Zia & Bob Make the News


Posted on Sun, Jun. 09, 2002
The Philadelphia Inquirer
Michael Vitez | A softball team of note blessed with baby boom
The mostly lesbian Clean Sweep has little angels on the sidelines.
Bob Gold is usually the only guy who comes to watch the Clean Sweep softball team. That's because his wife is the only woman on the team who isn't a lesbian.

"I've kind of forgotten that I am the only guy here - until I see another guy like you," he said at a game the other night. "It never happens.

"It's now a kid's corner," Bob added. "It was not like that at all a couple years ago. A few puppies. That was it."

Clean Sweep, which has been together for 15 years and plays in the Fairmount Park Women's Softball League, C-division, is experiencing a baby boom. Five children - pushing toy strollers, chasing balls, eating Gerber spinach - attended last week's game on Belmont Plateau. A sixth was home sick, and a seventh is due by next season.

Bob, 44, of Fairmount, watches his 21/2-year-old twins, Jake and Zoe, while his wife, Zia Gajary, plays second base. Bob also helps with the other children, who often cry, "Mommy, mommy," when Mommy is at bat. This doesn't help Mommy's batting average.

This team is notable in one regard, and not because of its prowess on the field. (It has finished first and last.) Not only have the women on Clean Sweep been bearing children, but their same-sex partners have been adopting them.

One partner bears the child after artificial insemination. The other then adopts the child and becomes a second parent.

Karen Dorman comes to every game and brings her son. Karen was on the team until she gave birth to Tommy 17 months ago, and she's pregnant again. "I'm not very good," she said. "They put me in right field."

Michelle Conley, who plays first base, is Karen's partner. They live in Mount Airy, but Tommy Conley was born in New Jersey, because New Jersey allows "second-parent" adoptions. (The American Academy of Pediatrics endorsed second-parent adoptions in February. But the practice has been challenged in Pennsylvania courts, and the matter is before the state Supreme Court.)

Tommy's birth certificate identifies Karen and Michelle simply as parents.

Karen is "Mommy."

Michelle is "Mimi."

Karen, an adoption social worker, loves the spirit and camaraderie of Clean Sweep, and the beautiful evenings in Fairmount Park. But she also - most important - wants Tommy around other children with similar, same-sex parents.

"I don't feel like coming sometimes - are you kidding? We're often here past bedtime... . But the reality is they're always around traditional families. We have to make sure they're around families like their own."

As she talked, Tommy toddled toward the batter's box, where Michelle was at the plate. Teammates scooped him up like a routine grounder.

Claire Baker, 38, the left fielder, has been on the team a decade. Her partner, Jennifer Raison, 40, who rarely misses a game, gave birth to their son, Corley Raison, nine months ago. They live in Springfield, Delaware County. Corley also was born in New Jersey. Both are Corley's lawful parents.

Jennifer is "Mama J."

Claire is "Maddie."

As the women were talking, quite a game was under way. Kerry Arnold, with the team nine years and hoping with her partner to have children, fielded a wicked liner on one hop in right center. She fired a bullet to first, getting the batter out.

The bench erupted in cheers.

In the bottom half of the same inning, Zia could have slid into second and been safe on a close play. But this was recreational - not kamikaze - softball, and Zia, 39, was in shorts. "I haven't slid since I was 30," she said.

Clean Sweep, known by many names over time, was originally formed by Sister Space, a lesbian social organization. Initially, according to one longtime player, the team even had a rule that "coaches couldn't be nasty to the players," and "everybody played."

Over the years the team has advertised for players in the Philadelphia Gay News. Most players, however, found the team by word of mouth. Zia, for instance, joined because her old college roommate played.

The leader of the team is "Coach," a public schoolteacher, whose students do not know she is a lesbian. She's had the same baseball glove since ninth grade. No teammate - not even her partner - is allowed to touch it.

Coach tells the team that she never washes her jersey, shorts or socks for the entire season. "Once you get a win in it, you got to keep it in there," she said.

Coach's partner is Liz DeFeo. Liz was on the team before Coach gave birth to their son, Nicholas DeFeo, 3. Liz still keeps a jersey in her trunk, but mostly, she watches Nicholas during games. At risk of jeopardizing the team's karma, Liz whispered that Coach does wash her uniform. "She doesn't want them to know," said Liz. "It's something to get the team motivated. But you think I'm going to let her come home like that?"

Liz and Coach were among the first among their peers to seek a second-parent adoption. "When we started," said Liz, "people didn't know what we were talking about."

Liz is "Memom."

Coach is "Mommy."

Clean Sweep won a close game, 4-2. After the last out, children and parents joined hands in the infield for what's become a new tradition: Ring Around the Rosy.

Contact Michael Vitez at 215-854-5639 or mvitez@phillynews.com.