1999 Meritorious: Ken Adams

Ken Adams

Ken Adams is the first-ever inductee in the Meritorious Service category.

He has carried many titles under the Illinois USSSA banner. He has been a manager for 17 years, and he also sponsored that team 11 of those seasons. His teams include Papa Passero, One Hour Cleaners and Home Run Inn/Easton. Adams also was an Illinois USSSA Area Director (the first named director in the Chicagoland area by Brenda Paulson) for seven years before being promoted to the newly formed position, Northern Illinois USSSA Regional Director – a title he held for four years. In 1985, he was named the first winner of the Illinois USSSA State Director Award. He also umpired for one season.

Paulson’s teams have won three State Titles: 1987 14-inch, 1993 Men’s Class B and 1994 Men’s Class B. His 1995 Men’s Class B team qualified and played at the USSSA Men’s Class B World Tournament with a fourth-place finish at the Great Lakes Men’s Class B Divisional Tournament that year. His teams have also finished fifth- and seventh-place at the Great Lakes Men’s Class B Divisional Tournaments over the years. Seven times, his team has placed in the top four at the USSSA Men’s Class B NIT and nine times in the top four at the Illinois USSSA State Tournament with an overall USSSA team record of 727-331.

One of his two greatest thrills in softball came from 1993 when his team won the Men’s Class B State Tournament.

“My knees literally buckled with the last out,” Adams said. “We had beaten our greatest rival. My mind was in a fog and I was shaking as the teams shook hands after the game.”

The other greatest thrill was in 1995 when his team realized they had just won a berth to the USSSA Men’s Class B World Tournament after winning the semi-final game of the loser’s bracket.

Adams took the time to say thank you to all the individuals who have played on his teams over the years.

“It has been fun and I look forward to having more fun in the future,” Adams said.

2000 Meritorious: Bob Vander Heyden

Bob Vander Heyden

Meritorious 2000_Bob Vander Heyden.jpeg

Bob Vander Heyden is many things to Rockford softball – a pioneer, complex owner and manager, team sponsor, tournament sponsor. His biggest claim to fame, literally, is being responsible for building Rockford’s first softball complex. In 1969, Vander Heyden and partner Bill Rader rebuilt an old supper club situated on a five-acre island in the middle of the Rock River into the Ace of Diamonds. He ran The Ace with great success from 1970 through 1980, when he sold out to Rader and moved to California.

The Ace was affiliated with the ASA that first year. In 2972, he hooked up with Dewey Everts and the USSSA.

“I preferred the 65-foot baselines,” Vander Heyden said. “Besides, I liked the red shirts better.”

Vander Heyden is grateful to many people for the success and satisfaction he experienced with The Ace – USSSA, Ken Paulson, Ken Franzen, Dewey Everts, his sons Brad and Lance and Bill Rader.

“Bill went along with everything I did,” he said appreciatively. “I just [did the work]. They’re the ones who made it happen, especially Dewey Everts.”

He also had a special place in his heart for all the people he met through the years.

“I enjoyed the personal interaction with umpires, players and fans,” Vander Heyden said. “They were probably the best friends I ever had.”

2002 Meritorious: Bob Papich

Bob Papich

Community is a value central to Bob Papich’s life. He has spent a lifetime furthering the interests of his local Rockford community, and much of that time helping to create and develop Rockford’s softball programs.

“He was instrumental in the growth of USSSA softball in Rockford,” Illinois State Director Brenda Paulson said. “In fact, throughout northern Illinois.”

Along the way, Papich has picked up a number of titles. Besides serving as the manager for Rockford’s Sportscore Complex for 17 years, Papich has been a teacher, counselor, organizer, umpire, sanctioning body official and association president. He has also accrued an enviable circle of loyal and respectful friends.

One of those friends, 2001 Illinois USSSA Hall of Fame inductee Dewey Everts, calls Papich one of the most deserving inductees and praises him for his willingness to go the extra mile for the programs he’s administered.

