by Jerry Jones and Brent Meredith
[Editor’s note: Exclusive team Tennessee coverage will be provided by “O&AN” as the week of Gay Games VII continues. Be sure to continue to check the Web site for updates on how Tennessee athletes are doing]
CHICAGO – A large team of Tennessee athletes charged onto Chicago’s Solider Field last night as Gay Games VII officially opened. Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley welcomed more than 12,000 athletes and 30,000 spectators telling them “gay men and women are welcome in Chicago.”
This marks the first time that Tennessee has had such a large representation at the Gay Games. Nashville residents Sam Felker and Keith Little have competed in the last two Gay Games held in Amsterdam and Sidney. Felker and Little spearheaded the effort to get more Tennesseans involved, and wanted to introduce others to the international multi-cultural event.
The Tennessee team has members from all across the state, including the Gyrlgroove Softball Team from Knoxville. Some members of Team Nashville include Stan Schklar (5K run), Kip Gibbans (single and doubles tennis), Stephen Olson (single and doubles tennis), Tad Williams (single tennis), Keith Little (javelin, discus, shot and hammer), Jeff Smith (single and doubles tennis), Kerry Garner (cycling), Heath Chamblee (doubles tennis), John Anderson (doubles tennis), Patrick Cooper (5K), Don Watson (tennis and bowling), Sam Felker (triathlon), and from Memphis Alan Herbers (softball).
Christopher Sanders, president of the Tennessee Equality Project, was one of the many spectators from Tennessee. He said an event like this would not have been possible 30 years ago.
“It’s really amazing how far the world has come,” Sanders said. “The excitement of the athletes as they march in and represent their countries is just amazing. They are a beacon for equality and pride.”
Megan Mullally, one of the stars from “Will and Grace,” said this was “a grand and historic celebration.” Mullally was received with a standing ovation. “Not only are you athletically gifted, but you’re also the best groomed athletes around,” she said.
Mullally introduced Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley saying “just because he doesn’t bat for the team, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t bat for gay rights.”
Daley said he was proud his city could host the 2006 event and that Chicago combined “Midwestern hospitality with big-city sophistication.”
“Gay men and women are welcome in Chicago,” he said. “Diversity makes our city vibrant and strong.” Daley also noted that more than 400,000 people participated in the rain in this year’s Chicago Pride Parade and Festival.