I have heard many stories of gay basketball players whose first experience in a gay sports event was the Coady. The tournament has enriched their lives, allowing them to find other people who love the sport and also happen to be gay.
“Over the years we have had straight teams play in the tournament, and they have been so surprised at the level of play, even in the recreational divisions. It has really opened their eyes that basketball players can be gay or straight; it is about the sport, not about their orientation.
“Ted Cappas took over the tournament 12 years ago and he has become one of my closest friends. Many people have joined teams and become lifelong friends because of this event. A few couples have met at the tournament.”
Cappas, who grew up in north suburban Northbrook and graduated from Glenbrook North, played in the tournament for 17 years. He said the event “was the early anchor for the LGBT basketball community.”
“In the early years, Chicago was the only basketball tournament offered, and included about 10-12 teams,” Cappas said. “Now the tournament has grown to almost 40 teams, [and] the sport has a national governing organization and we have cities all across the country looking to host tournaments.
“Chicago provided the stability and continuity in those early years to help the sport grow.”
A consistent sponsor was Jim Flint, through The Baton and The Annex/3160. “He has been an amazing supporter of the tournament and is an honorary Hall of Fame member,” Coady said. He also noted significant contributions to the event over the years from Shirts Illustrated, Miller Brewing Company/Chicago Beverage, and Windy City Times publisher Tracy Baim.
“Chicago has provided a great foundation for the new leaders to take the reins and guide gay basketball to an even greater place,” Coady said. “We want to invite everyone to join us over the weekend for games and events and make this a true celebration of what has been a fantastic run. We plan to have a great event at Center on Halsted on Saturday night to look forward to a bright future and share the history that got us to where we are today. It will be a special evening that I hope many will be able to make time to join us.”
Ted Cappas ran the tournament from 2004-2010; Steve Waldron and Jeff Edmonds are now the co-directors, and more than 300 players are expected this year for the longest-running gay basketball tournament in the world and, arguably, the most popular.