The origins of the annual Memorial Drag Ball game in the mid 1990s were pretty simple: a group of friends got together looking to do something fun and different during Victoria Pride Week.
David Tillson, the man on the microphone doing play by play all these years, recalls the softball game was a way for a group of coworkers and acquaintances to blow off some steam and help ease the tension being felt in the gay community at the time.
“We were all friends, we decided to go together and hang out in the park and do something,” Tillson recalls. “There were about 15 to 20 of us and we ran into some friends. We thought we’d play softball in drag; we thought it would be fun.”
While it took place around the time of Pride Week, organizers were determined that there would never be any sponsorship or commercialization tied to it. “It would be kind of like us hanging out,” Tillson says.
The fun game between the Drag Queens and the Drag Kings – Queens must wear a glam wig while Kings sport a “mustache” – is marked by hilarity, laughter and pure joy on the field and off. As such it was tough to keep under the radar for long. The initial crowd of around 40 people in the early years in Heywood Park soon grew to 100 people or more, to the point where today this staple of Pride Festival activities in Victoria draws between 700 and 1,000 people to Vic West Park.
Tillson, now the president of the Victoria Pride Society, is one of just two remaining original participants in the game more than 20 years later. While a significant number of those first players have sadly died, he says, many players from past years continue to participate as spectators.
This year’s game happens from noon till 3 p.m. Sunday, July 1 at Vic West Park and anyone is invited to play. Hot dogs and refreshments will once again be served by members of the Eves of Destruction roller derby league, which uses it as a fundraiser.
– Monday Magazine staff