1999 Director: Brenda Paulson

Brenda Paulson

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Brenda Paulson’s USSSA involvement began in 1975 when she participated in the first USSSA Class B World Tournament. Illinois did not have a Women’s Program and in 1977 she was coerced into becoming the USSSA Women’s Director.

While attending her first National Convention in 1977, she was exposed to the new 11-inch softball. Having used that ball in leagues and tournaments the next season, the 11-inch softball became the standard for the Women’s Program in 1980. In 1981, Charlie O’Donnell, USSSA Regional Vice President, appointed Paulson the Illinois State Director.

Paulson was the first female in any National Softball Association to be appointed a State Director. Of course, there was opposition, but over the next few years, it became clear that O’Donnell had made the right decision. Along with her husband, Ken, Paulson traveled the state, meeting with many park districts, potential directors and attended numerous league meetings.

In 1981, Illinois registered under 300 teams and had no state tournament program. By 1984, Illinois was in the top ten nationally in team and umpire registrations, and has been there ever since. In 1987, Paulson received the USSSA’s most prestigious honor (aside from induction into the National USSSA Hall of Fame), the President’s Award. She also received the deBeer Sportswoman of the Year Memorial Award.

In 1988, Paulson received another award for a 25% increase in team registrations. Illinois now registered over 4,000 teams and had over 500 teams participating in State Tournaments. In 1993, the YMCA honored Paulson as one of Rockford’s outstanding women with the Janet Lynn Leadership Award for sports. In 1996, the Rockford Park District with Illinois Parks & Recreation awarded her a Community Service Award because her tournaments throughout the state had economically impacted those communities.

On a national level, Paulson served on many committees in her 22 years of National Conventions. She has chaired committees and been instrumental in making important changes for the betterment of softball. Changes she spearheaded and supported include: 3-2 count, re-entry rule, starting the game with less than 10 players, total home runs instead of home run hitters, penalties for illegal players/teams, Women’s World Series, 11-inch softball, Class C & D programs and many more.

Paulson has served as Tournament Director for numerous NITs, State, Regional and Divisional Tournaments, including the Women’s World Series in 1997. In 2000, she traveled to Texas to be the Tournament Director of the Women’s Class C World.

When asked what her claim to fame would be, Paulson said, “I’ve only ever done what I think is fair for my teams. I can’t control team classification in other states, but I can, hopefully, find a way to combat the discrepancy seen between states.”

2001 Director: Dewey Everts

Dewey Everts

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The list of Dewey Everts’s accomplishments is unparalleled. He is often referred to as “the father of Rockford softball,” and he has truly seen it all.

Through the years, he has been a mentor and friend to many in the Illinois USSSA softball scene. Much of the good present today in Illinois USSSA softball is directly or indirectly attributable to Everts’s vision, effort, guidance and philosophy of assuring a fair playing field for all teams and players.

He has been a player, softball complex administrator, team sponsor, has assisted with numerous State Tournaments and was Illinois’ first USSSA State Director.

Everts ran Rockford’s first real softball complex, the Ace of Diamonds, during the 70s. During that time, he also sponsored multiple teams.

Everts convinced many teams to join USSSA sanctioned leagues and play in qualifiers back when the USSSA was unproven and the entry fees were higher than they are now. He also persuaded umpires to switch to USSSA and bear the burden of double registrations – ASA and USSSA.

He was the best thing that ever happened to Illinois USSSA softball. He worked at the Ace, and was always looking out for others. He ran the USSSA the same way.
— Ken Franzen

He helped the Rockford Park District’s Bob Papich with the many details of sanctioning a flood of new USSSA teams. Those teams brought with them an expansion of State and Regional Tournaments to the Rockford area.

Everts was also one of the people primarily responsible for bringing Brenda Paulson into the USSSA.

“The first few years I was Women’s Director, I’d call Dewey up and we’d talk for hours,” Paulson said. “He was always there for me.”

Ken Franzen, who Everts brought to Forest Hills Diamonds in 1978 offers similar praise. “He was the best thing that ever happened to Illinois USSSA softball. He worked at the Ace, and was always looking out for others. He ran the USSSA the same way,” Franzen said.

Though now retired from active USSSA participation, Everts remains a valued friend to all those who have been touched by his remarkable compassion of competence and kindness.

2009 Director: Orvel Cox

Orvel Cox

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Orvel Cox began his Tournament Director career during the “hay day” of slow-pitch softball in Southern Illinois in 1971. His directorship of USSSA state tournaments and his 13 years of guiding the NIT “Firecracker Classic” only added to the amount of participation.

Due to his efforts, teams such as the Shamrocks, Brauns, Fults, Victor Drugs, First National Bank, First State Bank, and many others provided the opportunity to create a hot bed of competitive teams that would assemble in and around the small community of Red Bud each summer. Many of these teams also received national recognition due to his guidance and the opportunities provided.

Orvel’s first major test as a director occurred in 1973 as he put together, with the assistance of USSSA Central Division Regional Vice President, Charlie O’Donnell of the St. Louis area, a 64-team (two weekend) tournament with teams from 5 different states. With the success of this single tournament, the word quickly spread that Red Bud was the place to be for competitive softball, as USSSA events were the best by far. Orvel admits, “With the support of State Director Brenda Paulson, we were provided qualifiers and state tournament opportunities that allowed many of our local teams to advance to national tournaments.”

