Eighty bowlers, mostly men, and many from out of state, staked out most of the 40 lanes at AMF Pleasant Valley Lanes over Labor Day weekend. High-fives, Bloody Mary’s, and encouraging cheers set the scene, along with scented bowling balls from tournament sponsor Storm Bowling.
During the second annual Orbit Bowling Tournament, team names centered on the weekend tournament’s theme: flirtatiously and flamboyantly 80’s – and gay.
Orbit, a tournament in the International Gay Bowling Organization, known as IGBO, expanded nearly 30 percent from its inaugural year and represented more than 30 cities. Participants gather for laidback gay community, friendly competition and celebratory after-parties.
“It’s an alternative to bars,” said Boston resident Rob Silliman, a former vice president of the organization, which got its start in Milwaukee. “I have friends I only see at these tournaments.”
Unity, fellowship and communication are their core values, and the whole organization started as an attempt to communicate among LBGT leagues.
Started in 1980, IGBO boasts more than 5,000 members and 250 leagues worldwide with members also in Australia and Canada. Two other Labor Day group tournaments are played in Las Vegas and St. Louis, but many big names in the organization chose to come to Raleigh for the holiday weekend.
Land O’Lakes, Fla., resident and association President Rob McDaniel came to North Carolina for the weekend with his partner, Alex Gregory, the southeast regional director for the group.
McDaniel said that the leagues bring in major money between the host hotel, the Hilton Midtown, and the colorful evening parties full of local food, games and booze.
“The community has embraced us,” McDaniel said.
On Sunday, each team of four competed against the others in the last day, compared to singles and doubles the two days prior. One Fort Lauderdale, Fla., team dressed in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles T-shirts and matching hats, cheered the loudest for their teammates during the Sunday morning game.
Gabriel Him, a member of the team dressed as “Michelangelo,” directs of the Fort Lauderdale Invitational Regional Tournament , known as FLIRT, which has played for about 30 years.
“We really give back to the community,” Him said. The tournaments often donate to charities, such as HIV/AIDS research, children’s cancer foundations and German Shepherd Rescue.
Him, a charter airline captain, has been with his partner for about 13 years.
“Piloting is my passion, and bowling is my second passion,” Him said.
Travis Neal, his teammate from Detroit, said the tournament brought him to Raleigh for the first time, and he had spent his free time hanging out at the Legends nightclub in downtown.
Organizer Jeremy Harrell represented Raleigh, and the 80’s, with a “Kinky Boots” colored robe and a frizzy black wig.
“This has been going on since before I was born,” he said with a laugh.
He was one of the few younger players, of whom McDaniel and other organizers said they would like to see more. Women were scarce, too, which organizers hope will not be the case in the future.
The association sponsors three leagues in the Triangle: Durham Rainbow Bowling, Triangle Rainbow Bowling and Kings and Queens in Raleigh. The organization also represents the Charlotte Rainbowlers.
“This kind of tournament brings people in from all walks of life. We have doctors, lawyers, pilots, (businessmen) ... gay, straight, everybody,” said Gregory. “That’s what it is all about.”