He was always checking on something. I don’t think he ever had an idle moment. He did the work of three people.
— Brenda Paulson

“If it was for the betterment of the program, he took the time to adjust,” Everts said. “Bob was always open to improving his programs.”

Paulson adds, “He was always checking on something. I don’t think he ever had an idle moment. He did the work of three people.”

Hundreds of players who may not have spoken to Papich will remember him as the omnipresent supervisor at Rockford’s Sportscore, riding around in his golf cart, checking on every detail big and small.

“His effort was always taken for granted, except by those of us who knew him best,” Everts said. “There was always that knowledge that if Bob did it, it was done right.”

The long list of tasks Papich handled well includes supervising grounds and field maintenance, staff supervision, tournament direction, promotion scheduling and umpiring.

Papich has worked in various capacities with the USSSA since 1974. In that year, before the development of the Sportscore and such other Rockford facilities as Forest Hills Diamonds, Papich put together the first women’s slow pitch program in Rockford. It started out with just ten teams, but grew quickly.

“It kind of exploded,” Papich said. “There was a lot of interest in women’s softball at the time and we [soon] had a waiting list.”

From 1981 to 1983, Papich helped oversee the development and construction of the Sportscore. The spacious, eight diamond facility transformed Rockford into a viable site for State and National softball tournaments, but it was not just the structures which made the Sportscore a great place to play softball. People clearly matter to Papich, both those who play the games and those who work at the facility.

“The customers at the Sportscore are individuals,” Papich said. “We tried to provide individual attention as best we could.”

Papich did his best to lead by example, and expected staff to follow.

“Bob’s people skills are excellent,” Paulson said. “You could always talk to Bob. He always had time for you.”

As loyal as Papich is to the USSSA, he is ecumenical regarding softball sanctioning bodies.

“There’s room for a variety of organizations to compete,” Papich said. “The object is to keep people involved with the game of softball.”

Over the years, Papich has worked with the USSSA and ASA, among others, in both slow pitch and fast pitch events.

My interest is in the game of softball. I want to see it flourish. Softball benefits people socially just as much as it does physically.
— Bob Papich

“My interest is in the game of softball,” Papich said. “I want to see it flourish.”

He added, “Softball benefits people socially just as much as it does physically. We need recreation facilities for adults to work off the stresses of life. In today’s society, with computers and such, we’ve begun to be less of a social society. Recreational complexes serve a real purpose in this regard.”

Now retired from the Park District, Papcih continues to work in the sports field in several capacities. He umpires both slow and fast pitch for the USSSA and for girl’s high school games. In addition, he is the President of the Sportsplex Owners and Developers Association (SODA), a national organization dedicated to developing and improving amateur sports facilities throughout the United States.

We honor Bob and his essential contributions to softball and the USSSA to thank him for forty years of dedicated efforts and to honor him with induction into the Illinois USSSA Hall of Fame.

2003 (Fall) Meritorious: Ken Paulson

Ken Paulson

Meritorious 2003F_Ken Paulson.jpeg

Ken Paulson had a hand in just about every aspect of the Illinois USSSA from the mid-70s to the early-90s. As a coach, umpire, organizer, program and tournament director, Paulson was one of the keys to making the organization a viable force in softball.

“I think, above all, he wanted to be a part of a first-class organization and set out to make USSSA in the state of Illinois, the best organization to play in,” longtime friend, colleague and fellow Hall of Fame inductee Bob Papich said.

From his start in 1974, until his retirement in 1996, Paulson worked with anad around some of the best individuals to work in Illinois USSSA softball. In 1976, he umpired the Men’s Class A Regional, working the finals with another Hall of Fame inductee Vic DiGiovanni.

Paulson attended his first National Umpires Clinic in Lake Tahoe, Nevada in 1977. In 1979, with Illinois State Umpire-In-Chief Ken Franzen, he started giving State Umpire Clinics not only in Rockford, but throughout Illinois. Reflecting the respect he’d earned over a decade of umpiring, he was chosen to give the National Clinic in Milwaukee in 1988.

