While there’s a slight chance you might not immediately recognize the name Eric Ryan, it’s a sure bet that you’ve heard of the Sin City Shootout (SCS) that is held in Las Vegas over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Over the last nine years it’s worked its way up to its current claim that it’s the “largest annual LGBT sporting event in the world.” What makes this annual weekend tournament different? It’s the only major sporting event that has been designed with the athletes in mind. And the man behind this new take on a sports festival is none other than Eric Ryan, an athlete’s athlete.
An out firefighter who describes himself as an “alpha male,” Ryan is a serious softball player with GLASA, the Greater Los Angeles Softball Association. Having been to many tournaments as a softball player over the years, Ryan said he always enjoyed the competition but the arrangements often left a lot to be desired. So as he thought about the perfect location, Las Vegas seemed to check all the boxes.
“I dreamed of a weekend sporting event that could be held in a location that offered lots of hotel rooms at a reasonable price, a destination with regular and reasonable travel, quality fields and other venues where people in multiple sports could compete, and lots of places to socialize after a day of hard play.”
Host for this sports extravaganza is, as always, the GLASA. Ryan is now the assistant commissioner of GLASA, but in 2007 as a GLASA member, he approached the then assistant commissioner with his vision, proposing that the organization take on all the exposure and liability of the mega-event. If the organization would agree to his proposal, then he could use its large buying power to get the best venues and prices on everything from room rates to travel.
In 2008 Ryan’s dream became a reality with 40 softball teams competing, a figure that grew to 70 teams in year two. It wasn’t perfect at the start. “I made lots of mistakes,” Ryan says of his first year. “I didn’t even think of concessions and bathrooms.” But he spoke with team managers and asked for their feedback, and they said they loved it. The big draw for them was Las Vegas. By 2010 basketball was added to the tournament and in 2011 it expanded to five sports.
One of the best things about this annual extended weekend tournament is the variety of sports involved – there’s something for everyone who wants to participate. It’s certainly filled with the expected, like softball, basketball, football. But it always embraces less mainstream and sometimes less strenuous sports, like darts, frisbee and contract bridge. This year boasted 23 different sports involved.
While the total attendance this year was estimated to reach 8,500 players, officials, family and friends, the actual attendance exceeded the estimate, coming in at 8, 671. And for Ryan, who claims he’s not a micromanager but is a self-confessed detail-oriented tournament director, this means the tournament requires his full focus.
So while he still plays softball with his GLASA team, he doesn’t have time anymore to play at this tournament. He said that early in the tournament’s history, “I was on second base checking my phone in-between pitches. I realized that I had too many responsibilities to all the athletes to make this a great event to continue playing with my team during the Sin City Shootout.”
Ryan is always looking to add more sports that meet his required due diligence – meaning that they need to be legitimate and well-organized since each sport is responsible for setting up its own competition within the larger framework of SCS. So don’t be surprised at what you find on the list of sports for SCS’ tenth anniversary – it could be anything from stockcar racing to underwater sneaker retrieving.
As Eric Ryan’s tournament idea continues to spread further into the community of gay and ally athletes, his reputation as a community hero will only continue to grow because he created a tournament based on the athletes’ needs and concerns.
Photo by Jason King Photography
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