Softball legacy leads Suzanne Arnold to NAGAAA Hall of Fame

Wed. May 29, 2024 9:05 AM by News Staff

suzanne arnold

'In the 1980s, we played like there was no tomorrow, both on and off the field,' says Suzanne Arnold

Suzanne (Suzi) Arnold is being inducted into the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance (NAGAAA) Hall of Fame, once again, for her contributions to gay softball.

“I am extremely proud that people recognize my contributions to the gay community over many years,” said Arnold, 67. “Playing and organizing sports has been critical to empowering our community and creating lifelong friendships.

“In 2002, I was inducted into the NAGAAA Hall of Fame with the founders of the Women’s Division, including Joannie McElligot from Chicago, Leslie Tiffany, Claire Monfort, Maureen Bennet and others. At some point the women of the NAGAAA Women’s Division split off and created a new organization called ASANA. I do not know whose decision it was, but we were all moved into the ASANA Hall of Fame without our consent. Many of us never participated in the new organization.

“To come back to NAGAAA, and be inducted where I started, honors the many friends who we have worked with over the years from around the country, and the many who we have lost.”

Arnold is one of seven inductees this year, which will coincide with the International Pride Softball World Series, as it is now known. The 47th annual Gay Softball World Series will be held in Las Vegas, October 14-19.

“It is terrific to be singled out, but there are so many people in the Chicago-area who have been, and continue to be, a big part of both NAGAAA and the sports community over the last 40 years,” Arnold said.

She began playing gay softball in 1977 in the Saturday Softball Beer League in Milwaukee, for a co-ed team called “Claire’s Bells” – and they brought cowbells to the games.

“I played for a lesbian bar in Milwaukee called ‘Sugar Shack’ after Claire’s Bells,” she said. “In 1980, my oldest sister tragically died and I was devastated. I lost my job (and) could hardly get out of bed. One of my friends I played ball with told me that there is a men’s team which was looking for women to join.”

She met the men and admitted they “saved my life.”

She played with the YP Flamingoes for the next five years, including traveling to tournaments in Toronto, Kansas City, Atlanta and San Francisco.

“In the 1980s, we played like there was no tomorrow, both on and off the field. And for too many of us, there was no tomorrow. We saw the 1980s decimate our community and softball was a way for us to compete, no matter your abilities, to party and to move forward.”

Arnold served as assistant commissioner of softball for the Milwaukee gay league. She also was a founding member of the Women’s Division of NAGAAA and later served as the organization’s women’s commissioner. She was among the first class of women ever inducted into the NAGAAA Hall of Fame.

After moving to Chicago, Arnold joined the Windy City Athletic Association, serving as assistant commissioner, director of women’s softball and co-director of women’s basketball.

“As the WCAA Women’s Commissioner, memories include getting up early on Sundays to set up the fields, play all day and then go to the sponsor bar,” she said. “We raised money to send teams to the Gay Softball World Series, primarily through the ‘Windy City Follies’ at The Baton Show Lounge, featuring women and men ball players. We always had so much fun, both at rehearsal and at show time.

“(Baton founder and owner) Jim Flint would have his choreographer help work out the dance moves and many of ‘the girls’ would help with hair and makeup the night of the shows.”

Arnold coached, organized and sometimes played in the WCAA Women’s Division from 1992-1999. She mostly coached the “Baton Show Girls” in Chicago.

She played third base, second base and sometimes catcher over the years.

“There are so many (memories), but when I played with the YP Flamingoes in Milwaukee, we had the absolute most fun,” Arnold said. “We were all young, and the party started right after the seventh inning. At the bar, we were famous for our ‘Skip and Go Naked’ drinks, which was a pitcher of some alcohol mixture stuffed with straws and downed by a circle of ball players while dancing to ‘Celebrate.’

“Teams from around the country knew of this fine tradition by joining us during the annual Milwaukee Memorial Day tournament.”

In 1996, the Baton Showgirls went to the Gay Softball World Series in Minneapolis as the city’s recreational representative – and Arnold’s mom joined for the tournament.

It was her last softball game, Arnold said. “After that World Series, I retired when I found out my mom had cancer.”

She passed in 1997.

Arnold’s softball team came to the service in Lake Geneva.

Arnold’s memories and legacy to the annual Gay Softball World Series certainly can through with a home run in 2011 – when the event was hosted by the Chicago Metropolitan Sports Association (CMSA), with games played at three suburban locations.

“I was very proud of the Gay Softball World Series in Chicago in 2011,” Arnold said. “We had tried to win the bid (to host the tournament) in the 1990s using the fields at Clarendon, which was not our best (move). In the presentation, (the fields) looked like the July dust bowls that they were. In 2011, the organizing team found great fields in the suburbs and balanced hosting the Series in the neighborhoods with providing great fields.”

Arnold also was a key player when the gay sports world was centered on Chicago in 2006 for the quadrennial Gay Games: she was co-chair of the Chicago Gay Games.

Arnold was the women’s commissioner for multiple World Series, always making sure women were represented with the host city committee and meeting budgets. “The weeks prior to the (start of the Series) were exhausting, but when the first ball was pitched, and I would look around and see all of these gay and lesbians being empowered and having so much fun, my heart would soar and I knew it was all worth it,” she said.

Arnold played in the Gay Softball World Series three times in the 1980s.

She was the NAGAAA Women’s Commissioner from 1988-1991.

“I first met Suzi Arnold at the NAGAAA Winter Meetings in Milwaukee in 1985, when NAGAAA was trying to establish a Women’s Division and Women’s World Series. With the encouragement and support of the Open Division and representatives from seven other established NAGAAA cities, Suzi worked tirelessly and successfully to host the first Women’s Division World Series,” said Leslie Tiffany. “From that time on, I have watched her devote time, energy and organizational expertise as a NAGAAA representative, NAGAAA Women’s Division Commissioner, Assistant Commissioner of Chicago’s WCAA Women’s Division, Sports Director of the Gay Games International Sports Committee and co-chair of the Chicago Gay Games in 2006.

“Suzi held these positions not only because of her hard work, but because of her ability to ‘reach across the aisle,’ as they say, with her ability to unite gay men and women at a time when this was far from commonplace.

“She was a pioneer in realizing both the strength and power of uniting communities. Suzi absolutely deserves to be inducted into the prestigious NAGAAA Hall of Fame.”