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Sara being Sara
by Roger Brigham

Fortunate are those who survive long enough to see the completion of karmic arcs launched early in life, see their efforts of decades ago now woven into the lives of younger generations, perhaps enabling them to launch new arcs of their own. We see such karma so frequently these days in LGBT sports, rewards reaped now from the efforts to organize and compete in the 1970s and 1980s, that we often forget to slow down and take notice or to give thanks.

So I was delighted to have a chance during the Thanksgiving weekend this year to spend a little time with Sara Waddell Lewinstein.

Understand, there are no short chats with Sara. Twenty minutes after the first hello, you are either ready to shoot yourself or sign up for whatever she is selling. Seldom coming up for air, she talks virtually nonstop with a sincere warmth and relentless intensity, offering insights and nuggets of information. Before you know it you are wandering through Sara World - and that is a very addictive place to be.

For this visit we were sitting in her office at Serra Bowl in Daly City. Waddell Lewinstein started working there a couple of weeks ago as general manager - the same position she had at Park Bowl back in 1972 when she first moved to San Francisco.

"I came out in Los Angeles right before I moved here," she said. "I had no idea when I moved here there was any gay community in San Francisco. I felt proud to come out. I didn't like the hard-core dykes and the butch women. I just wanted to be me. I didn't like the role-playing back then. I was able to be me at the bowling alley."

Waddell Lewinstein had been an elite competitive bowler in her youth, not joining the pro circuit because she wanted to keep her amateur status in case the sport was added to the Olympics. When she got to San Francisco, she began bowling at Park Bowl and quickly went to work there. Within a few months she became the youngest general manager of any bowling alley in the country.

"I was only 28 years old," she said. "I managed the bar at the bowling alley, but I couldn't have a drink."

She saw kids hanging out on the street, poor and with nothing to do, and she got them into the alley. The kids were often harassed as they left.

"As the kids would leave the side door to the parking lot, people would be at their windows and they would start throwing things," Waddell Lewinstein said. "They were yelling 'nigger.' One of my kid's head was bleeding from getting hit. I kept calling to cops for days to get them out there and they finally set up a stakeout."

When the kids left the building and bottles started flying again, the police moved to action and discovered a veritable warren of racist White Panthers.

"They busted them," she said. "As they went in, they found a whole armory of guns and machine guns and rifles and hand grenades. They had made holes in the walls between the buildings so they could move from one building to another. The cops arrested them and confiscated everything. That was the end of that. A sergeant asked me to join the force and I thought about it for a little bit."

It was a time of discovery for Waddell Lewinstein.

"I was at Park Bowl from 1972 to 1977, when the owner passed away," she said. "I was on the phone with him when he had a heart attack. I was really close with him and it was very emotional for me. I started getting into women's things: sports, music, everything. There was a lot of separatism at the time. Gay bowling leagues were just starting then. I started Artemis Cafe and got into softball through that."

She joined the Gay Games board shortly after Dr. Tom Waddell began work on Gay Games I, and a romance bloomed between Sara and Tom and Sara and the Games. The pair married and had a daughter, Jessica. Sara became one of the Gay Games most vocal advocates. She was honored for her work for the games this past summer at Gay Games VIII in Cologne when she became the female recipient of the Waddell Award.

She knows she is fortunate. She's seen many colleagues and friends fall through the years.

"We've lost so many mentors to AIDS or breast cancer or just plain burnout," she said.

 But bowling has never strayed far from her thoughts. A few weeks ago she went to Serra Bowl to watch her partner, Sandy, compete. Mike Leon, one of her street kids all those years ago at Park Bowl spotted her â€" "I'd recognize those blue eyes anywhere," he told her as they hugged - and offered her a job as general manager.

"I came home and thought about it," she said. "Serra Bowl used to be my biggest competitor. I thought about all of the bowling alleys that have been closing. We're not replacing them with anything; we're not putting in parks in their places. We're replacing them with condos.

"It's not just bowling; it's sports in general. What has happened to our city, to lose so many after-school programs, is something I find devastating," she added. "I want the gay leagues back. I want these kids back bowling. I find myself in a position of being able to teach again. I want to be part of an outlet that can still give back."

And so now she is the GM at Serra Bowl. As John Denver might note, she's back home to a place she's never been before. She just held a giant community Turkey Bowl to raise food for the needy and is full of hopes to try to get LGBT groups and other community groups to use the facility for meetings, social gatherings and fundraising events.

Her first Wednesday night at Serra, Sean Jackson, one of her proteges from the days of battling White Panthers across the street, bowled a perfect 300 game. Jackson, now a police sergeant working in the Tenderloin, was feted at the bowling alley and Waddell Lewinstein presented him with his prize check.

Tears welled in her eyes when she recalled the moment.

"He embraced me. He told me, 'There were only two people who kept me alive all these years: you and my mother. If it weren't for the two of you, I wouldn't be alive,'" she said. "They still call me coach. That got my heart. Here they've grown up and had babies and they're still calling me coach. It's like a dream."

LPGA vote on transgender players

The Ladies Professional Golf Association, currently being sued by transgender golfer Lana Lawless for the right to play in the pro tour, was scheduled to vote earlier this week on whether to drop its requirement that members be "female at birth."

Lawless, 57, who underwent reassignment surgery in 2005, sued the LPGA and the Long Drivers of America in federal district court in San Francisco on October 12 after both organizations informed her she would not be allowed to compete in their events. The LPGA "female at birth" requirement is nothing new, but LDA adopted its rule only this year after Lawless won a previous Long Drive Championship.

Virtually every other major sports association, including the International Olympic Committee, allows transgender athletes to compete.

The legal indefensibility of the restriction was presented in October to LPGA members meeting at the Hana Bank Championship in South Korea. The membership voted to eliminate the restriction Tuesday, Nov. 30.

Lawless' attorney, Christopher Dolan, told that eliminating the restriction would not end the lawsuit and Lawless would still seek damages. If it denies the allegations, Dolan said he will seek to bar the LPGA from conducting business in California.

The LPGA did not respond to the Bay Area Reporter as of press time.


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