It’s been a lot of work since winning the bid to bring the International Gay Bowler’s Organization (IGBO) to Kansas City two years ago but according to the organizers it’s been well worth it. They’re now only a few weeks away from the actual six day conference May 24-29.
Three officers of IGBO Kansas City met with Camp recently: Leonard Bain, director of marketing and revenue; Jim Willard, director of operations, and Julie Roberts, public relations coordinator. Their goal is to have at least 500 people registered and already 358 bowlers have signed up. “But we all know that we all wait until the very last minute to send our entries in” laughed Bain. Teams are registered from all over the United States and some international locales including Toronto, Vancouver, and Calgary in Canada, and possibly Australia.
IGBO schedules its annual conference over Memorial Day to make it easier for bowlers to attend without having to take too much vacation time. Bain credited Kansas City’s draw as a host city because of its central location for travelers flying in from the coast, the south, or the north and those traveling by car in the greater Midwest. Many of the bowlers will extend their stay either in advance of or after the conference by a few days to enjoy Kansas City.
This is the first time that IGBO has been held in Kansas City, though it did bid in the late ‘80’s, when it lost to Seattle, said Bain. Roberts added. “Actually a lot of the bowlers that we talk to for many years have encouraged us saying you guys should have one, so finally we succumbed.” “We’ve got a great city to show them” she said. “A lot of people have a misconception of Kansas City if they haven’t been here so I think a lot of them will be surprised.”
Roberts went on to say that Kansas City is “one of the few communities that I know of where the men and women actually socialize,” referring to the more separatist communities in other cities. “One of the things I like about IGBO is that it’s about unity,” Willard added. “There’s enough division going on in the country between Democrats and Republicans, gays and straights, and you don’t need that within your organization.”
Like other events such as Kansas City Gay Pride or the Creating Change Conference that brings visitors, IGBO also means valuable tourism dollars being brought into the local economy. The Westin Hotel is the host hotel, Midwest Express is the host airline, and Enterprise Rental Cars the host rental car company. “Midwest Express, our host airline, found that out real quick,” said Bain. He told a story about the Midwest Airlines sales rep that made the offer to IGBO Milwaukee to be their host airline for last year’s conference. When meeting with the Milwaukee IGBO recently the group told Bain that the sales rep from Midwest Airlines commented that her boss really didn’t realize how much money was spent until they went in and looked at the results of the promotional code. The boss then told the rep. “Make the deals whenever possible.” Bain commented on how much power the gay dollar can mean “If we can get more companies to realize that there is money in the gay community.”
IGBO currently has 170 member leagues and 60 tournaments. The annual MAKIT (Missouri and Kansas Invitational Tournament) over the Easter weekend, for instance, draws between 200 and 250 people. Next year will be the 25th annual MAKIT tournament.
The relationships that the gay bowlers have with the local bowling alleys in Kansas City where they play is one of mutual respect and fun. They all commented that they’ve had great experiences at the bowling alleys where they play and it’s never an issue to have a gay bowling team playing next to a straight team. They also mentioned that the bowling alleys support them and know their group is fun. One year during their annual MAKIT tournament they suggested to their lane waitress that she trade places with her hunky husband, who was bartending. Bain said, “We walked up to her and said you really need to get your husband out here, if you want the money since it’s all in your family. He worked the lanes and after the tournament he had made enough in tips to make two house payments.”
One local group has been bowling next to a straight team for over five years. “I think they were taken back at the very beginning, then they figured out we were harmless enough and just really go to have a good time. And we have good bowlers, and people are surprised about that,” said Roberts.
The last few MAKIT tournaments have been held at the AMF Northland. “Although we don’t have a huge presence there during the year, we’ve been having it there for so long they know us, they like us, they welcome us back,” said Roberts. Willard added, “With open arms.” “MAKIT has a theme every year during the tournament and they want to know because they decorate the bowling alley, get in costumes, based on whatever the theme is for the tournament. “They really are part of the festivities and make it a lot more fun for the bowlers,”said Roberts. Bain said AMF Northland seemed incredulous that there was no theme for the IGBO tournament but was nonetheless excited to have it. “AMF knows how much money the tournaments bring in, said Bain. “They’re supportive. Particularly with AMF Northland, gay means fun,” said Roberts.
Every year the IGBO Conference works with The Names Project to have panels of the AIDS Quilt shipped in to remember people from that tournament’s region who have died. There will be 10 panels displayed on one wall of a conference room at the Westin Hotel during the conference. IGBO will also hold a memorial service to commemorate the memory of those the Quilt represents, appropriately over the Memorial Day weekend.
The tournament will be held at three alleys: AMF Northland for team events, AMF Pro Bowl for singles and doubles, and AMF West on Sunday for “Scratch Masters” competition. Though the tournament keeps the bowlers busy with the games, it also features cocktail hours, a Women’s Social (men invited if accompanied by a woman), a pub crawl, ice skating at AMF West, and tickets to Kansas T-Bones games. There will be 49 awards of trophies and money and “206 raffle prizes for the year 2006” given out during the tournament.
It’s also a family affair. Members bring partners, children, and parents. One family brings an RV and parks in the parking lot along with their pets. “It’s a whole new meaning to family values,” said Willard.
IGBO is a non-profit organization and any monies left over after the event will be donated to three charities selected by IGBO, although the beneficiaries cannot be announced in advance. IGBO is also assisted by volunteers from local Kansas City organizations like HASL (Heart of America Softball League), MGRA (Missouri Gay Rodeo Association), Kansas City WAVES swim team, KCAVP (Kansas City Anti Violence Project), and PrideFloat.” The local IGBO team returns the favor by volunteering at their events. “I’m still trying to garner some volunteers to be lane monitors, get score corrections, and more,” said Julie Roberts.
“It’s down to the point now where it’s finally coming to an end and we’re starting to get a little nervous” said Willard whose work as director of operations is only beginning.
The local chapter has developed a close relationship with their “sister city” of Milwaukee. They helped with the tournament there in 2005 and Milwaukee is helping with the Kansas City tournament this year.
IGBO will also be sending a team to the July 2006 Gay Games in Chicago. IGBO is a voting member of the Federation of Gay Games. One of the representatives for the Chicago Gay Games is a bowler and will be at the Kansas City IGBO tournament.
Registration to bowl in the tournament closes May 10. Volunteers and sponsors are still welcomed. The full schedule of events will be posted on their website.
IGBO has weekly meetings between now and the tournament at Planet Sub, 51st and Main, Kansas City.
For more information, visit: www.igbo2006.org for the Kansas City Tournament. For the national group e-mail: email@example.com