“He knew the rule book as well as anybody that I ever came across,” Papich said. “His preparation for rule book interpretation meetings was over and above what you would expect. Ken would bring in several poles and a cross bar that would be set up at the ten-foot level so that umpires would get the feel of calling balls and strikes. He really cared about the Illinois umpires and wanted them to be the best in the USSSA. His enthusiasm was contagious amongst the umpires.”

The efforts that Ken put in to the slow pitch game in the state of Illinois helped make the USSSA the group you wanted to play if you wanted to be the best and to play against the best.
— Bob Papich

It wasn’t just officials that Paulson inspired and challenges with his high expectations. His first involvement in softball was as coach of a Women’s team from 1974 through 1981 and they participated in numerous State and NITs in Class A and B before there were Divisional Tournaments.

“As a coach of a women’s slow pitch team, he was a great teacher,” Papich said. “He expected his players to hit behind the runner and move them more than a base. He taught fundamentals and his team was always competitive.”

So were the leagues his teams played in. Paulson and fell Hall of Fame inductee Bob Parvin started the Viking Lanes Women’s League in 1978, which is considered the best competitive league in the area.

That same year, Paulson because a USSSA Director, and was active until 1993; though still considered a director, he is inactive.

Among his titles, Paulson was the first Men’s State Coordinator in the history of the USSSA and chairman of the 16-inch program for four years.

Finally, as a tournament director, he was able to make the hard calls and that, as most tournament directors know, does not always endear you to the teams and players.

“The efforts that Ken put in to the slow pitch game in the state of Illinois helped make the USSSA the group you wanted to play if you wanted to be the best and to play against the best,” Papich said.

He really cared about the Illinois umpires and wanted them to be the best in the USSSA. His enthusiasm was contagious amongst the umpires.
— Bob Papich

That’s an opinion seconded by Illinois USSSA State Director – and Ken’s wife – Brenda Paulson.

“If it had not been for Ken’s support and dedication to the program, the Illinois USSSA would not be nearly the program it has been,” Brenda Paulson said. “Countless umpire clinics, earlier years of league meetings, ‘road trips’ throughout Illinois and the rest of the Great Lakes and Central Division and numerous National and Divisional meetings. Last, but not least, the financial backing he has given during the early years. His obsession became my obsession as well.”

The Illinois USSSA tries to express its appreciation for Ken’s hard work and dedication by welcoming him into the ranks of its Hall of Fame.

2003 (Fall) Meritorious: Roy Brockmeyer

Roy Brockmeyer

Meritorious 2003F_Roy Brockmeyer.jpeg

Roy Brockmeyer is one of those people whose contributions comprise the background of Illinois softball, and whose presence throughout the years has truly made the Illinois USSSA what it is today. Moving from player to manager to the Assistant State Tournament Director, Brockmeyer has left his mark on the Illinois USSSA program in a variety of roles.

A center fielder and leadoff man, Brockmeyer started his 21-year career playing as an 18-year-old in 1977. The .600 hitter wasn’t a power hitter, instead believing that “my job is to get on base.”

Brockmeyer did that well enough to be named Class C All-State in 1991 and in 1995 and 1997 at the Master State with Victor Drugs.

In 1982, Brockmeyer moved to manager, where he compiled a 675-223 record. Ten years later, Brockmeyer also took on the USSSA Assistant Director responsibilities.

Through the years, Brockmeyer took great satisfaction in the process of fielding a team and competing year in and year out.

He also took pride in playing the game with dignity and style. That approach is a key reason that his 1996 Victor Drug team won the Team Sportsmanship Award at Master’s State.

“That award meant almost more to me that winning the State Tournament,” Brockmeyer said.

The [biggest] thrill for me as a manager was the quality of people that were involved with the team, especially the Victor Drugs team from 1986 through 1999. Not only were these guys good ball players, they were great individuals. That’s what made the team so fun.
— Roy Brockmeyer

Roy considers qualifying for his first USSSA Divisional Tournament in 1984 his biggest thrill. Another memorable moment came in 1995 when, after 18 years of trying, he won a State Title with Victor Drugs. Two years later, he hit .800 and was named to the All-State team as Victor Drugs went 4-0 to win is second State Master’s Title.

