Dedication drives two Knoxville teams to Nashville MNSA league

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by Scott Eldredge
Sports writer

In the world of team sports, success is ultimately dependent on every member of the team being committed to a common goal.

In the case of two teams participating in the Metro Nashville Softball Association, the 2009 season brought with it an opportunity that would require everyone to step up their level of commitment to their teams.

The Knoxville Cyclones and Knoxville Good Times had both been participating in the Knoxville Gay Softball league for several years. Both Scott Jackson, founder of the Knoxville league and coach of the Cyclones, and Freida Fontanilla, coach of Good Times got a call from MNSA Commissioner Kerry Pogue with a proposition: Would they be interested in joining the league here in Nashville?

The Knoxville teams have participated in Nashville’s tournament in past years, and Pogue knew that the teams were solid, and competitive. Since the MNSA had been accepted into the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Association, the Knoxville teams would be eligible to participate in what many gay softball teams see as the pinnacle tournament for their sport, the Gay Softball World Series, if they played in the Nashville league.

The timing was right. Cyclones Coach, Jackson, said the team was ready for a new challenge.

“Our team has had a very busy couple of years," Jackson said. "We were in C division last year and won eight of ten gay tournaments that we entered beginning with Knoxville in 2007. We won the first B division tournament that we entered in Washington D.C., and we also play a lot of straight tournaments in Knoxville where the competition level is extremely high.”

With this success, the team decided to move up to the B division and come to Nashville.

“Many of our players have wanted to go to the series for a long time,” Jackson said. “We are very appreciative to be able to represent Nashville and Knoxville there in September.”

Coach Fontanilla said before the Nashville league’s invitation, Good Times was considering joining another league, or just playing in tournaments.

“There were only three teams that were competition in the [Knoxville] C division,” Fontanilla said. “Cyclones, Hard Times, and Good Times. When Cyclones moved up, it was a no-brainer that the other two did not want to play each other every week. [We felt] this would be a great opportunity to shoot for the World Series, which is not an option in Knoxville.”

Both teams have overcome obstacles along the way, but said the commute from Knoxville isn’t that bad. The MNSA has worked with the scheduling to try and make it a little easier on the teams.

During the season, Good Times and the Cyclones will come to Nashville to play on four different weekends spread out over two months. Each week they play four games. For Coach Fontanilla, Good Time’s biggest struggle has been with player turnover this year.

“It’s tough,” says Fontanilla. “I have four players from Nashville, and six players are totally new to the team. It’s like starting over again. Bonding has been a struggle since we drive, play ball, and drive back.”

For Jackson, the Cyclones commitment to playing in many straight tournaments can be a challenge.

“We are often the target of some pretty hateful comments, but we ignore it and are starting to not see as much of that,” Jackson says. “We’ve played three [tournaments] in the last six weeks along with traveling to Nashville. This past weekend we finished the straight tournament at 11:30 p.m. Saturday night, and then we were on the road to Nashville at 9 a.m. the next morning.”

For both teams, the most important aspect of the game is the relationships that are formed both on and off the field. For the Cyclones, Jackson says softball is most of the guys’ primary hobby.

“We are all very good friends and hang out off the field as much or more as we do on the field.”

While winning is always a goal for Good Times, Fontanilla says it’s really important to build team unity and close friendships. “Good Times has a saying … It’s not just a team, it’s a lifestyle.”