GAAY Sports gathers Lansing area’s LGBTQ neighborhood, allies

LANSING – Bowling balls clashed against pins, people shared jabs with one another and pint glasses clinked as the region’s LGBTQ community and allies gathered at a Lansing bowling venue.

The organized fun is a deliberate move by Nicholas Wendling, founder of GAAY Sports, to give his community, along with its friends and supporters, more spaces to celebrate and play sports in a welcoming atmosphere, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic.

He started the organization in June with a 44-person kickball league. It’s still tough for people to meet others, he said, and so he’s happy to organize sports activities in safe spaces for the LGBTQ community.

This winter, 48 people signed up for bowling, and at least 70 others are signed up for Sunday dodgeball. Sign-ups are at capacity, but more information is available online at

GAAY Sports organizer Nicholas Wendling, 42, middle, of Lansing, chats with attendees at the league's bowling event Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023, at Spare Time Entertainment Center in Lansing.  The LGBTQ-centered sports league has various sporting events for the LGBTQ community and its allies.

“Some people aren’t even safe as an LGBTQ person, we’re under attack by some of our legislators in other parts of the country,” Wendling said.

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Wendling received $5,000 in federal funds for GAAY Sports and hopes to obtain nonprofit status this year. His biggest goal for 2023 is to host a kickball event during Pride Month with area high school gay-straight alliance clubs.

But first, he’s focused on Who Gives a Split, the GAAY Sports bowling league he started at Spare Time Entertainment Center in Lansing this winter.

Jason Stephenson identified himself as an ally of the community and bowled several splits at Spare Time Entertainment Center on Thursday. He joined the event after a friend referred him to the league because he craved an open atmosphere where he could bowl.

LGBTQ ally Jason Stephenson, 20, of Lansing, bowls Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023, during a GAAY Sports league bowling event at Spare Time Entertainment Center in Lansing.

So far, he’s enjoyed his time and noticed the joy among the other league bowlers. He wants 2023 to be different than the previous two years and, to him, the GAAY Sports league seems to be on the right track.

“There’s more talking, more communication and all that stuff,” Stephenson said. “A lot of people, a lot of smiles. I love to see that.”

He bowled with Mandy Malone-White, sharing jokes about each others’ skills over pints of beer and pizza. Malone-White made wisecracks about their expertise at throwing gutter balls.

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Married and visiting the bowling alley with wife Dana, Malone-White explained that a perfect ally is someone who attends events like Thursday’s, along with parents, families and friends of lesbians and gays meetings and protests to actively fights against anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and policies .

“Allies coming out and supporting events like this is essential,” Mandy Malone-White said.

Mandy Malone-White of Lansing bowls Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023, during a GAAY Sports league bowling event at Spare Time Entertainment Center in Lansing.  Malone-White and wife Dana moved to the Lansing area about a year ago from Denver and joined the league as a way to connect with others in the community.

The Malone-Whites moved from Denver two years ago and noticed that Lansing’s LGBTQ community is smaller, which helps foster tighter connections.

Thursday was the first time the Malone-Whites have gone out since the pandemic hit, they said.

“I feel that I’m no longer alone, it’s great to see people like me engaging in activities that I like,” Mandy Malone-White said.

About three lanes over, Linda Sarnelli and her friends gathered after attending a Michigan State University women’s basketball game, another venue where everyone, including players and coaches, seemed welcoming.

A transgender woman, she has a close group of friends in Lansing. One is getting her to join GAAY Sports’ ax throwing events.

“I might try that but I don’t know about the league thing,” Sarnelli said. “That’s a commitment. I’d rather just go and have a beer, eat some pizza and throw an ax and throw a few frames just to have a good time.”

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Contact reporter Krystal Nurse at 517-267-1344 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @KrystalRNurse.

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