Jim Duncan, Rockford, IL
Paul Davis Restoration
Shockers/Paul Davis Restoration - 2007 Men’s Classic C World Champions at Disney
Jim Duncan, Rockford, IL
Paul Davis Restoration
Shockers/Paul Davis Restoration - 2007 Men’s Classic C World Champions at Disney
Eric Weller played primarily basketball during high school and college and got into competitive volleyball in his 30s. It was not until his late 30s that he discovered 12-inch softball. He played, managed and sponsored in competitive softball beginning in 2002, eventually putting together a top-rated C team called Rope Club. Rope Club began playing up at the B level in Illinois to find greater competition, eventually playing NITs out-of-state as well.
In 2005, KA Softball was pushed to A and needed to play a minimum of four Major NITs before filing an appeal to drop to B. Weller stepped in to help sponsor the team to travel to the required tournaments in Indiana and Texas. Weller continued to help the team through 2007 before taking the reins on his own B team. Rope Club, later renamed EWS, made a name for themselves in Illinois and, more importantly, across the country as they played a Major NIT schedule from 2008 through 2011.
Rope Club placed third in the A World in 2008 as a B team. EWS placed well in Major NITs during those years, finishing second in 2010 at Major NITs in Nashville (Music City NIT) and Columbus, Indiana. EWS won the A Conference Championship in 2010 and placed fourth at the A World in 2011. They also qualified for the Major World Series in 2010 and 2011. EWS placed third in points in the conference in 2010 as a B team.
Weller recalls that the real joy over the years was taking primarily locally-rostered teams from the area and competing against the very best teams from around the country. The budget for the teams was lower and most times the players would drive to the tournaments, often sleeping three, sometimes four, to a room on the road.
The opponents often had nationally-known players. The team always took a certain pride and got a huge emotional reward out of being a part of the competitive environment, proving that it belonged.
Winning is great, but the camaraderie and friendships developed over the years was an even greater part of the competition. Eric’s best memory is of the Major Dual NIT event in 2010. As an unknown B team, EWS played Resmondo, who was the defending Major World Series champion. EWS pulled off the impossible, giving Resmondo’s season a bad start by beating them on a walk-off two-run home run. That was the most exciting game and the team had a grand time laughing and enjoying that accomplishment. Winning the 2010 Conference A Championship was the most rewarding, but the exhilaration of beating Resmondo was impossible to top.
Being inducted into the Illinois USSSA Hall of Fame must be right up there with all Eric Weller’s accomplishments. Thank you for all your support and welcome into the Illinois USSSA Hall of Fame.
Ray Rogers first sponsored a USSSA softball team in 1980 and continued until his death eight years later. He loved to see people having fun and succeeding at the same time. His most exciting moment was in 1985 when his team qualified to play in their first USSSA Class C Divisional tournament.
Rogers was always grateful to the people who worked behind the scenes to make everything run smoothly – scorekeepers, umpires, ground crews and tournament directors. All, in Rogers’s eyes, had to work together for a tournament to run properly, and he let people know that he appreciated their efforts.
Winning was not Rogers’s main concern; playing hard within the rules and showing respect for your opponents, the umpires and tournament directors was most important. If you could not give this respect, you could not play on his team.
After his death, the Illinois USSSA honored his memory by renaming the Northern Illinois Men’s Class C State the “Ray Rogers Men’s Northern State Class C Tournament.”
Sponsor and scorekeeper of the southern Illinois powerhouse team, Braun’s Tavern, for thirteen years, Anna Braun’s team won the Illinois 1976 USSSA Men’s Class B State Title and took second place and third place at Illinois USSSA State Tournaments.
From 1986 to 1988, Braun managed the Brewmasters, becoming the first women manager of a men’s softball team in southern Illinois. From 1989 to 1992, Braun managed Marie’s, another young team. In all the years she managed the men’s team, she never missed a single game her team played and always coached third base.
In 1993, Braun went to work for Andre Martel, the local USSSA Area Director. She keeps score at his tournaments and keeps track of all the rosters, providing crucial support services.
A former fast pitch player, Braun believes that the game of slow pitch softball has surpassed the game of fast pitch softball because any team can beat any other team on any given night.