USSSA Slow Pitch Softball – what a game, what memories.
— Orvel Cox

Prior to his retirement in 1989, Orvel received the 1988 USSSA Distinguished Service Award, but considers his biggest accomplishment was gaining the respect of the players in the leagues and tournaments that he served as director for many years. He feels that being fair in his classification determinations of teams from his area, was instrumental in the growth of USSSA in southern Illinois. “They just wanted to feel like they were getting a fair shake,” he added. He also reflected on how the cooperation with all the neighboring communities around Red Bud helped provide some great state tournaments.

State Director Brenda Paulson, who presented the first State Director’s Award to Orvel in 1985 commented, “I am so glad we can honor hard work and dedication to the USSSA, as he played a huge part in the USSSA’s success downstate. For many years he ran the largest state tournaments and held tournaments that featured some of the top teams and players around the country. His involvement has been instrumental and his Hall of Fame honor long overdue.”

Orvel reflected on his years as a USSSA director with these words, “USSSA Slow Pitch Softball – what a game, what memories.”

Many softball players would agree, thanks to his efforts, fairness, and memories he has provided them.

2012 Director: Paula Oij

Paula Oij

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For Paula, finding enjoyment in her efforts as a director came while observing a large crowd of spectators and competitive players enjoying the game of softball. With over 70 men’s and women’s tournaments directed and half of them State Tournaments and NIT’s, Paula has reasons to feel good about her efforts.

Prior to her appointment as the Women’s State Coordinator in 1990 Paula worked in the State Office in 1987 and 1988. In 1989, Paula also worked as a Tournament or Site Director for the Men’s & Women’s State Tournaments and NIT’s held in the Rockford area. This cumulated a long career with the USSSA – as a player in 1977 thru 1986, as a coach in 1987 and 1988 and her appointment as the first Women’s State Coordinator in 1990.

Through her participation in many tournaments, Paula knew how important it was to play in a well-run tournament with good bracketing, well-qualified umpires and good playing conditions and there were none better than Ken Franzen at Forest Hills Diamonds. With that knowledge, she provided each team her best that played in her tournaments.

Paula’s most memorable tournament that she directed was the 1993 Women’s Class D State, when the winner of the tournament had lost their first game and came all the way back through the loser’s bracket in a 32-team field to win the championship.

Her funniest directorship situation occurred while she was helping Brenda run the Men’s Class E State Tournament. At the time, Paula was working for a local beer distributor, which had sponsored a team in the tournament. Unfortunately for Paula, this team was found to have an illegal shortstop and she had to be the one to forfeit the team out of the tournament. It was rather awkward for Paula when she went to work on Monday morning.

Paula ran the Women’s program from 1990 to 1999. During her tenure she was awarded the Illinois Rookie of the Year in 1990, Illinois Director’s All State Team in 1993 and 1997, Illinois State Directors Award in 1994 and Onesti’s Softball Super Show Award winner in 1998. During all these years she put her heart and soul into the Women’s Program and built a very large competitive program.

Paula’s most enjoyable factor of being a director has come through meeting so many great players and people involved in softball.

2017 Director: Lori Conro

Lori Conro

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For Lori, USSSA is synonymous with sunshine, good times and great friends. It all started at the tender age of 20 when high school pal, Kathy Blair, innocently asked Lori to play on a women’s team in need of infielders. It turned out to be such an enjoyable experience that she was soon playing for various teams four nights a week and weekend tournaments.

The natural migration from player to manager occurred soon after with Lori fielding teams made up of people who were not only good athletes but great friends.

Lori is grateful for the unwavering support of her family, especially her parents who continue to attend many of her games. Lori claims her parents are her biggest fans. So many players and umpires fondly greet her parents simply as “Mom” and “Dad” that a rookie umpire once asked, “Just how many kids do your parents have?”

Of the 90+ teams Lori has managed over the years, she’s most proud of the Rainbow Separations women’s team that was formed in 1997 by her and softball friends, Jodie Jones and Deb Jarvis. Not surprisingly, the Rainbow team has been quite successful playing in USSSA leagues and tournaments, winning multiple awards at the state and national levels. In fact, the Rainbow Separations team is still actively playing today.

In 2002, Lori’s USSSA career evolved from player to director when Brenda Paulson approached her to consider directing tournaments at Forest Hills. Eager to accept the challenge, she enthusiastically embraced the opportunity and was soon deeply involved directing women’s and men’s tournaments in Rockford, Byron and Freeport.

To date, Lori has overseen more than 155 tournaments, including NITs, State and National Championships. Her accomplishments as a director include two State Director Awards, two Distinguished Service Awards and the Award of Excellence. Lori acknowledges these accomplishments are made possible through the patient guidance of Brenda Paulson and the continued support of the past and present Forest Hills Diamonds team, including Brad Sommer, Lee Broach and Scottie Oliver.

“I’m humbled and honored to be inducted into the USSSA Hall of Fame alongside some of the most accomplished softball players, umpires, directors and sponsors,” Lori said.

Lori would like to thank each of you for your support and friendship over the years and hopes to see you at one of her all-time favorite hangouts – the ball diamond.