Gay Hockey Team Breaking Barriers

Article excerpt

Byline: Bob Susnjara Daily Herald Staff Writer

When the new Chicago Spin hockey team hits the ice in Lake County, the aim is to score goals and win games.

However, the players hope they're knocking down a few social barriers in the process.

Believed to be the first and only gay hockey team in the Chicago area, the Spin is nearing the conclusion of its inaugural season in a recreational league with four "straight" squads at the Glacier Ice Arena in Vernon Hills.

Chuck Jacobson, 28, of Chicago, president of the Chicago Gay Hockey Association and a Spin forward, said he and his teammates believe the Spin can help erase gay stereotypes through its participation in a rugged sport, and encourage other gay players to join the league.

Spin player Ryan Ruskin, 34, of Chicago, said he senses the team already has changed attitudes toward gay men for the better in its own small way.

"The longer we've played, we've gotten respect from the teams that we play against. They treat us just as any other team," Ruskin said.

Another Spin forward, Andy Rogers, said he sees potential for the team having social significance around Chicago because mainstream men's sports are not expected to have homosexual participation.

"You know, I think our purpose is education and breaking down walls and camaraderie," said Rogers, 40, of Chicago.

If all goes according to plan, the Spin will not be the only Chicago Gay Hockey Association team. Organizers want a recreational team and a separate competitive squad that would be Chicago's representative in the 2006 Gay Games in Montreal and International Gay Hockey Association tournaments.

With the Spin, the Chicago area joins a trend in which gay hockey teams have been formed across the United States and Canada.

Ruskin said a gay hockey team offers players a comfort level that might not exist if they were surrounded by heterosexuals.

"The homophobia, I think, is going away from recreational sports, but it's still there. It's still a hurdle that intimidates people from even going out at all," he said, shortly before the Canucks beat the Spin 7-4 in Vernon Hills earlier this week.

While designed for homosexual men, the Spin welcomes heterosexual players.

Of the 11 men who dressed for Monday's game, nine were homosexuals. Jacobson said heterosexuals should be gay-friendly if they want to play for the Chicago Spin.

Joe Nowak, 20, of Deerfield, was one of the Spin's two heterosexual players in Monday night's game. Nowak, a Glacier employee, was recruited to play one night when the Spin needed extra players. …