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This Cincinnati LGBTQ+ bowling tournament has been going strong for 30 years

bowling ball smashing into bowling pins
Karla Rivera

The Cincinnati Tri-State Invitational Tournament returns this weekend after taking a year off. The annual LGBTQ+ bowling tournament aims to promote diversity and fellowship through the sport of bowling.

Nearly a hundred people are expected to compete during the two-day event held at Super Bowl Bellewood in Newport. The tournament — which is capped at 120 bowlers — is still rebounding from being canceled during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Tournament Director James Siefke.

"It's been going on now for well over 30 years," Siefke says, noting he doesn't think there's been an increase in LGBTQ+ sports leagues, it's just that they're more visible now.

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"You have to remember, 30-plus years ago, saying 'gay' was a bad thing, right? The change in culture probably over the last 10 to 15 years and more equal rights ... that's basically helped shape a lot of the millennials, and the attitudes they have towards acceptance have really brought about the change of norm, so you're seeing more gay sports."

The tournament, which — given the approaching holiday — will have a Halloween theme, is open to all amateur bowlers.

"Understand that it is not just a gay league or a gay tournament. They may be sponsored by or have a relationship with the (International Gay Bowling Organization), but there are straight, gay, I-don't-care-the-personalities, the sexualities, right? As long as you're not a professional bowler, you're welcome to come in and apply for the tournament, or come and join our league."

There's at least one other gay bowling league in Cincinnati which also hosts an annual tournament. However, Siefke admits numbers have been on the decline.

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"That's just been an ongoing thing as we get older," he says. "You don't really see the millennials and stuff like that get interested in bowling because of financial stuff."

That could be in for a turnaround. The United States Bowling Congress, the national governing body for the sport, reports membership was up 4.4% last season. Plus, an Ipsos poll from earlier this year found cornhole and bowling were the sports most Americans played in 2022.

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.