As is so often the case, Brockmeyer remembers the faces in the dugout as much as the plays on the field.

“The [biggest] thrill for me as a manager was the quality of people that were involved with the team, especially the Victor Drugs team from 1986 through 1999,” Brockmeyer said. “Not only were these guys good ball players, they were great individuals. That’s what made the team so fun.”

Brockmeyer especially loved the game of softball in the late-70s and the 80s, but is personally disappointed in the way technology has changed the game.

He’s not disappointed in the USSSA, however. Brockmeyer has been involved with USSSA ball for 21 of the 26 years he’s been in softball and calls it “the best program out there today.”

“I have placed tournaments in other associations over the years,” Brockmeyer said. “But have found there is nothing better than what the Illinois USSSA has going.”

2004 Meritorious: Dennis Muth

Dennis Muth

Over the years of softball at every level from Class C to Major, Janeville’s Dennis Muth has played on some of the best teams around the Rockford area, including Jumbo’s Pub, Legends, Back Bar, Chipper’s Pub and Shockers.

Over that time, he has played in 27 State Championships in two states, 35 NITs, two World Titles and finished in the top ten in many other World events. Along the way, he’s been named All-Tournament more than 30 times and has earned six Most Valuable Player awards. His most recent MVP was at the USSSA 35 & Over World in 2003.

Asked to give his overall won-lost record, Muth can only say thousands of wins and hundreds of losses.

Muth retired three years ago, but it didn’t last.

“He was going to semi-retire,” USSSA State Director Brenda Paulson said. “But he couldn’t stand it. It was too much for him.”

So Muth continues to play highly competitive softball despite turning 50-years-old this past spring (as of fall 2003). The last two seasons, he has sponsored and pitched for the Shockers, a competitive B team.

It’s good that the Illinois USSSA Hall of Fame does not require people to retire before they’re eligible for induction because it’s unclear whether Muth will ever truly hang up his softball spikes. What is clear is that he is one of those people who is most happy with those spikes on his feet, most alive on a softball field.

“We need more people like Dennis Muth who really love the game of softball,” Paulson said.

We honor Dennis Muth’s long career in softball by welcoming him into the Illinois USSSA Hall of Fame.

2004 Meritorious: Ken Franzen

Ken Franzen

Meritorious 2004_Ken Franzen.jpeg

It is all but impossible to have played serious softball in Illinois for any period of time and not have crossed paths with Ken Franzen. It’s nearly as difficult to pick a category in which to place Ken for induction into the Illinois USSSA Hall of Fame.

As a player, coach, umpire, USSSA official, tournament director and facility director, Franzen has played most every role you can play in softball over the past 30 years, and played them all exceptionally well with dedication and attention to detail.

A star athlete in high school, Ken was a guard on an Elite Eight basketball team. He took that drive and athleticism into the USSSA slow pitch game, helping to bring back a Divisional championship to Rockford.

As a facility director, he managed a wide range of leagues and tournaments over the years, in the process creating one of the most special places anywhere to play and watch softball –Forest Hills Diamonds.

“During his long tenure at Forest Hills, he would spend countless hours grooming his fields,” Illinois USSSA Hall of Fame inductee Bob Papich said. “The outfield was mowed to perfection. The infield was smooth and flat.”

A die-hard Cubs fan, Franzen also graced the outfield fences of Forest Hills Diamonds with Wrigley Field-like ivy.

“What Ken has done for over 30 years is create a garden spot where men and women could play softball,” Papich said.

As an umpire, Franzen has served as State Umpire in Chief, and has conducted numerous innovative and informative clinics that have helped bolster the professionalism of USSSA umpiring.

“He approached his umpire clinics the same way he approached sports, with knowledge and ahrd work,” Papich said. “His knowledge of the rules and how to apply them will always stand out in my mind. If you had a rules question, you went to Ken.”

