2015 Male Player: Steve Schwartz

Steve Schwartz

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After playing USSSA softball for 23 years, Steve Schwartz retired having amassed 575 home runs while hitting .600. Spook, as his friends called him, played for perennial winners such as First National Bank of Waterloo/Miller Lite and 1st State Bank of Red Bud.

Primarily a shortstop during his career, Steve was versatile enough to also play outfield and first base. He grew up playing against Hall of Famers Dwayne Laws, Greg Jones, Roy Brockmeyer, Mike O’Connor, Mike Kueker and Denny Albert. Only a year out of high school he was named MVP of the Red Bud league while playing against some of the previously mentioned players.

He considers joining them in the Hall of Fame to be a great honor. Some of his fondest memories include winning the Co-Ed State Tournament with a no name team and being named the MVP. Ranking high on his list is the fifth-place finish in the C National in Louisville, a tournament he feels they could have won.

Steve thinks the game of softball is a great game, but the bats and ball shave diminished the importance of defense and hitting. His team placed in 12 straight tournaments due to timely hitting and great defense. He considers himself and average player and loves the competition while not striving for individual accomplishments. He was considered a team player with winning being the most important statistic.

2015 Male Player: Jim Walsh

Jim Walsh

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Jim began playing softball in 1986. His first team was Kenneth Allen in 1986 and the next 29 years he played with One Hour Cleaners, Home Run Inn, Belcher Construction, The Kings, Tron Piping, Wombats, Screwballs, Ken Adams Softball and Ken’s Beverage. He cites The Kings/Screwballs squad as probably the best team he played for. He also thinks that Tom Piping and Ken’s Beverage were right there in talent. Jim was named All State in 1993 with HRI, in 1995 and 1996 with The Kings and with Tron Piping in 1996 and 1999. He earned All World/Offensive MVP in the 1997 Masteres World Tournament with Tron. He mostly played outfield with a lifetime batting average of over .640 and over 500 home runs.

In high school Jim played baseball for four years at Hinsdale Central. He continued playing baseball at Lewis University for the next three years and was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the fifth round in 1980. The best players Jim considers playing with are Hall of Famers Jim Cushing, Art Rebolletti and Brian Schultz.He has had many good coaches through the years and thinks Mike Koch, who got him started playing softball, Ken Adams and Don Loid as the best. The USSSA has allowed him to meet and play with gifted athletes and players. It has provided every level of competition that a player could ever want.

Jim is still actively playing in the Senior program for the last four years. He has participated in Law Enforcement softball for the past 20 years. Softball runs in the family – Jim’s wife, Sue, played and helped coach for many years in the leagues and tournaments. Jim would like to be remembered as a great competitor and teammate. He will join many of these teammates tonight in the Illinois USSSA Hall of Fame.

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2015 Male Player: Dave Shaff

Dave Shaff

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When evaluating individual honors, David Shaff might rank near the top with numerous All-Tourney awards for his exceptional outfield play and most recently as a pitcher. With five All-World/National selections, numerous Class B picks, and a Class C All-State MVP selection, David was a huge asset for some great teams during his 19 years of USSSA participation.

Dave began playing slow pitch for Home Run Inn in 1997 and found instant success, as the team captured the runner-up spot in the Class B State during his first year. This success was only the beginning of three Class C State Championships and five Class B State titles, followed by four Great Lakes National victories, two second place Class B World placements and a Class D World Championship in 2014, while playing for Ken’s Beverage.

David recognizes Alex Wanless for getting him started in USSSA softball and has high praises for coaches Ken Adams, Dave Catalani, and Bill Wax in providing guidance. He also recognizes fellow teammates Jim Cushing, Al Van Gampler, Burgess Watts, Lincoln Adams, and his HOF presenter Jerry Pietryk as some of the best he has played with, which he states is only the beginning of the numerous friendships that have been created through participation in the USSSA program.

Former Coach Ken Adams added, “There was no one, but no one, who gave more, on the playing field and off, than Dave Shaff.  Without his efforts off the field, there would not have been KA Softball - his continuing efforts as a confidante to the players and a conduit to me as manager allowed us to keep it going for seven years, which is quite a testimony to Dave as a person as well as player.  He and Jerry Pietryk turned down all-tourney recognition many times to honor a teammate instead. I consider Dave to be one of my best friends in life, not just softball”.

