Metro Weekly

Game On: The welcoming leagues of United Social Sports

Robert Kinsler's United Social Sports focuses on building social communities through sports

Illustration by Christopher Cunetto

Illustration by Christopher Cunetto

“It is probably our silliest, most tongue-in-cheek sport,” says Robert Kinsler. “But it’s also the most accessible. And just really easy for people to get involved with.”

The sport? Skeeball.

“It’s where it all started,” says Kinsler, who runs United Social Sports. On the rings of this popular arcade attraction, Kinsler grew what is now a prominent adult sports company. In late 2009, he and a friend started a skeeball league in Arlington after reading about a similar league in New York. “We decided to start the skeeball league, and it was more popular than we had anticipated. And one thing led to another, and here we are.”

These days, Kinsler runs an entire company comprised of various sports leagues, including more traditional sports such as softball, soccer and volleyball. However, even with more mundane sports and his official title of Commissioner, Kinsler refuses to take cues from the usual sports playbook. In any given season the company presents up to two dozen sports leagues — held at venues throughout D.C. as well as suburban Virginia and Maryland — and all are non-competitive and “focused on bringing people together,” having fun in a collegial, social environment.

“People kind of assume that I’m a sports guy,” says the Arlington native, who studied to be an actor and previously worked in real estate. While he loves playing softball and kickball as well as skeeball, “it’s really less about the sports and more about the relationships and building a community, and creating something from scratch — that’s my passion.”

Each year, United Social Sports increases its offerings, with most drawn from the school playground — kickball, dodgeball, frisbee — and sometimes even grouped together, as in DC Recess, an “indoor recess league” currently wrapping up its inaugural season. (Most leagues last from six to eight weeks.) There’s also what Kinsler calls “really crazy stuff,” including leagues focused on shuffleboard and cornhole. Perhaps the craziest addition is a two-month fall event “Pongapolooza,” which features various beer-centric games from pong to flip cup to Battleship, presented in partnership with All American Beer Pong.

“You name it, we’re probably running it — unless it’s just a typically very competitive sport,” Kinsler says. “If it’s social and involves a puck, a ball, a stick, a basket — something along those lines — we’re probably playing it.”

The company also works to expand its outreach by forming partnerships, including most recently with Stonewall Sports. “We’ve had various LGBT leagues over the years but we wanted to do more. Partnering with Stonewall allows us to give back to the community,” says Kinsler, noting that United Social Sports makes a donation to the DC Center for the leagues it runs with Stonewall. The partnership also offers expanded opportunities for gays and straight allies to play in leagues together, and allows the volunteer-run Stonewall to augment its services by tapping into the relationships and resources that United Social Sports can provide, from its eight-person staff to a warehouse full of equipment. At the moment the company offers four spring leagues with Stonewall: Two Thursday night kickball leagues and a Sunday morning soccer league held at Stead Park near JR.’s, plus a Sunday evening volleyball league at Our Lady Queen of the Americas church in the Dupont/Kalorama area.

Of course, LGBT players can join any league presented by the company, not just those offered through Stonewall. “We have a very diverse player base across all of our sports — people from all walks of life, all different nationalities, gender, sexual orientations. We’re very open and welcoming.” The focus is on community and collaboration more than competition. Occasionally the company offers a sport in two different leagues, splitting them into advanced and beginner levels — or varsity and junior varsity. “Sometimes it’s a little bit more fun if people are playing on similar skill levels. But beyond that, the focus is always on being social and building relationships.”

Late last year United Social Sports launched an official charitable arm, the Social Sports Foundation. Kinsler describes this as “a new initiative to specifically help youth in and around D.C. to be more active and to focus on total wellness and getting outside and playing.” It’s just one more way the company aims “to continue to build ourselves as a member of the communities that we’re apart of and to be able to give back more.”

For more information about the spring kickball, soccer and volleyball leagues in partnership with Stonewall Sports, visit unitedsocialsports.com/lgbt-spring-leagues.

For more information about United Social Sports or to register for all spring leagues, call 1-855-PLAY-USS or visit unitedsocialsports.com.

Doug Rule covers the arts, theater, music, food, nightlife and culture as contributing editor for Metro Weekly.

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