Jim Kelley was the type of individual that every team would want for their team sponsor. A man who cares not only about his team, but about all the people who are associated with the game of softball. In 1972, he contacted one of the better teams in the Rockford area and asked them if he could sponsor them the next season. His goal was simple, he wanted to sponsor a class team from his home area, Rockford, that would be able to compete with any other top team from northern Illinois.
In a year that his business was not doing as well as he hoped, he would not drop the sponsorship of his team. Somehow, he found a way to come up with the money needed to keep his team going in that lean business year.
He made one demand from his players: they must conduct themselves as gentlemen on and off the softball field. He made it clear to his team that if they did not do so, he would not sponsor them as a team.
His 1975 team dropped their very first game at the USSSA Class A World Tournament in Louisville, Kentucky. This team reached back and rolled off five straight wins and increased fan support for the “Classy Team” from Northern Illinois. Team manager Dewey Everts asked him to sit with his team in the dugout during these games and he refused saying, “Dewey, if you don’t mind, I am so proud to be the sponsor of this team I’d rather just walk through the stands.”
In 1985, his Kelley’s RMA team won the USSSA Men’s Class B Divisional Title in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He was proud that the players from other Rockford area teams would stay to cheer for his team after they had been eliminated from the tournament. Jim was so happy for this additional fan support that he invited all of them to stay overnight at his expense to help cheer their local team on the finals the next day. To show his pleasure with those that accepted his offer, he bought them dinner as his way of saying thank you.
The late Jim Kelley was a man who should not be remembered for his generosity to the game, but as a man who softball should remember as a friend to the game who always demanded that those with him treat the opposition, umpires, fans and tournament directors with the utmost respect at all times.
John Lilly lent his name and financial support to the best softball team Illinois has ever produced. Though Lilly Air Systems played in an era before technology forever altered the power hitting game, no other team in Illinois history has crafted a pedigree that compares. Lilly Air Systems put Illinois softball on the national map.
In 1978, John had the simple but ambitious goal of making Lilly Air Systems the best team it could be. By the early-80s, they were defeating the best teams of the era, teams like Howard’s Furniture, Jerry’s Catering, Elite Coatings, Campbell’s Carpets and Steele’s.
Illinois USSSA Hall of Fame inductees Ron Olesiak, Benny Holt and Al Van Gampler played for Lilly’s, as did Wisconsin USSSA Hall of Fame inductees Phil Higgins and Ron Donaski. Illinois USSSA Hall of Fame inductee Pete Williams was their manager.
Before disbanding in 1986, Lilly’s would win three USSSA Major NIT Championships, compete in six consecutive USSSA World Tournaments and bow out with the 1986 Illinois Class A State Championship. In 1985, Lilly’s finished third at the USSSA Super Majors, beating both Steele’s and Howard’s in the process. Finally, in 1984, Lilly’s captured the National Major Title from that other softball organization.
Don Daschka sponsored his first softball team in the late 60s, and many things about softball have changed since. What never changed, however, was Daschka’s affection for and commitment to the people who played on his teams.
Over some 30 years, the owner of Victor Drugs in Chester, Illinois sponsored dozens of teams, ranging from local league teams to State champs. From 1986 through 1998, Daschka’s Renegades Class C Men’s tournament team compiled a combined record of 555 wins and 163 losses, winning 11 consecutive league titles and making 15 consecutive USSSA Divisional appearances. His Men’s Master’s teams won two AAA State championships and were runners-up once.
From 1980 through 1984, his Victor Drugs “VD Girls” team won several dozen tournament trophies and were a power in local league play in the Chester and Carbondale areas.
Daschka, who played softball for 20 years, never forgot what it was like to field a team and have to go out and find a sponsor.
His generosity has earned him the respect and affection of many players, yet he sees fit to thank them for the pleasure they have brought him through the years.
“They don’t understand that, but it’s true,” Daschka said of the joy his teams brought him.
Within several years of opening his sporting goods business in Peoria in 1984, Jim Fox and his buddy Myron Schroeder were making plans to form and sponsor a Men’s 40 & Over team to compete in the 1988 Men’s Master’s Nationals in Louisiana.
They didn’t realize it at the time, as they sat on a bench in Bartonville’s Alpha Park, but they were laying the ground work for the creation of the Illinois USSSA’s Master’s Program.
