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The Sport of Socializing

December 14, 2011

How and why Baltimoreans use sports to form their own sense of community

By Krystina Lucido

>> Continued from Page 1

No matter their reasons for joining, all people can find the type of club for their needs. As much as avenues for connecting with others online are vast, there are many options in sports and social clubs as well. It is the sport, not the social, part that takes up the most time for the people who run them. Each provides something in the sports involvement buffet.

Cray prides himself on the social atmosphere he creates and the affiliation with bars, while Rendin puts his focus on ease of communication and accessibility, especially for people in Federal Hill. Darryl Shawgo, owner of Play Baltimore, which he started in 2004, caters to people who don't want to go all the way downtown, but still want to play, especially once they get older and have children.

The reasons for joining are as vast, but that is the unique nature of sports and social clubs. These clubs work just as sports in general do. People join for different reasons, yet are united. Playing on a sports and social club team is a different kind of bonding experience, because everyone competes for a common goal and subsequently has a common talking point.

"If you just go to a bar, you might meet a group of people, but you're not really bonding," Boardman said. "But if you're going toward a common goal where you're all competing, playing and having a good time, I feel like that sense of camaraderie and teamsmanship helps build the friendships. And if it's something you're interested in doing right off the bat, you have something in common that you like to do."

The social aspect within the clubs extends even further at the bar. Not only are participants meeting people with common interests on their teams, but they are socializing with people on other teams that they are competing against.

"At the game, you have that connection with someone that you had a great game against," Fisher said. "Then you can walk up to them at the bar after the game and say, 'Hey, we played today -- good game.' Then you have that connection."

Gina Folio and Chris Batchelder met at a preseason happy hour before the fall 2007 football season. Folio, who teaches at Essex Elementary, had played summer softball with some coworkers and Bryce McNeil. When the team decided to play football in the fall, McNeil asked whether his friend, who had recently moved to Baltimore from Vermont, could join the team to meet people.

"He threw a couple touchdown passes to me," Folio said. "I think that seemed to work."

Batchelder said he and Folio grew on each other, and he proposed in September. Batchelder works for the government in Washington, D.C., and said he joined the team to meet people in his new hometown, but also to be involved in sports again.

"It's a way to reconnect with your youthful days when you were playing pick-up games with your friends and stuff," he said. "It's just for fun, just have a good time and get out on the weekends, get a little exercise."

As a dancer, Folio felt the same way.

"We like to drink," she said. "And I would say we've just become even closer to our friends and built friendships and met new people through our friends."

All three sports and social club owners see many couples come together in their league. Rendin and Cray said they both saw couples that had met in their clubs come back with baby strollers and youngsters to the fields. Rendin has seen people get jobs through SoBo. The opportunities are endless. Rendin knows from personal experience.

"The first team captain that was unhappy with how we were running things is now my wife," Rendin said.

More so than their individual participants, sports and social clubs benefit the city as well. The bar sponsors are a huge and obvious beneficiary, because even with just Cray's numbers, there are thousands of sporting participants attending any of the six bars that are part of BSSC's sponsors.

"It's kind of like a big circle," Rendin said. "It helps the bars; it generates business. It generates business for the restaurants. It's an attraction for people to move into the city. So people that are building homes and trying to rent apartments, providing something down here in the city attracts people to move down here."

Cray has seen real estate agents use the presence of the BSSC at Patterson Park and Patterson High School as a selling point for prospective buyers or renters as a place where people can be involved in the areas where they live. Cray said people who worked in the city were having an additional economic impact by living and going out in the city, generating tax money. Rendin agreed.

"When you live in the city, you want to have fun things to do," Rendin said. "We provide something fun for people that live in the city, work in the city and just an outlet for people to have fun after work and on the weekends."

And what better equalizer than the world of sports, where the social atmosphere of sport is what brings people together? It is a mutually beneficial relationship that doesn't completely make itself apparent until playing sports and socializing are thrown together so obtrusively, as in these clubs. Subconsciously, people associate sports with a social atmosphere, a community feeling.

"To me, sports and life kind of parallel each other," Cray said. "My friends that I have to this day were made from either going to the gym or sports. You can't find a better friend than a friend you've made in sports. It's a common bond that you keep with the rest of your life."

Check out Local Sports and Social Clubs

Issue 168: December 2011