Dave also added that he feels fortunate to have participated with 26 members of the Illinois Hall Of Fame, who have taught him a tremendous amount about playing the game the right way. He feels that because of them, he is joining them in the HOF.
When asked, “How would you like to be remembered as a player?” He answered, “I hope they remember me for my effort, my leadership and how I treated my teammates with respect.”

Dave, we do appreciate your efforts and welcome to the IL USSSA Hall of Fame!

2015 Male Player: Denis L. Fisher

Denis L. Fisher

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After 23 years of participation in the USSSA program, “The Fish” remains competitive in the sport that has provided him numerous All-State and All-National honors. 

While playing for the Class B National Championship, Kluever’s Snap-On team in 1999, Denis received All-Tournament honors at the Great Lakes National in Milford, Ohio, Most Valuable Player honors at Kalamazoo, Michigan and All-Tournament honors at the Joliet, Illinois Class B National Invitational and Class B State Tournament. This was only the beginning of the notoriety “The Fish” would receive as he played shortstop, third base and first base for not only Kluever’s but the 2004 Montarra team. In 2005, he participated with Men’s Major team, Team Combat, followed by the Class A Team Illinois squad in 2006. In 2007 through the present, Denis has participated on such outstanding Class B and C teams as TCP Fieldhouse, TCP Easton, HRD, Full Tilt, KBI and Precision.

Denis remarked, “The KBI team and Coach Dave Catalani was very special. He is perhaps one of the most entertaining coaches I have played for as he is always making jokes and wants everyone to have a good time.” That KBI Class C team captured the Great Lakes National Tournament in Minnesota in 2013.

Presently, Denis is participating with the nation’s end of the season’s #1 ranked Class A team Precision and was also ranked #1 in 2014 as a Class B team with Coach Bill Wax. “What a great team this is,” he said as they became the first Class B team in 2014 to beat Laser Vision, the #1 nationally ranked Major team 35 to 34 in the Windy City Major Conference tournament and later run ruling Backman/Shoppe, another Major team in 6 innings. They ended up in 3rd place after losing to Resmondo and then losing to Backman/Shoppe, 36-33 after they came back thru the loser’s bracket to knock Precision out of the tournament.

Denis also feels that there is no finer sanction of softball than USSSA, as you have to be able to be solid offensively and defensively to be a top team. He also noted that many of his best friends have come from playing USSSA softball and he expects that to continue.

His career batting average of over .700 and over 800 home-runs against some of the best teams in the country clearly explains why he is now a member of the Illinois Softball Hall Of Fame.

2015 Male Player: Brian Benning

Brian Benning

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Brian began his softball career playing local church league softball as a teenager. He then started playing with Pabst based out of Freeport, IL. They travelled locally in Illinois and Wisconsin and were usually regarded as the team to beat in most tournaments. Pabst played one year in the Thursday night league at Forest Hills Diamonds in Rockford and the end of the season Brian was picked up by Rockford’s RMA to attend the Class A National Tournament.

BB played competitively for Pabst and RMA teams for over 10 seasons, the last five playing at the Class A/B level. In 1985, Kelley’s RMA won the Great Lakes Class “B” National Championship. Brian led the tournament in home runs and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Brian was among the home run leaders in many of the tournaments in which he played and was selected to many National Invitational Tournament All-Star teams. By the end of 1986, Brian Benning was named a Major Player by the USSSA - one of 150 players in the country to receive that designation. Only two players in the State of Illinois had made that list at that time. Brian’s best attribute was the ability to hit with power to all fields and was considered to be a threat from foul line to foul line.

In 1986 Steele’s Silver Bullets, a Major team from Cleveland, Ohio played an exhibition game at Marinelli Field in Rockford against an Illinois All-Star team. After the game, Owner/Coach Dave Neale asked Brian if he was interested in playing Major softball with Steeles. Brian graciously declined this great opportunity to do what he loved best, coach youth.