Over the winter of 1987-88, Fox, whose regular job was with the CILCO electric cooperative, and Schroeder put together a team of “old-timers” Fox agreed to sponsor it and Fox’s Sports Center was born.
That first season, the team competed against mostly younger teams in an effort to prepare for the Master’s World Tournament in Carencro, Louisiana. They also spent much of the summer on the phone, seeking men’s 40 and older teams to compete against. Six teams joined them in the first ever Illinois USSSA Master’s State Tournament. Fox’s won that inaugural event, defeating Quincy Bud Light.
That September in Louisiana, Fox’s became Illinois’ first-ever participant in the USSSA Master’s World. They soon became the talk of the 76-team tournament, defeating the defending World champions, the #1 ranked South Carolina Thunderbirds. Fox’s also beat New Mexico, New York and Georgia before finishing tied for 13th place.
Fox’s went on to play in eight more USSSA Master’s Worlds and were Illinois USSSA Master’s champs four times. In 1991 and 1992, Fox’s also won the USSSA Men’s 35 & Over State Titles as well.
A total of twelve teams with the Fox’s Sports name on their uniforms have competed in USSSA World Tournaments, with one World Title and seven State Championships.
Jim Fox’s generosity wasn’t limited to adult softball, however. When Schroeder needed a sponsor for his entry into the USSSA 15 & Under Boy’s Slow Pitch World in Milwaukee in 1990, Fox stepped forward. That team, the smallest in a 26-team field, won the 1990 15 & Under World with a 14-13 extra inning victory over Georgia.
“Jim has not only provided me with opportunities to find success on the ball diamond,” Schroeder said. “But countless youth and veteran participants as well.”
Throughout his life, Marcel Levesque has been known as a people person.
After high school in Lewiston, Maine, he joined the Navy. His ship, the aircraft carrier Bunker Hill, was hit by a Kamikaze plane and Levesque was credited with saving the lives of numerous wounded shipmates.
Following the war, Levesque went to work at Lewiston Trust Company in his home town, and soon after married Theresa, literally the girl next door.
In 1951, Levesque moved to Chicago to work for Harris Bank. In 1965, he moved to the Bank of Westmont, where he worked his way up to president within five years. Though the bank was sold twice during his tenure there, Levesque was retained as President and CEO each time.
Levesque’s Bank of Westmont sponsored the powerhouse Bank of Westmont team for 20 years. In that time, “The Bank” won 18 consecutive league titles in Downers Grove and Woodridge, and played over 1,500 games, winning approximately 80 percent of them. In the process, they won over a hundred tournaments, including the 1989 State Tournament.
Levesque’s support of sports was not limited to elite 12-inch teams. He generously underwrote numerous Little League and Babe Ruth baseball teams, park district basketball teams, women’s fast pitch teams, high school sports and 12-inch and 16-inch teams.
However, the Bank of Westmont’s men’s team was the most successful of all his teams. Besides dominating the local 12-inch scene, The Bank finished fifth at the 85-team 1983 USSSA World Tournament. The following year, they were tenth in a 90-team Class A field in Anaheim, California.
“It was a real family affair at games with wives, children, girlfriends all there cheering them on rain or shine,” Bank of Westmont player Ron Havelka said. “Marcel couldn’t just stand by and watch them win, though. He often coached and made those guys run the bases.”
Levesque is remembered fondly by many more of his players, including former Bank player Jim Cushing.
“I don’t think there was a better sponsor in the state than Marcel through the 70s, 80s and 90s,” Cushing said.
As much as Levesque loves sports and public service, he loves family more. He and his wife Theresa have three children – Maria, John and Michael – and seven grandchildren. One grandchild, Melissa, is following her grandfather’s path, serving in the Navy aboard the aircraft carrier USS Lincoln in the Persian Gulf.
“To be inducted into the Illinois USSSA Hall of Fame is just an extraordinary honor,” Levesque said. “I was so lucky to have had such dedicated players. Win or lose, they were always winners and we had so much respect for each other. I feel very humble and proud.”
As many softball players will tell you, it’s always nice to play on a team that has a sponsor willing to subsidize the coast of tournaments, uniforms and travel. That’s what Don Metz, the sponsor of Metz Tool, provided for 25 years for his teams and players at all levels of Men’s USSSA play.
