Les Ratons-Chasseurs, more than a sport, more than a community

Montreal’s only LGBTQA+ dodgeball league sees exponential growth in level of competition

Les Ratons-Chasseurs have sent numerous players to the Quebec team. Photo Credit: Les Ratons-Chasseurs

The rain had recently passed before dodgeball player Sacha Kazan-Leonard was on his way to the cement wall where he’s been practicing his throws for nearly two years.

The rain had recently passed before dodgeball player Sacha Kazan-Leonard was on his way to the cement wall where he’s been practicing his throws for nearly two years.

“A rainbow! Perfect for gay pride,” he said. 

As the sky broke from its deep grey into blue, the sound of Kazan-Leonard’s dodgeball hitting the wall rang throughout the empty field.

“When I first started coming here to practice, that’s when I really decided I wanted to become really good at this,” said Kazan-Leonard.

Kazan-Leonard joined Montreal’s only LGBTQA+ dodgeball league, Les Ratons-Chasseurs, two years ago and has since been working towards becoming a player to be feared. 

The league is part of Équipe Montréal, an LGBTQA+ sports and club association. Les Ratons-Chasseurs, a league who not only prides itself on its level of competitiveness both in practice and in games but also on its values of acceptance and tolerance, quickly welcomed Kazan-Leonard with open arms. 

“It’s a sport that changed my life.” — Sacha Kazan-Leonard

"Not just for the sport, it was mostly because it was an [LGBTQA+] crew, and for the first time I felt like I was accepted in a team sport,” he said. “It was always about the fun and the cooperation and, here for the first time, I experienced that.”

President of Équipe Montréal Yannick Fabre explained their mission is threefold. The association aims to develop the practice of sports and recreation within the LGBTQA+ community and its allies, fight against homophobia within the realm of sports and recreation, and raise awareness of the realities of those part of the LGBTQA+ community in order to better integrate their realities into the practice of sports and leisure.

Fabre explained that while Équipe Montréal has an impact on improving the conditions of the practice of sports for LGBTQA+ athletes, the association has long-term goals aimed to evolve the mentality around non-binary athletes specifically.

“The next step will also be to develop practices linked to the plurality of gender. In fact the competitive environment remains a very binary environment where the notion of fluidity is difficult to integrate. It will be an important project for us in the years to come,” said Fabre.

“No matter what sport you pick, if you’re a part of [the LGBTQA+] community, you have a sense of belonging that's more important, people that you relate to on an everyday basis that have probably gone through similar challenges as you, a sense of non-judgement and constant acceptance,” said Kazan-Leonard.

More than just an LGBTQA+ dodgeball league, Les Ratons-Chasseurs have gone on to become recognized as one of the best leagues in Quebec. President of the league Patrick Blouin explained the great pride he takes in seeing the league's members growth and improvement in the span of a few years. 

Les Ratons-Chasseurs was created in 2017 by Blouin and his co-founder Daniel Beaudoin who both didn’t have much expertise on the sport.

The league’s competitiveness has grown exponentially since its inception in 2017. Photo Credit: Les Ratons-Chasseurs

“We were really good at getting things started and going out to gather people, but a little less about knowing the rules. But, we learnt them little by little,” said Blouin. 

Blouin explained they started the league with one recreational evening on a weekly basis where they were able to accommodate 80 people. They filled all 80 slots within six months of creating the league. As interest in the league grew, Les Ratons-Chasseurs were left with no other option than to add another night, which began in 2018 as competitive practices on Tuesdays. The league has since added another weekly event on Sundays where it is also open to the public for drop-in sessions.

“Very quickly people started to play competitively and take it a little more seriously, so we added the competitive night,” said Blouin. “That’s when we really saw our game level go up exponentially.”

Blouin explained how the first year Les Ratons-Chasseurs participated in the tryouts for team Quebec, they managed to send three players to join the team. In 2020, before the pandemic put a halt to most sports, the league had nine of their players be selected for team Quebec. 

More than that, Blouin said the league saw a mix of their players, and some of Toronto’s LGBTQA+ league’s players, travel to Calgary and participate in the Western Championship where one of their teams went on to win the tournament. 

“People respect our players now. In the beginning maybe they looked at us like, ‘Look at the little guys coming to have fun,’ but now it has changed because they have seen the evolution the league has had,” said Blouin.

Les Ratons-Chasseurs want to end the stigma around LGBTQA+ athletes. Photo Credit: Les Ratons-Chasseurs

Before the pandemic, Les Ratons-Chasseurs had a goal to host two tournaments a year. One of the tournaments is La Coupe des Ratons, which normally takes place in October and leans on the recreational side since the players who show interest are put into teams by the league itself. The other tournament however, La Coupe de Montreal, which has yet to happen because of pandemic-related delays, is more of a competitive tournament since players arrive with well-practiced teams of their own. 

Blouin explained the league has caught the attention of the Quebec Dodgeball Federation as they continue to frequently be invited to host tournaments and organize tryouts. Blouin added with any of the money given to them by sponsors for tournaments, they always want to give back. 

“I’ve always told our members, we don’t need a bank account with $20,000, we need money to run this league. The money people give us to organize a tournament, we give back,” emphasized Blouin. “We get sponsors to allow for free meals, to organize an evening with performances, we try to give back.”

Members and teams within the league, one of which is led by Kazan-Leonard, are currently training for the Quebec Cup taking place Nov. 6 and Nov. 7. The members are dedicated as always, set to carry forward their high level of competition while upholding their values of inclusivity.

“No matter what kind of person you are, what you’re into, what you do in your life, it’s never going to haunt you on the field. On the field you’re just having fun with people and throwing balls,” said Kazan-Leonard.