Brian’s competitive softball career ended in 1986 when he began teaching and coaching at Orangeville High School. He was head football and basketball coach until 1993. He inherited a football program that hadn’t had a winning season for 25 years and led them to a Final 4 appearance in the 1988 IHSA Football Playoffs and a State Championship in 1989. In 1991, as head basketball coach, the team reached the State Finals in Champaign where he became the only coach in IHSA history to coach a State Football Champion and coach a Basketball team to the State Finals.

BB left Orangeville in 1993 to become the head football coach at Harlem High School in Machesney Park, IL. He inherited a program that had the state’s longest losing streak, not having won a game in the previous five seasons. He coached there for 10 seasons, the last six making the IHSA playoffs including the 1997 NIC 9 conference champions, the only time in school history. Brian left Harlem to take the head basketball job at his alma mater, Dakota High School in Dakota, IL. In 10 seasons, he accumulated a 202 – 75 record, including 4 regional titles and 4 sectional appearances. He was also a football assistant on their 2005 and 2007 State Title teams. His career record in basketball was 315 – 121 in his 16 years at Orangeville and Dakota, where he never had a losing season in his basketball coaching career.

Brian’s teaching and coaching career was cut short on Feb 1, 2011 while traveling to school with his youngest son, Brett. Their van was hit head on by a semi-tractor trailer a mile from school in a bad snow storm. Brett sustained injuries that resulted in a hospital stay of three days, but Brian’s injuries were much more severe. He was in a coma 3 weeks and the hospital for 5 months. He had 14 major surgeries and almost 300 trips to physical therapy after his release from Van Matre Rehab Hospital. Miraculously, Brian has resumed playing one of his favorite pastimes, golf.

Brian is married to Kathy and will celebrate 25 years of marriage next year. Brian’s oldest son Kyle (22) is married to Sara. They have 2 children Aubrey (3) and Carter (6 weeks). Brian’s other son Brett (19) is playing college basketball at the University of Southern Indiana on a full scholarship. Brian also has one brother Don (wife Sue) and sister Bonnie (husband Merle).

Welcome BB to the IL USSSA Hall of Fame you are truly a winner in life and on the field!

2015 Male Player: Joe Ambrose

Joe Ambrose

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When it comes to state championships, Joe Ambrose may be the poster child for the Illinois USSSA, as he may be one of very few that has been a member of a state championship at every level A thru E. Along with his team successes, “Jammer” captured numerous individual All-State, All-NIT and All-National awards in several different classes.

He found early success with The Steamers and Home Run Inn teams during the late 80s and early 90s. In 1993, he began play with the Men’s A/AA team Joe Blacks where he played hundreds of games at the AA/Major level. As an example of his contribution to the Joe Black’s team success, he averaged a home-run in less than every four at bats, while compiling well over 800 dingers in his career.  

When asked about one of his most thrilling moments playing softball he stated, “Playing on ESPN in the Major World Series in 1997 and I hit a home-run over dead centerfield fence at the Cubs minor league stadium. Even though our team got killed, it was quite a moment.” Former coach and IL Hall of Famer, Tom Starck, added this regarding his former teammate, “Joe Ambrose was a great player for us and one of the best ever to wear the Joe Black’s uniform. I’m so glad to see him take his place with so many other fine players in the Illinois USSSA Hall of Fame.”

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In his 22 years of USSSA play, Joe provided a .675 batting average, while playing with other numerous Hall Of Fame players, such as Tom Starck, Burgess Watts, Brian Schultz, Roy Ambrose, Mike Oates, Dave Villarreal, Kurt Kozlowski, Ken Adams and many, many, more.

As an example of his long ball prowess, Jammer finished in 3rd Place out of 150 home run derby participants at the A/AA World Series and finished in 2nd Place at the Men’s Major contest.

Joe commented about the Illinois USSSA program, “I really like what the Illinois USSSA has done with the 50 plus program, which has allowed many of the guys that I played with to remain active in the game. I am looking forward to coming out of retirement and joining them at some point.”

We are looking forward to seeing Joe return to the field as a Hall Of Famer in the near future.