His teams never won a State Championship, but finished second one year and finishing as high as seventh at a National tournament. They did, however, win titles in Forest Hills leagues with Metz as a player and manager.
Metz says a few different years he handed over the coaching reigns to good friend Bill Hazer because of the difficult playing outfield and making on field decisions at the same time.
Metz played baseball and football at both the high school and college level. After college, Metz found it hard to find ball leagues to play in, but still had the craving for competition, so he turned to softball. A solid left-center fielder, Metz, who is still an active player playing USSSA softball in Florida, funded many trips for his friends and teammates to play in tournaments. It was those acquaintances who helped him through a very tough time nine years ago when Metz’s son passed away from D.M.D. (Jerry Lewis disease).
“It was my softball buddies that I leaned on and depended on,” Metz said. “It seemed softball was the one place I could go and be treated as a player, not a victim. I can tell you fully the debt I owe to all the softball people for their kindness.”
Metz praised the Illinois USSSA for their professionally executed tournaments and leagues.
“[Illinois USSSA] was, and is, the best run sports organization in the state,” Metz said. “No other organization even comes closer to what the USSSA does for its teams and players.”
Metz summed up his thoughts saying, “I’ve been all over the world and had many great times, yet the truth is the best people, the most fun and real-life victories have come from my time with softball people.”
Roger & Don Belcher
Don and Roger Belcher together as “The Belcher” sponsorship in Illinois USSSA softball has taken sponsorship from all levels of USSSA play to unprecedented levels in Illinois. This sponsorship has spanned over 30 years. The Manteno, Illinois based construction company has demonstrated a longevity of time and money to promote Illinois USSSA softball. Teams have included Men’s (C, B, A/AA and Major), Women’s and Co-Ed.
Donald Belcher Sr. Played softball himself from the mid-60s until starting his first Belcher sponsored team in 1975. Roger D. Belcher joined the Illinois softball partnership after high school in 1978. Roger turned full-time sponsor in 1992 and the Belcher sponsorship was off and running, playing tournaments throughout Illinois (Rockford, Joliet, Champaign and southern Illinois). 1981 led Belcher to increase the USSSA involvement with the new state director Brenda Paulson and the Illinois USSSA. Over 31 years, the Belcher’s have compiled over 540 tournament entries.
Don passed in December 2005, but he had shared his fondest moment in softball as one from the mid-80s. Don had taken his team to Rockford for a USSSA Illinois State Tournament and a couple of players had car trouble and were unable to make a Saturday morning game. Don laced up the work boots and, at age 60, played three games. Forfeit was out of the question for Don.
The Belcher sponsorship in the early 90s became a team totally geared to play USSSA-style softball and to date many Illinois USSSA Hall of Fame inductees have played at one time or another under the Belcher leadership.
Since 2000, Roger D. Belcher has continued the legacy at the Major level and with Illinois USSSA women’s and co-ed. The family will continue for years to come to sponsor softball and strive toward the ultimate crown at the USSSA Men’s Major World Series.
“Softball is in our blood and the Belchers will always find a way to field a team at some level,” Roger said.
Tonight, we honor both Don & Roger Belcher who have devoted a part of their lives to Illinois USSSA softball and the accomplishments speak for all of Illinois USSSA Hall of Fame.
Any softball team wanting to play at the higher levels of the USSSA must rely on a good sponsor. There are entry fees, uniforms and travel costs involved in taking teams to tournaments that may take place far away from home. For those players who played for Prime Time out of Paris, none did it better than Kathy Phillips.
The origin of Prime Time can be traced back to 1980 when Phillips started playing on a team in Charleston, Illinois, shortly after she moved to Illinois from Pennsylvania for a job at Eastern Illinois University. The team had many names during the 80s – Ike’s, Sporty’s, Moose Lodge, McDonald’s/Coors Light and BOSS. Although the club played in the Charleston women’s league, they rarely played in tournaments outside their area. The 1994 season marked a new beginning for Phillips’s team as she took over the sponsorship role and Prime Time was born.
Prime Time retired the following the 2005 season after compiling a 535-257 record from 1996-2005.
