2003 (Fall) Lifetime Achievement Award: Paul Brown

Paul Brown

Paul Brown’s umpiring career spans five decades and includes every sort of competition from collegiate fast pitch to the USSSA 16-inch World to Class A 12-inch NITs and Sunday afternoon rec leagues.

Brown started umpiring fast pitch in 1962. Starting in the mid-70s, Brown took his keen eye and command of the game’s rules to the slow pitch sport that was fast gaining popularity. He was, says his son Jeff, “quick to embrace it.” He especially liked slow pitch, said Jeff, because it gave every player a chance to be involved and have fun.

Approaching his 65th birthday and still active after a quarter century in USSSA softball, Brown has umpired nearly every State Tournament played in Rockford and the surrounding area in that time. By Jeff’s rough estimate, Brown has umpired some 7,000 games.

A former State Umpire-In-Chief, Brown has also conducted numerous umpire clinics over the same period.

“I can only say it’s a real honor,” Brown said, not that he got into the game for any honors. “I didn’t then and I don’t now do it for any honors. I got into it because I love oding it – the games and the people.”

Of his induction into the Illinois USSSA Hall of Fame, “This is just a bonus. I appreciate it, but it isn’t going to change my way of doing things.”

Jeff shared an anecdote that reflects both his father’s dedication and his toughness.

His reward has always come from doing the job well and seeing people enjoy the game.
— Jeff Brown

“One Saturday, he was behind the plate and a player swung a 2-piece bat. It separated and hit my dad. He was knocked out cold and taken to the hospital,” Jeff said. “On Sunday, he was behind the plate for the championship game.”

Jeff thinks his father’s success as an umpire is greatly due to the fact that he knows the game is fundamentally about players enjoying competition.

“He always prided himself on just trying to enhance that enjoyment,” Jeff said.

He held a deep respect for the players, coaches and fellow umpires and it showed through his work.

“His reward has always come from doing the job well and seeing people enjoy the game,” Jeff said.

The Illinois USSSA is pleased to return a measure of that respect to Paul Brown as it welcomes him in the Illinois USSSA Hall of Fame.

2004 Lifetime Achievement: Tom Burton

Tom Burton

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In over a quarter century of USSSA softball, Tom Burton’s support of the game has been unwavering. Always willing to do whatever it took to give his team the best chance to win, Burton prided himself on his scouting acumen and ability as a defensive strategist. Along the way, he also sat behind the microphone as a tournament announcer for over half a dozen tournaments.

Starting with the legendary Fox Valley Lassies in 1979 on through stints with Lady Blue, UPI, Kinder Sharks and Shooters out of Orlando, Florida, Burton has contributed his coaching skills to some of the top women’s slow pitch teams in America.

Burton can list players, officials and coaches from all over America who will attest to his skills and personal characteristics, including directors in Kansas, Florida, Kentucky and, of course, Illinois.

He has coached for five World Champions, including three Lady Blue teams, the 1995 UPI team and the 1995 35 & Over World Champion Bret Givens team.

Scouting is not near the top of the lists of most coaches’ favorite activities, but Burton thrived on that essential task. He loved to break down other team’s offenses and draw up defensive schemes to beat them.

“I just love the strategy part of the game,” Burton said. “Trying to stop the opposing team’s hitters.”

That job often required sitting for hours and watching opposing offenses play, which was just fine with Tom who said, “I enjoyed watching games until midnight or much later.”

“I will never forget his tenacity to get a scouting report,” Dr. Deborah Kerr of the Lassies said. “Even if it meant watching a team at 4 a.m. in the rain.”

His teams have been successful because of Tom’s knowledge of other team’s statistics, where opposing players hit and their weaknesses and strengths, recalled USSSA National Women’s Director Tammy Totland.

While Burton obviously takes great pride and satisfaction in being part of five World Championship teams, he is quick to bring up what he still considers his greatest accomplishment. In 1993, Burton drew up a defensive strategy that helped Lady Blue hold World Series opponents to just six runs in five games, including a 25-2 title game win.