Finally, as a USSSA official, Franzen has consistently been the type of go-to guy that makes organizations run well. He has been a fixture at USSSA National meetings, bringing his exceptional grasp of the game to the rules committee. In addition, he continues to provide statistical services for the Men’s Major World Series.

Rockford is a much better softball town, and the USSSA a much better softball organization thanks to the love of the game, the hard work and the dedication of Ken Franzen. We formally recognize that hard work and dedication as we welcome Ken into the Illinois USSSA Hall of Fame.

2006 Meritorious: Ron Lindenberg

Ron Lindenberg

To say Steelville’s Ron Lindenberg has covered many facets of the game of softball would be an understatement. Be it a player, umpire, manager or director, Lindenberg has done whatever it takes to promote USSSA softball, especially in southern Illinois.

He started playing softball in 1968, but it was not until 1976 that his team played in USSSA-sanctioned tournaments.

He played at every position at least once, but lists outfielder as his main position while playing for teams such as Wayne and Rosie’s and Lindsey Oilers. A very solid hitter, the man known as “Toad” posted a .578 career batting average, while smacking 157 home runs over his 14 years. When he wasn’t running down fly balls, Lindenberg took his talents to the mound, compiling a 145-33 record before retiring from the playing field in 1990.

“I played in several USSSA State Tournaments, but was only fortunate enough to play in one Divisional in 1987 in Rockford,” Lindenberg said.

Although he never managed a team that played in USSSA leagues or tournaments, Lindenberg won over 1,200 games in 14 years as skipper of teams playing with another association. He has been a USSSA umpire for 29 years, working numerous State Tournaments, 12 Divisional/National Tournaments and helped run umpire clinics for 17 years in southern Illinois.

In 1992, Lindenberg became an Illinois USSSA Director, the Southern Illinois State Director in 1998 and the Southern Illinois Regional Director in 2001. He was named State Rookie Director of the Year in 1993, although he said “it was actually my second year.”

Along with many leagues and tournaments he has helped run, he has also hosted 13 State Championships, including two Class C State and one Class D State at Chester.

He used friendships started through other organizations to help build up the USSSA, which he lists as his biggest accomplishment.

I am familiar with other organizations and I can honestly say that USSSA is the best. The USSSA program is better regardless if you are a player, director, umpire or manager.
— Ron Lindenberg

“I used the acquaintances I made to persuade teams from the other associations to try the USSSA program,” Lindenberg said. “It was fairly successful and many of those teams still participate in USSSA today.”

Over the years, with a chance to be around several different softball programs, Lindenberg has nothing but praise for the USSSA.

“I am familiar with other organizations and I can honestly say that USSSA is the best,” Lindenberg said. “The USSSA program is better regardless if you are a player, director, umpire or manager.”

With Ron Lindenberg’s induction into the Illinois USSSA Hall of Fame, we honor someone who has devoted countless hours to try and make the softball world a better place.

2007 Meritorious: John "Smiley" Sturgill

John "Smiley" Sturgill

Meritorious 2007_John Sturgill.jpeg

In a softball career that has covered over 40 years in many facets of the USSSA, John “Smiley” Sturgill has seen it and done it all. A current member of the Illinois USSSA Hall of Fame Committee, Smiley has been a player, coach, umpire and director since 1965.

In the 1965 season, he started as a pinch runner and occasional substitute for the Grasshopper Tap.

Smiley played on such teams as Dach Fence, The Boyz and Sands Hotel, after which he hung up the spikes in 1998 following the victory at the Master’s 40 & Over State Tournament.

As a coach, Smiley’s career began in 1973 when he started his own Dach Fence team. He continued to coach for 27 years until he retired following the 2000 season.

Over the years, his teams, starting with The Boyz of Hayden’s Sports’ Class C Championship in 1986, he won nine State Titles. In 1987, The Boyz finished the season with a 103-18 record, which included winning seven consecutive tournaments.

“That [The Boyz] is the team I think I was the proudest of,” said Sturgill of the 1987 club.