“It is not only remarkable that Kathy has chosen to allot a portion of her finances to sponsor and participate on a women’s softball team, but the opportunities that she has created for others is appreciated by all who have been a part of Prime Time,” teammate Jackie Fischer said. “The core of the current Prime Time team has been in tact since 1995 and most of the women on this team could not afford to compete at this level if it was not for Kathy’s sponsorship.”
Phillips and her teammates have won their share of titles and championships over the years. The first was a first place finish in the Class C NIT in Louisville, Kentucky in 1995 and then again in 2000. In 2003, Prime Time had what may have been their finest season. That year, the team first captured a pair of titles at NITs in Fort Knox, Kentucky and Rockford’s Forest Hills Diamonds. They followed that by returning to Forest Hills and becoming champions of both the Class C Illinois State and Great Lakes Divisional Tournaments. Their overall record for that season was 37-16.
“In addition to her leadership on the field, Kathy encourages and motivates others to push themselves to new levels competitively, physically, academically, personally and professionally,” Fischer said. “She models this through her own accomplishments, which include the attainment of tenure as a professor in the Health Studies Department at Eastern Illinois University as well as the fulfillment of a lifelong dream to travel and study in Antarctica.”
In 2004, Kathy and her team went 41-25 and returned to Rockford and took home with them both the Class C NIT Championship and a Class C State title. Over her career, Phillips has been named to a number of NIT and State All-Tournament teams. Most of those selections were by her teammates, which says a great deal about the respect she has from her peers. Prime Time retired following the 2005 season after compiling a 535-257 record from 1996-2005.
“Her dedication not only to USSSA softball, but to the sport in general is worthy of her entry into the Illinois USSSA Hall of Fame,” Fischer said. “The generosity of her sponsorship has enabled dozens of women to play softball competitively, not only in Illinois but in a variety of states as well.”
We honor a woman who has given so much of what she has to help others. So Kathy Phillips, let the Illinois USSSA be your backer as we welcome you to our Hall of Fame.
After back-to-back 35 & Over World Tournament championships, sponsor Tim Freeman described the Tron Piping team by saying, “We were getting spoiled with success.”
No doubt, any sponsor would have loved to have their name attached to such a successful program during the mid-90s through 2000, with Tron Piping capturing two World titles and five consecutive 35 & Over State Championships.
Freeman’s ten years of sponsoring a Tron Piping team in the USSSA program allowed him to reflect, “The USSSA is the association to play. As a sponsor, it was felt that the USSSA was well-organized and held great state and world tournaments.”
In 1996 following Tron’s first World Championship with a loser’s bracket victory over Mountain Top, the team put on a terrific party. In celebration, they party again with their sponsor’s induction into the Illinois USSSA Hall of Fame.
Kenneth T. Reimer
In a span of a decade, since 2001, Ken's Beverage teams have captured over 25 tournament titles, while competing in five different classifications. This is due to not only Ken Reimer's generosity, but the assembly of on-field talent that has created highly competitive squads that carry the Ken's Beverage sponsorship logo.
In 2001, Ken's captured the Class B State Tournament. In 2003 and 2004 they won the 40 and over state title. In 2007 Ken's captured the open state title, and in 2008 again took the Class B State Championship. In 2002, Ken's Beverage captured their first world title at Cocoa Beach, Florida, as they won the 40 and over World Tournament.
Two years later, Ken's Beverage finished 2nd at the 45 and over World Tournament at Orlando, Florida, and in 2008 another Ken's Beverage squad finished 5th in the Class C World Series at the Disney complex.
Sponsoring teams for 22 seasons has allowed Ken to put winning into perspective, as he reflects that winning is fine, but if his teams have fun, the losses do not matter. Commenting on how the USSSA has provided opportunities to his teams, Ken says, "They are doing something right to be going this long and strong. It gives me great pleasure that Ken's Beverage is well represented at work and play."
When asked who got him started in sponsoring teams, Ken replied, "Dave Catalani did and is the main reason I continue to do this every year, as he always surrounds himself with quality people making KBI well represented."
with all of the success stories that Ken's Beverage has found over the years, the most memorable remains winning the Joliet City Tournament for the first time. They have captured that prestigious title 9 times.
The Illinois USSSA Hall of Fame recognizes Ken Reimer for not only his years as a team sponsor, but his dedication to providing his best for many years.