I will never forget his tenacity to get a scouting report. Even if it meant watching a team at 4 a.m. in the rain.
— Dr. Deborah Kerr

“Six runs allowed in five games of slow pitch softball; I doubt that will ever happen again,” Burton recalled as if he still couldn’t quite believe it.

Most of all, Burton cherishes the friends he has made over the years and across the country; something that is reciprocated by many of those people.

“Besides Tom’s abilities on the field, he also was a good friend to all players, coaches and fans,” Lassies’ Jo Suave said.

We would like to offer Tom Burton one more thing he can take away from this game with an induction into the Illinois USSSA Hall of Fame with the Lifetime Achievement Award.

2004 Lifetime Achievement: Laurie "Smitty" Smith

Laurie “Smitty” Smith

A self-described “fair player with a decent bat,” Laurie “Smitty” Smith played third base and catcher through a career that included roster spots on such Rockford Park District teams as First National Bank, Ace of Diamonds, Bolender Jewelers, Diamond Bar and Valley Furnace Flames.

When her playing career ended in 1982, her body left softball behind but her hard couldn’t. Like so many others, the love of the great sport led her to seek out other ways to stay involved with the game. That has led to serve the game of softball in every way from scorekeeping to announcing to singing the National Anthem.

“I wanted to stay involved with the game and be around my friends,” Smith said.

Happily, by 1982, her former coach, Brenda Paulson, was the Illinois USSSA State Director and running numerous tournaments in Rockford. Smith began keeping score, running the scoreboard and announcing the games.

“I was being called the ‘Harriet Carey of Forest Hills,’” Smith said.

As time went by, Paulson entrusted Smith with more responsibilities. She became Diamond Director for State and Qualifying Tournaments, as well as handled the checking in of teams and players and collecting the ever-elusive team rosters.

“As strenuous and exhausting as it was, I enjoyed almost every moment,” Smith said. “When the day was over, as players and umpires were leaving the park and going to the nearest bars for cocktails, I was faxing in the day’s scores to the newspaper, cleaning up the score booth and locking up.”

Smith remembered an embarrassing moment from a day she was calling a Men’s tournament at Forest Hills. With the stands filled with fans, Smith was at the microphone when a batter stroked a single down the first baseline. “It’s a base shit!” Smith blurted out. Blushing beet red and sliding away from the front of the booth, she hid in the recesses, then gathered the courage to peek out over the window ledge at the crowd where no one was laughing at her gaffe. “Thank the Lord!” she breathed and went on with her announcing duties with greater care to enunciate her words.

My years in softball have been the best years of my life. This is where I met my best and dearest friend, Brenda Paulson, along with my many other cherished friends. I want to say, ‘Thank you, I love you and God bless.’
— Laurie Smith

Smith knew she was being fully accepted around the ball park when she found herself with male players regularly in her face and “yelling at me as though I were Brenda.”

“Of course, their problems were self-induced most of the time, but I tried to keep my cool as best I could,” Smith recalled.

She has, she said, enjoyed it all.

“My years in softball have been the best years of my life,” Smith said. “This is where I met my best and dearest friend, Brenda Paulson, along with my many other cherished friends. I want to say, ‘Thank you, I love you and God bless.’”

Laurie Smith is welcomed into the Illinois USSSA Hall of Fame with the Lifetime Achievement Award and we say thank you in return for her proven love and devotion to the USSSA and the sport of softball.

2005 Lifetime Achievement: Ray Davis

Ray Davis

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To be a great umpire, you must do three things: be consistent, always hustle and get the call right. For almost 50 years, these are the things that have made Ray Davis an outstanding umpire.

Some will say one game doesn’t make a career, but in Davis’s case it may just have. In 1957, Davis was wokring as a groundskeeper at Talcott Paige. One night, the scheduled umpire hadn’t arrived to start that night’s game. The league’s director, Jerry Johnson, asked Davis if he would step in and umpire, but Davis elected to wait until the umpire showed up. Finally, after a long wait with no umpire and constant urging from Johnson, Davis agreed to do the job. During the full seven inning game, there were no complaints.