In 1998, he managed his Illusions Softball Club to a Class B State Championship and then in his final season as coach in 2000, L.T.’s Bar and Grill sent him out a winner by capturing the Super C State Title.

Along with all the playing and coaching he was doing, Smiley started umpiring in 1980, eventually becoming one of the top umpires in the state. In the 24 years he donned the red shirt and black hat, Sturgill did men’s and women’s slow pitch, men’s fast pitch and girl’s youth fast pitch, umpiring upwards of 300 games a year. He also ran clinics at some park districts and assisted in training at national clinics. For 16 consecutive years, he umpired in State Tournaments in all classes, with the biggest honor being a Women’s Class A World Tournament that was held in Rockford. In 1992, he was awarded the USSSA Umpire of the Year Award.

Smiley became a USSSA director in 1982 for the Plano Softball League. He continued as director for 20 years with the last two being assistant director to Brenda Paluson when he was in charge of the men’s slow pitch program. He has been a state director for all of the men’s classes at some point and won the Director of the Year Award for Outstanding Performance in 1990. He has been on the Illinois USSSA Hall of Fame Committee since it was started in 1996.

It was never a question whether Smiley would be inducted into the Illinois USSSA Hall of Fame, just a matter of when. He has left an indelible mark on USSSA softball with his work on and off the field of play. We honor all of Smiley’s accomplishments by welcoming him into the Illinois USSSA Hall of Fame.

2008 Meritorious: Myron Schroeder

Myron Schroeder

Meritorious 2008_Myron Schroeder.jpeg

Myron’s involvement in the sport of softball stretches across numerous age divisions, gender categories, coaching levels, director classifications and player competitions, while also dotted with numerous firsts that scrape across five decades of softball participation.

During this period, raising a finger of “We are #1” has become his consistent trademark dating back to his first participation in Bloomington’s Men’s Fast Pitch League in 1967, while also participating in Bloomington’s first 12-inch slow pitch league.

After playing for numerous first place league teams, he began coaching the slow pitch game in the fall of 1974 with a competitive team named The Gas House Gang, which finished first in many league and tournament competitions. During this period, he began to direct fundraising tournaments to support the team. This led to him directing the Midwest Softball Festival each spring in Normal, prior to directing Bloomington’s first slow pitch fall league in 1978, which was highlighted by the first central Illinois All-Star Game being held.

In 1984, he played in his first USSSA state qualifier at Lincoln. His enjoyment of the USSSA game led to him becoming Bloomington-Normal’s first area director in 1985.

Three years later in 1988, he directed the first Men’ Master’s State Tournaments (40 and 35 & Over) at Bartonville’s Alpha Park. His Fox’s Sports team (40 & Over) became the first USSSA State Master’s Champions, resulting in them becoming Illinois’s first representative at a Men’s Master’s World Tournament event where they defeated the defending world champions.

Two years later, he guided a much younger Fox’s Sports team to Illinois’s first USSSA Youth World Tournament Championship in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This premiere team in 1990 was the beginning of the Team Illinois Youth Softball Association, which has captured six World and five National titles and with whom he has earned several All-World, All-National and All-State coaching honors.

In 1994, he was awarded the USSSA State Director’s Award and in 1995 became the first recipient of the USSSA Boy’s National Award for his contributions to the USSSA youth program.

In 1996, he organized Illinois’s first USSSA registered girl’s fast pitch team, LeRoy Hardees, which attended the first USSSA Girl’s Fast Pitch World Tournament in Hutchinson, Kansas. There the team finished fourth in the 16 & Under division. This team’s success inspired him to direct Illinois’s first USSSA Girl’s Fast Pitch Tournament in Clinton in June of 1997. He continued to direct fast pitch tournaments until 2003, before focusing his efforts toward creating his hometown’s first middle school program at Tri-Valley while serving as their first coach.

As a player, his defensive speed and offensive ability to hit to all fields landed him on many of central Illinois’s most competitive teams prior to playing on several excellent men’s master’s teams. With these master’s teams he earned All-State and All-National honors. During his playing tenure he roamed the outfield for many seasons before to moving to the pitching circle.

