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Golden Gate Park Is a Hotbed of Esoteric Athletes

Who needs helmets or shoulder pads when you’ve got magic brooms, bullwhips, and mini boats? A gathering of the best nontraditional jocks who call the park their home field.

From left to right: Ginger Harris, Donna O'Sullivan, Lester "Shoestring" Lee, Luke Zepponi, Andrew Covel, Rich Styles, Grizzly, Booth Burrows.



Editor’s Note: This is one of many stories about Golden Gate Park that San Francisco is publishing over the next month as part of the June 2017 issue. To read stories as they become available online, click here. 

Ginger Harris, 68

Don’t call it bocce, explains Ginger Harris, president of the Bowls USA Pacific Intermountain Division and the region’s five-time representative at the Bowls USA National Championship. It’s lawn bowling. Unlike in bocce ball, lawn bowling balls (called bowls) roll on a bias, so they curve as they slow down. Check her out at the park’s bowling green on (duh) Bowling Green Drive.

Donna O’Sullivan, 36
Despite standing just five feet tall, Donna O’Sullivan can cast with the best of them. The four-time Spey-O-Rama world champion and 2016 runner-up at the World Championships of Fly Casting has chucked lines in competitions around the globe. Her specialty? The 16-foot spey-casting division (the largest and heaviest rod). “Casting beautiful loops with the different fly rods and line is both challenging and artistic,” O’Sullivan, of Daly City, says.

Lester “Shoestring” Lee, 36
A two-time all-star and three-time champion of the Bay Area Vintage Base Ball League with the San Francisco Pacifics, Lester Lee is a standout at first base, catcher, and third. Plus, he does it all without a real mitt: Vintage ballplayers adhere to 1886 rules, meaning heavier bats, thin gloves, and no cussing.

Luke Zepponi, 13
Don’t challenge the kid: The 2015 California State Junior Cadet horseshoe champion—and ninth-place finisher in the world championships—sports a 50.89 percent ringer average and recently founded the San Francisco Junior Horseshoe Pitching Club at the park’s pits just off Fulton. Talk about a ringer!

Andrew Covel, 22
Coach of the San Francisco Argonauts, the local club competing in the 16-team Major League Quidditch, and a former competitor at the Quidditch World Cup, Andrew Covel is the Buster Posey of Harry Potter fan-fic game play. Quidditch, the fictional sport, is a sort of rugby-dodgeball-soccer-basketball mash-up. In real life, PVC pipes take the place of flying brooms—but need to stay between your legs at all times.

Rich Styles, 68
The two-time national champion of remote-controlled boat racing, Rich Styles has been skippering tiny yachts—from shore, that is—ever since his dad first brought him to Spreckels Lake when he was eight years old. “I fell in love with all the little boats, and I’ve been playing with them ever since.” At last count, Styles owned 93.

He’s twice performed his target-blasting whipping routine at the Folsom Street Fair and teaches what appears to be the longest continually running whip-throwing classes in the West, making Grizzly by all accounts the most accomplished whipping boy this side of Indiana Jones. Look for him every other Sunday just across from little Metson Lake near the Polo Fields.

Booth Burrows, 38
Burrows competes in the San Francisco Disc Golf singles league and the Professional Disc Golf Association and finished 11th out of 193 competitors at the 2016 BagTag Challenge. But, embodying the sport’s ethos, he says the competitor who has the most fun is the big winner.


Originally published in the June issue of San Francisco 

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