According to many of Mike's former players, his wife Debbie should also be entering the Hall of Fame for all those great meals she served the team in the camper while leaving on all those road trips to tournament play.
Longtime Kluever player Dennis Fisher says, "Kluv was the best sponsor anyone would ever want or need. We would all pile into the camper and off to the tournament we would go. Once we arrived, some of us would stay in the camper and others in a hotel room."
The Metamora resident has supported many fine teams over the years that have had his name attached to diamond success. Names like Kluever's Snap-On, Kluever Snap-On/B + T Loggin/Mizuno, Kluever Snap-On/Cooper Sports/Combat, and others. Needless to say, the Kluever name has given many opponents room for concern.
Mike's contribution to his teams' success stories never ended with his sponsorship, as he was also a player-manager. Over the years, Mike has been awarded many All-State, All-NIT and All-Divisional honors as a manager in several different classifications.
According to State Director, Brenda Paulson, "Mike would never take any credit for his team's successes, as he always talked about how his players provided the victories."
Mike sites his most thrilling career event as winning every tournament his team entered in 1999. It is questioned whether this has ever been done before or after in Illinois softball history. His greatest thrill, however, was winning the Kiracofe Tournament by defeating Jimmies on their home field twice to take the title. The team went on to finish 4th in the Class B World Tournament at Sterling Heights, Michigan that year.
He also hopes more young people get involved in the sport in the future.
To describe Mike's passion for his team's success, Fisher added, "We always knew when he was getting a little upset at our team's production on the field as he would start tugging at his belt loops. That's when we knew we had better get our act together or we might be walking home. As a player, he would take on his position behind the plate on occasion, and when he stepped up to the plate he'd get one of his patient 'boop' hits over the infield. That's when we would have to hear about it all the way home, if he would go 4 for 4 during tournament play. He was the best sponsor and friend anyone would ever want!"
Blackhawk Athletic Club
When it comes to longevity in the Illinois USSSA Program, Rockford’s Blackhawk Athletic Club (BAC) reigns supreme in the sponsor category. The Blackhawk program has been a USSSA participating fixture for 35 years, as it began its USSSA affiliation with a Men’s Slow Pitch team in the spring of 1983 and continues today under the Blackhawk Athletic Club banner.
The Blackhawk Men’s program has participated in 27 total State Tournaments, 50 National Invitational Tournaments and 10 World Tournaments. BAC also captured the Class D State Championship in 2007 and 2017 and the Elite Class D State Championship in 2012. Both BAC Men’s and Women’s teams travel to Disney Wide World of Sports to participate in those World Series events for many years.
The Blackhawk Women’s program also participated in numerous State, National Invitational, National and World Tournaments dating back to early 1990s and many age-specific contests, while capturing a 35+ State Championship in 2000 and the Women’s Great Lakes Class C National Championship in 2006. Blackhawk also captured the Northwest Great Lakes Class D National Championships in 2015 and 2016.
Since 2007 the organization has also performed in the USSSA Mixed (Co-Rec) category, the organization has won four USSSA Class D State titles, one Class C State Championship in 2007 and a Class D Great Lakes National Championship in 2006. To add to an already impressive sponsorship resume, the Blackhawk program began sponsoring girl’s fast pitch youth programs, 12 and under through 23 and under, in 1997 to present. Also, the Women’s fast pitch teams participated in State and World Series events from 2006 through the 2012 season. These success stories have and will provide a base for future Youth Blackhawk players.
According to retired USSSA State Director, Brenda Paulson, “The Blackhawk Athletic Club is the only sponsor in Illinois USSSA history to sponsor so many different types of teams and I don’t see how that can be duplicated. Not only rec teams but also competitive, National and World Series ready teams. The Illinois USSSA would like to thank the Blackhawk Board of Directors and its memebership for all their support over these almost four decades.”
In addition, Blackhawk member, former player, former manager and 2010 Illinois USSSA Hall of Famer Wendy Fudge added, “No one could ask for a better sponsor than Blackhawk Athletic Club. They support us on and off the field by coming out to the games to cheer us on.”
We congratulate and welcome the Blackhawk Athletic Club on their sponsor induction into the Illinois USSSA Hall of Fame.
website for those inductees into the IL USSSA Softball Hall of Fame