As a coach, he presently has accumulated nearly 2,100 softball victories, including nearly 800 at the youth level and nearly 300 youth baseball wins. At the softball scholastic level, since 2002, his teams have compiled an impressive 160-63 record for Tri-Valley and Blue Ridge High School team captured the school’s first IHSA regional softball title and advanced to the school’s first “Sweet 16” appearance in any sport.

There is little doubt when it comes to providing opportunities and creating team success stories that Myron comes in first.

Illinois Executive State Director Brenda Paulson summed up Myron’s contributions to the Illinois program, “Myron is the first director I appointed in the Girl’s Fast Pitch Program and Boy’s Slow Pitch Program. His tournaments were second to none and always kept the players’ best interests in mind. Myron also is the first director to step up and take on more responsibility if needed. I’m still hoping he will find the time to run more of those awesome State Tournaments.”

In July, Myron was informed that he had been selected to the Boys’ Softball National Hall of Fame. He will be inducted in July 2009 in Cookeville, Tennessee.

Myron says, “No one ever gets to the Hall of Fame by themselves.” He credits all of his success to a supporting family, great teammates, terrific assistant coaches and countless talented players.

Myron believes the Illinois USSSA program has provided his teams with countless opportunities and through their guidance has allowed him to join many of Illinois’s finest in their Hall of Fame.

2011 Meritorious: Mike Peura

Mike Peura

Meritorious 2011_Mike Peura.png

Today, Mike Peura becomes a member of a very select group, as he enters the Illinois USSSA Hall of Fame for his numerous contributions to not only the organization but the entire softball community.

He has done so through 35 years as a player, 15 seasons as an umpire, 20 years directing over 100 USSSA tournaments (50 of them state tournaments) and being selected rookie director of the year in 1994, league director in 1997, state director's award in 2000, distinguished service in 2009, award of merit in 2009 and award of excellence in 2010.

Twenty years of managing teams to numerous success stories, and 20 generous seasons as a team sponsor. Creating a softball resume that perhaps goes unrivaled has allowed Mike to confess, "I just wanted to provide all the teams my best."

His best has included refereeing a fight between two teams resulting in forfeit, while directing the Class B National Invitational, or his best by managing WWJD to the Class C State title or LT's Bar and Grill to the Class C National Championship.

As a player, Mike has a lifetime batting average of over .600 and has swatted 500+ home runs, while playing 3rd base, 1st base and catcher for The Boyz, Bob's Salvage, Erickson Chiropractic, WWJD, The Bar, LT's and Windy City.

He believes the best players that he has shared the diamond with are Bernie Carroll, Brian Schultz, Bromo, Pat Heraty and Jim Cushing, and identifies Jerry Pigotti of Ace Hardware as his best coach.

Mike's most memorable softball moments include winning the 1999 Class C State Tournament and hitting a home run in the 2010 Senior World Tournament.

Just to prove that when Mike directs a tournament, sparks are sure to fly, as his funniest softball situation occurred while directing the Class D State tournament this year. On a bright and sunny day, the lightning warning devices went off, delaying the tournament play.

Mike thanks his wife Lisa for always being there, his martial arts instructor Tom Heriaud for his early years of guidance.

Softball is not the only sport he has excelled in. Under the coaching of Heriaurd, he has won over 300 karate events and holds the rank of 6th degree black belt. To his Dad for creating his softball interest by taking him to watch all those men's fastpitch games down the street at S-A Field in his younger years.

2012 Meritorious: Clem Esker

Clem Esker

Every year, the town of Red Bud, Illinois seems to get mentioned during Hall of Fame ceremonies and induction speeches. Red Bud this and Red Bud that, has become the norm and is always referred to as “The Softball Capital of Southern Illinois.” Tonight, we get to meet the individual responsible for that nametag and the establishment of the USSSA in southern Illinois.

