By Laura Latzko, Jan. 29, 2015.
Each year the Las Vegas Sin City Shootout, a competition that includes 18 different sports, beckons LGBT athletes from all across the United States.
As part of the 2015 tournament, which took place Jan. 15 to 19, athletes and teams represented Arizona in volleyball, kickball and softball.
The Savages, The Toros, AZ Ice, Desert Heat and Face First softball teams traveled from Phoenix participate in the tournament as a way to get in shape mentally and physically for the coming season, which runs Feb. 8 to May 3.
During the tournament, upper-level A to lower-level D teams face teams within their division in double-elimination play.
For the Savages, a division D softball team representing Stacy’s @ Melrose, this was the second year in attendance. It also marked the first time Tyler Holyan and Kenneth Cote represented the same team since becoming an item last spring at – where else – the Cactus Cities Softball League’s registration party.
Holyan and Cote typically compete against each other during regular season play within the Phoenix league. But, for his first out-of-town tournament, Cote filled in on the Savages roster.
“There’s a lot more excitement in the air because there’s teams from all over the country that are converging onto this one city,” Cote said. “A lot of the players from the various cities have all been playing for so long they all know each other, so it’s like a big family coming together.”
Holyan, who regularly travels to out-of-state tournaments with his team, described the Savages as a close-knit group that spends time together on and off the field.
He added that tournaments offer players a chance to reconnect with softball friends from other states as well as opportunities for players to improve their skills.
“There are more teams and more variety,” Holyan said regarding the atmosphere and level of competition tournament play offers. “I think playing against higher-level teams helps us to move better as a team and know where we need to be. It helps everyone know what they need to do … there’s always something to learn from that game.”
Cote, who has previously played with the Monsoon and Bulldogs, worked to adjust to the dynamic of the Savages ahead of the tournament. This effort, he said, allowed him to get back into playing after taking a break from softball in the summer and fall.
“Once you get out there … everything just starts coming back, and your body starts reacting the way it’s supposed to,” Cote said. “It takes a while to warm up again, but it’s like riding a bike.”
To get ready for the tournament, the 12 players that made the road trip to Las Vegas participated in weekend practices, took the field against higher-level local teams and hit the batting cages regularly.
According to Holyan, the tougher practices helped the team to prepare to reach the goals they set of having a stronger, more disciplined presence on the field.
While both Holyan and Cote went into the tournament with winning aspirations, Holyan described himself as being more competitive in nature than his counterpart.
Holyan came from an athletic background, playing soccer and running track in high school and college, before joining Cactus Cities. He currently pitches and plays third base and left field positions.
“When I first started, I wasn’t the best player on the team,” Holyan said. “Being very competitive, I wanted to get better.”
Cote, who ran cross-country in high school, is usually in the outfield but has played catcher and played infield on occasion. He first joined a gay softball league in 1994 while living in Tampa and, after moving around for his job and settling in Arizona in 2003, he decided to get back into the swing of things in 2008.
Cote said the friendly and welcoming environment of LGBT softball made him want to be involved again.
“It is a much more relaxed environment,” Cote said. “Everyone can just go out there and be themselves. They don’t have to worry about anyone saying anything or feel like they are being judged in any way.”
Roughly three years ago – about the time Holyan first joined the league – Cote became even more involved with the league by becoming a member of its board of directors.
As a board member, Cote helps with the league’s annual Saguaro Cup Sports Festival, which is set for April 17 to 19. 2015. Tournaments like the Saguaro Cup and the Sin City Shootout allow players at different levels to watch and learn from each other.
“Everyone has their own set way of how they are going to hold the bat, how they are going to throw the game, but sometimes just seeing other players how they do things, maybe how I’ve been holding the bat for three years isn’t the right way,” Cote said. “It’s worked for me, but maybe there’s a better way. It’s a good opportunity to see those things in action and see if you can adapt them for your own use.”
As part of his first out-of-state tournament, Cote said he planned to observe as a softball player and board member in hopes of bringing hope insight ahead of the 2015 spring season.
“Meeting teams at other tournaments and seeing what it going on gives us ideas of what we need to do to bring more teams to our tournaments here,” Cote said, “What other cities are doing pull in the crowds, what we need to do to get those same crowds to come to us.”
Cactus Cities Spring Kickoff and Registration Party
5 p.m. Jan. 31
727 W. Camelback Road, Phoenix
Editor’s Note: Cote sustained an injury to his left ankle while sliding into third base during the first game of the tournament. The Savages did not place and Cote expects to sit out the spring season.