Pitching hard for change
SHEILA Keane has spent more than a decade proving that softball can conquer any prejudices.
The 56-year-old American is co-coach of FINK Softball's gay and gay-friendly club.
Over the years the club has helped scores of people attempting to cope with their sexuality.
Keane said she felt the club had helped transform players' lives.
"I think, for some people, it has made a big life change," she said.
"They have come to us, in some cases, afraid of their own shadow and we have helped them.
"They come here and realise it's OK to make mistakes and have fun."
Born in Connecticut in America's north-east, Keane was a keen softball player before meeting partner Valerie Tamblyn-Mills at a retreat in Philadelphia.
After moving to Valerie's home town of Lismore in 1999, Sheila decided to form the gay and gay-friendly club as part of a New South Wales Health initiative.
"It was an effort to get people together and feel proud of themselves," she said.
The club currently has two teams competing in the FINK Softball competition, Blues Siestas Divas and the Blues Siestas Sisters.
Keane said the club has tried to help people feel more comfortable about their sexuality or who felt at the margins of society.
"I think the club made a difference to people who didn't feel comfortable or safe to be 'out'," she said.
"It was a place where you could be accepted and valued."
Keane said the rest of the league had been very accepting of the Siestas.
"We were pleasantly surprised," she said.
"Lismore is really accepting place. I think it's the only place where you see someone on one side of the road dressed in ribbons and someone in a cowboy hat on the other side - and they say 'hi'. I think when schools cut things like sport and art and music out of curriculums they are missing a trick, because these things teach people things that you don't learn in maths classes."
Keane said she was delighted that softball could play an important role in people's lives.
"It's fabulous to be part of this competition."
"Everyone loves the game and makes an effort to give people a chance."