His name is Clem Esker, a founding father of sorts, but one that perhaps would rather be remembered as a pitcher, a coach, a director, and a guy that just loved the game enough to pass down this love to his kids. His oldest, son Tom has been instrumental in keeping softball fever alive in Red Bud, son Tony has put in many years taking care of the diamonds, while son Tim has been involved in umpiring at the facility, while, granddaughter Jackie can be found running the concessions at the complex.

Clem says that we can thank that other softball organization for bringing USSSA softball to Red Bud, as they attempted to bully the locals into holding only their tournaments at the Red Bud diamonds.  Clem stated, “There was a lot of things going on that we did not like.”

With the help of Bill Mathews and Fred Gould from St. Louis, big name teams began arriving in Red Bud to play USSSA softball. Teams like Slinger Foundry from Wisconsin and others from Ohio, Tennessee, Missouri, and Kentucky soon found their way to the small southern Illinois community. 

Perhaps the largest crowd ever assembled at the park was when Forest Hills from Rockford was defeated by the local Shamrocks in the first USSSA National Qualifier held at the park. It was estimated that over 2000 people stood four deep around the facility to witness softball history that day. After the victory, a donation blanket was passed, that raised over $2000 to help the team with expenses to Baltimore, MD.

Many years ago, Clem put Red Bud on the USSSA softball map. Tonight, the USSSA honors one of Red Bud’s finest, by placing him into the Illinois Softball Hall of Fame.

2017 Meritorious: Jeffrey E. Myles

Jeffrey E. Myles

Meritorious 2017_Jeffrey E. Myles.png

Graduating from Northern Illinois University in 1996, Jeff Myles only wanted a part-time job as an umpire to help pay the bills he acquired as a student. Little did Jeff know that becoming an umpire for the DeKalb Park District would lead to bigger and better leadership roles in the world of Illinois USSSA Slow Pitch Softball.

Jeff Myles started as a league umpire in 1996. After four years of league play, he was hired full time as the assistant athletic director for the DeKalb Park District and became a league director for USSSA in 2000. During his tenure as a league director, he organized and ran leagues and umpires. He received the USSA League Director of the Year Award in 2000 after his very first year. It was in 2003 when Jeff had a chance to umpire weekend USSSA tournaments, including state and divisional tournament games in Illinois. From 2006 to 2012, Jeff Myles had the distinct pleasure to umpire men and women World Series Tournaments in Florida where he was able to see the difference between USSSA and other softball organizations. He received the Illinois State Director Umpire Award in 2007.

Jeff was the Illinois Umpire-in-Chief from 2009 to 2013. During his tenure as the state U.I.C., Jeff described some of the biggest challenges to include unifying all umpires as one and expanding the number of umpire clinics in the state under one voice. He received the Illinois Distinguished Service Award in 2011.

Jeff became the Assistant State Director from 2013 to 2016, where he was in charge of hiring and working with the Illinois Umpire-in-Chiefs as well as new and existing tournament directors. He served as a tournament director for numerous qualifying state and national tournaments in Illinois. Jeff identified the largest challenge during his tenure as the Assistant State Director to be organizing the USSSA Men’s Major Conference Tournament in Joliet, Illinois from 2012 to 2014 saying “that was truly an eye-opening experience.”

Jeff continued his leadership role in Illinois by becoming a member of the Illinois USSSA Hall of Fame committee in 2013 where he experienced working directly with Brenda Paulson, Mike Peura, John Sturgill, Helen Biddle, Ken Franzen, Ron Lindenberg, Orvel Cox, Myron Schroeder, Brad Lindmark, Jim Cushing and John Kramer. Jeff reflected on this experience sharing that “it is through working with this committee that I learned the rich history, true committee and passion of the people who are dedicated to the colors of USSSA from the entire state of Illinois. It has truly been an honor to represent my generation of softball on this committee.”

Jeff Myles has served in every leadership role in the Illinois USSSA up to the executive director position. At every level of leadership, Jeff’s goals remained the same, to make a difference, learn how to be a better leader than before and lead by example. Jeff is proud to leave that has his legacy with USSSA.