Changing the Game

Two Madison West High School seniors, Isabel Medina and Miles Walser, are attempting to push the boundaries for queer youth with a Wisconsin first: The Young Queer Sports Club.

Two Madison West High School seniors, Isabel Medina and Miles Walser, are attempting to push the boundaries for queer youth with a Wisconsin first: The Young Queer Sports Club.

“Young Queer Sports Club (YQSC) is not your typical athletic club,” Isabel Medina points out. That’s for sure. Huddled at a west side coffee shop Medina and fellow YQSC co-founder Miles Walser laid out their plans for Madison’s newest recreational sports league. Only this one is solely for queer youth and is organized by two youth leaders with rather disparate views on what the club could be.

If Walser had it his way, YQSC would be like boot camp.

“Laps! Laps!” the two bark playfully indicating Walser’s likely approach.

As for Medina, this self-described non-sports person (“I hate exercise for the most part.”) envisions something more arts and crafts in nature with sports play optional. “I can see us occasionally asking, ‘So, do we want to play today?’” she jokes.

But together the Madison West High School seniors are quite serious about blending their individual visions in order to create a space where queer youth can try on a new identity—athlete—in a safe and affirming setting.

The idea for YQSC came to them during Madison’s Pride Weekend this past July when a friend asked Walser if he planned to continue rowing after high school. When Walser, who identifies as a transgender male and rows with a local female crew team, explained that he wanted to focus on coming out as a trans man in college and didn’t want to have to continue rowing with the girls, his friend exclaimed, “There should be a transgender league!”

The idea instantly clicked and the two set out to make it happen.

“I row for one of the most open girls rowing clubs in town,” says Walser. “If our coach refers to us as ladies my teammates will say, ‘You mean ladies and man?’” Except in instances where his given name and birth gender have to be used, the team and coaches use his preferred name and male pronouns whenever they can.

“It’s really important for me to be on this team,” states Walser. “I want my peers to have this experience, too.”

While a high school trans-only league sounded like a good idea, the two quickly realized that the number of possible players would be decidedly small. So they instead opened up the league to all LGBTQ high school-aged youth.

Both are quick to stress that the league is open to people of varying levels of athletic experience and ability. The club motto is: No experience is necessary, but a willingness to learn is. “I’m excited to play and not have to worry about messing up,” says Medina.

“I love my identity as an athlete as much as my identity as a transgender person. I want my queer peers to get to have that athlete identity, too,” says Walser.

Current club plans include renting a school gym on Sunday afternoons. The first club meeting is was scheduled for mid-December. Indoor soccer is up first. The first two weeks will focus on teaching basic skills like passing, dribbling, and shooting while the last eight will involve actual team play.

Next up are ultimate Frisbee, kickball, softball and possibly even rugby.

Medina shares that they’ve already been contacted by the Madison Minotaurs, a gay rugby club. “They love what we are doing. They want to put on a rugby 101 for us.”

When asked why they use the word “queer” in the club name Walser jumps in.

“At first I had trouble using it,” he confesses. “But ‘queer’ is all-encompassing. It’s not just all sexual orientation – it also includes all kinds of gender identity and expression.”

Both note pressure from the adult community to identify with one of the common labels, which they feel are too narrow. “You have to be L, G, B, or T,” Medina shares. “People who might not identify with the usual labels are more likely to identify with ‘queer.’”

“Besides, ‘LGBTQSC’ doesn’t have a good ring to it,” Walser adds.

While the club is youth-led, the co-founders’ ages necessitate the involvement of a few key adult volunteers. Adults are needed to open a bank account for the club and to help handle league fees and expenses. Since many of the club members can’t drive adults are also needed to help provide rides and assist with phone trees.

“We’re looking for positive adults—both with and without sports experience—who are comfortable working with youth,” says Walser.

They are also looking for financial support. Initial costs include renting a school gym—which includes overtime pay for weekend custodians—as well as providing league jerseys. “We want people to be able to feel like they are a part of a team,” says Walser.

“At $70, the league is a deal,” Walser points out. “It’s cheaper than the YMCA.” Both acknowledge that the cost might put the club out of reach of some teens. They hope to provide scholarships but would first need to receive donations to be able to do so.

Despite these start up obstacles, one can’t help but sense the two are forefront of another youth movement.

“I hope this inspires others to start similar clubs elsewhere,” states Walser.