The next year, the Rockford Park District started a slow pitch softball program and they were looking for umpires. Davis asked if he could be one of the umpires in that league, and the rest is history. Having played fast pitch softball in California while in the Army, all Davis needed to do was brush up on the rules and attend some umpiring clinics. Most of the ten teams in that league came from the R.I.A.A. fast pitch program. The slow pitch program was brought to Rockford by Ken Marlin via a physical education program at the University of Illinois in the late fifties.

“Ken and I were partners for years as umpires and we had good times together,” Davis said. “On one evening, it started to rain in the last game of the night. I was behind the plate and the rain was coming down hard, so hard that it made pockets of water everywhere. There wasn’t any lightning in the area so we played on. We were soaked from top to bottom and Ken said ‘Raymond, if you ever do this to me again, look for another partner.’”

With the coming of the USSSA program in the early 70s, Davis became a sanctioned USSSA umpire and traveled all over the state for Illinois USSSA Director Brenda Paulson. Davis also spent some time umpiring in the central part of the state and in the Chicago are. Strong umpiring made the USSSA the program to play in Illinois.

Still an active umpire, Davis still works his craft by umpiring games in the Rockford Industrial Athletic Association and Harlem Roscoe North. In his spare time, he continues to umpire girls’ fast pitch softball for both the USSSA and the IHSA.

“Ray continues with his love of the game of softball by continuing to stay close to the game by umpiring,” Bob Papich said. “Staying in excellent physical condition has allowed Ray to continue to umpire well into his 70s.”

The Illinois USSSA Hall of Fame is happy to welcome someone who has given many hours to a sport and program he loves.

2006 Lifetime Achievement: Sonny Vercellotti

Sonny Vercellotti

The Stone City VFW has been synonymous with softball in the Joliet area since the early 1960s. They sponsored teams for years, beginning with fast pitch, then gravitating to men’s and women’s 16-inch and eventually 12-inch.

It was in 1975 when Sonny Vercellotti sat down with fellow Post members and hatched the idea of building a softball diamond on the Post grounds. Along with Jim Conroy, Wimpy Schmitt and others, Vercellotti oversaw the new leagues formed, especially after lights were installed in 1977.

The primary league was the elite league in the area and was home to many top teams over the years, such as Mole’s Den, along with Moran AC, Ligon Engineering, Malnar’s Tap, Bad News and Burla Construction.

At its height, the Friday night games were broadcast on the radio. Originally, the ball diamond was unused on the weekend, except for the picnickers who filled the facility every weekend.

In 1982, the USSSA formed a relationship with Stone City which gave the association a position in Joliet that still endures today. Sonny Vercellotti was “the” contact man for the formative years. He was the publicity man who got the results in the papers. He was out at the crack of dawn to assure the entire facility was read for the day, setting the bases himself. He was also in charge of the umpire scheduling. All of this was in addition to organizing and running the leagues, from pre-season planning to scheduling to seeing it come to pass on the field.

A former USSSA director said, “When I scheduled a tournament at Stone City, all I had to do was call Sonny with game times and the tournament almost ran itself.”

Without Sonny Vercellotti and the Stone City VFW, the USSSA would not have been able to enjoy the success in the Joliet area that it enjoys today.

2015 Lifetime Achievement: Teddy Giovanni

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Over the past 45 years Teddy Giovanni has umpired numerous leagues and tournaments in the Joliet area. In addition to umpiring different classifications, Teddy has umpired at the state level while also doing National Invitational Tournaments. Teddy's most memorable tournaments are those hosted in Joliet during the "City Tournament."

Teddy enjoys umpiring still today. Umpiring has been very rewarding and he still loves the challenges it presents. Teddy would like to thank Tim Johnson, Jerry Henry, Mike Mackey, Tom Seddon and Dave Catalani making this opportunity so rewarding for him. Teddy has dedicated his time from what was once just a recreational time to a commitment spanning over four decades.