Last June, Steven Thompson and Joey Gale were standing down on holding the first-ever Seattle Pride Hockey Association invitational event due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the co-founders of SPHA were far from standing still.
The evidence comes into full view next weekend, June 19 and 20, when the Seattle Pride Classic 2021, presented by Symetra, drops the puck at Olympic View Arena in Mountlake Terrace for the first of what no doubt will be many 'Classics' in the Junes of our future. This year's version will feature four teams and 56 players.
The event could easily be doubled in size but, when beginning to confirm event logistics and details in March, Thompson and Gale respected COVID-19 safety protocols by deciding on a more modest event.
"While we wish we could host a large full-scale event, complete with socials, mixers, beer garden, etc., we recognize that the world isn't quite ready for that yet! But, we do see a demand for events and the importance of getting players on the ice," according to a statement on the SPHA website.
When the SPHA leaders sent out an email to gauge interest in playing, they received more than 150 replies saying yes. When registration was posted, the 56 player spots were sold out in less than nine hours. The waiting list could fill out another four teams.
"When the GSHL [Greater Seattle Hockey League, renamed Kraken Hockey League beginning with Fall 2021 play] resumed playing earlier this year, we started talking about the idea of maybe a scrimmage to get people on the ice," says Gale. "Then we shopped the idea [for sponsorship interest]. Pride Tape [makers of rainbow-colored hockey tape] urged us 'to push as far as you can' and we talked about doing it during Pride Month."
The sponsorship list is robust and impressive. Symetra, the first founding partner and official life insurance part of the Kraken and Climate Pledge Arena, committed to the title role. Pride Tape is joined by other hockey-centric sponsors Bauer, Coastal Hockey, Hockeywolf, No Name Hockey, Sockey and Warrior, plus the NHL. Other supporters include B. Liesse Photography, Iron Horse Brewery, James King Roofing, Liquid I.V., Seattle Metropolitan and Women's Pro Hockey Seattle.
The event is hosted by GSHL and will follow USA Hockey guidelines, including full regulation game play with referees and necessary insurance coverage. It is a fitting collaboration with the GSHL/Kraken Hockey League's Andy Cole. Thompson was director of league operations at GSHL before founding SPHA and working diligently to establish 501(c)(7).
Since 2019, Thompson helped grow the adult hockey league by adding several dozen new teams, hundreds of new players and several new programs. He befriended "a lot of team captains who are all progressive and accepting."
Thompson and Cole became friends at a hockey clinic in 2018 and soon after started discussing a mutual desire for the GSHL to be more inclusive of gay players and continue to recruit more females to teams. Like good linemates on a hockey team, each brings his own acumen to the effort. Thompson, SPHA president, is an expert at logistics and operations while vice president Gale is a marketing professional.
"We want to be a voice and support system for anybody who wants to play or who knows how to play but doesn't play because they might be nervous about it," says Thompson. "We're not about forming a gay team or any exclusive team. We want to be inclusive and bring hockey closer to underrepresented groups."
Gale says "who you are and who you love shouldn't be a barrier" to playing hockey. He and Thompson recruited a number of different GSHL players in the last 18 months to help share the GSHL message of diversity and inclusion.
The SPHA website informs the organization's mission and purpose: "We seek to welcome anyone to the sport who wishes to be a part of it. You do not need to be a long-time hockey player to join the SPHA. Anyone over age 18 with an open mind and a love for hockey is welcome.
"The SPHA currently has players within the Greater Seattle Hockey League [soon to be renamed Kraken Hockey League] and will host tournaments and events throughout the Greater Seattle area. We will work to bring awareness and openness to the great sport of hockey."
Gale says virtual roundtable talks will likely be planned in coming months and there is hope and intention to do more community and school events when health and safety protocols allowed. Thompson said SPHA will be looking to raise funds and acquire equipment for adult players who want to try the sport without first spending significant dollars on equipment.
Part of bringing awareness and inclusion is symbolized by team names for the inaugural event: Johnson, Milk, Windsor and Cox. Each are named for "who fought, sacrificed and helped pave the way for LGBTQ+ rights."
Team Marsha will be skating to honor Marsha P. Johnson, a gay liberation activist and key figure in the Stonewall Inn uprising in 1969, a catalyst event for what continues today as LBGTQIA+ rights. Johnson, a self-described drag queen, always answered the middle-initial "P" stood for "Pay It No Mind," whenever asked questions about gender.
Harvey Milk is the inspiration for Team Harvey. Milk was a civil and human rights leader who made national and international news when he was the first openly gay elected official in a major city, winning election to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977 on his third try. His powerful career as a businessman and community leader was cut short when he was assassinated nearly a year later.
Team Edie will skate in tribute of Edie Windsor, a gay rights activist who filed a legal case that resulted in a landmark decision in which the Supreme Court ruled there be federal recognition of same-sex marriage for the first time. The Windsor decision in 2013 was limited to 13 states and the District of Columbia. In 2015, based on four additional cases, the Supreme Court ruled same-sex couples had a constitutional right to marry anywhere in the nation, with all the protections and privileges of heterosexual couples
Laverne Cox, a well-known transgender actress in Hollywood, will be the honored by Team Laverne. She is most recognized for her role in the award-winning TV show, "Orange is the New Black." Cox is highly visible and active in the public discussion about trans people on and off the screen.
The teams will play games Saturday and Sunday (June 19 and 20) with the championship game scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday at Olympic View Arena. Fans are welcome and admission is free.
Thompson says he will have a number of emotions when arriving for event setup early June 19.
"Relief for one," says Thompson, laughing gently. "Relief that it is here and happening. Also excitement, for sure. Some people are traveling here from as far as LA. It will be great to see all the smiles."