2014 Hall of Fame Inductees
Female Player Category
For a person who had to endure the softball challenges behind the plate for the Chicagoans for many years, Herbie has never attributed her contributions to the game as physical. Even while playing on those hundred degree days, getting run into and getting stuck in the mud behind the dish, she feels her personal accomplishments were driven by the camaraderie that she shared with her teammates, opponents and officials of the game.
Herbie's trip to softball success began at an all-girls Catholic school in Chicago in the late 60s and early 70s. There is no way that she could have thought it would end at the Illinois Softball Hall of Fame in Rockford in 2014.
Herbie says, "I was lucky to have played for the Chicagoans for my entire career. In the 1980s the team won 3 Class A State Tournaments and captured a team best 8th Place in the World Tournament."
During her playing years, she was named to two All-Tournament NIT teams and was named to the State All-Tournament team. She sites seeing the Chicagoans team inducted into the 2008 Hall of Honor as being her most thrilling softball event to present.
She contributes that the Chicagoans team was always there for each other, no matter what. The Chicagoans had no real sponsors and we actually had fundraisers, car washes, candy sales, candlelight bowls, whatever it took to raise money to be able to play ball with each other. That team was all about friendship that have spanned over 35 years and am sure those that will last forever.
Herbie states, "I have been fortunate to have played with Hall of Famers like Karen Foley, Jan Wilson, Mary Malpede, Dee Susin, Coach Gloria Kolbusz and the remainder of the Hall of Honor Chicagoans team."
Male Player Category
Don began playing softball in 1986 with the Stickmen, which led to his participation with the more competitive Kings and KA Softball teams. These teams captured 6 state titles and 2 Class B National Championships, while finishing 2nd in the 2004 and 2005 Class B World Tournaments.
Other team accolades include a 1997 35 and Over World Championship with Tron and a 40 and Over National title with Ken's Beverage.
Being an outstanding outfielder and situational hitter provided Don with Class B All-State selections in 1995, 1996, 2006 and 2008. NIT selections in both A and B Classes on six occasions, while being All-World five times in Class B, 35 and Over and 40 and Over tournaments.
These honors mean little to Don, as he is satisfied to be remembered as a great teammate that gave his all for the guys he shared the dugout with over the years. Don states, "Ken Adams was my best coach because he always wanted to win." While identifying Jim Cushing, Billy Shahagian, Scotty Klein and Jim Walsh as some of the best players he had played with over his 24-year softball career.
Don chose his wife's new car being picked up and carried off by his teammates at a tournament in Indiana as his funniest softball experience. It seems his wife, Andrea, did not share in the laughter. His biggest regret is that his playing days had to end. He thanks the USSSA and everyone that has supported him, while he played the sport he loves.
Male Player Category
Playing for great teams became the norm for this Belleville resident for 24 seasons. Mike Werle participated with teams named Chick Fritz, Stags, Metro East Softball Club, Loggers, Magicians, Belleville Budweiser, St. Clair A's and St. Louis Rockets. Along with those teams' success stories, so were his individual accolades, as he was a Class B All World selection 4 times, while participating with Belleville Budweiser.
The big first baseman smashed over 650 home runs over his career, while batting over .600. An All-State Most Valuable Player in 1984 propelled him to future all-tournament selections over the years.
He admits Belleville Budweiser was the best team he played for as they won a lot and were best of friends. He identified teammates Mike O'Connor, Denny Albert, Mike Kreher, Dirk Androff, Leon Kreher, Al Studt and Larry Mohme as some of the finest players with whom he shared the diamond.
For Mike, what made his softball journey the best was that he shared it with those that he went to school and grew up with, while getting better at the game. He always wanted to be known as the guy his teammates could count on.
He has no regrets in his outstanding career, as he feels he had more fun and won more games than most. He credits the Illinois USSSA program as being the best organized and competitive oriented organization, which always provided his teams the best competition. With his induction into the Illinois USSSA Hall of Fame, Mike's journey continues.
Male Player Category
If you see a truck full of sod circling the hotel parking lot following tonight's Hall of Fame induction ceremony, think nothing of it because it's just Pietryk's teammates sodding one of the guest rooms.
This would be a reenactment of one of the funniest experiences Jerry recalls in his 20 years of playing softball with teams like the Hurricanes, Home Run Inn, Extreme Easton, Ken Adams, Ken Beverage and Creative Design. Of those teams, Jerry sites the Ken Adams team as being the most fun and competitive.
From 2001 through 2006 the Ken Adams team captured 6 state titles, 5 NITs, 2 National Championships and 2 second place finishes at world tournaments.
While playing most infield, Jerry posted an estimated .650 plus batting average and hit over 600 dingers. That kind of production landed him on many state, national and world all-tournament teams.
After a high school baseball career at De LaSalle High School, Jerry played college ball at North Central College. His softball career began in 1990 when he was asked to participate in a Sunday League at Country Club Hills, which led to him being recruited by Larry Scott and John Kramer of the Hurricanes.
Even though he has many success stories, Jerry wants to be remembered as being a player that never quit and was always a good person to his teammates and to his opponents.
As he reflects on his great career, his only regret is not winning a Class B World Title, as two seconds leaves a bad taste in your mouth. He also recognizes that the USSSA has allowed him to play competitively in a well-organized environment, as he was always supported by his wife Lee Ann and his two children Blake and Hailee.
When it comes to being a coach that sacrifices himself for his team, you would have to put Rich Kaiser at the top of the list. Perhaps his best coaching move included him getting tossed out of a game to get his team fired up. This move proved to be just what his team needed as they went on to win not only the game, but the tournament as well.
Over a span of 11 years, Rich guided his southern Illinois Loggers team to 1,130 wins, with only 97 losses. Under his guidance, this exceptional team claimed 3 state tournament championships in 1973, 1978 and 1981, while also finishing 4th in the 1979 National Invitational in Cincinnati, Ohio and 5th at the 1981 NIT in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Loggers went on to capture 4th Place in the 1980 World Tournament in Cincinnati and 5th Place in the 1982 World Championship Tournament.
Rich began coaching due to his driving desire to put together a very competitive and winning club, and he even surprised himself with the success that he put on the field with players like Mike Kreher, Leon Kreher, Dan Helfich, Ron Bievenue, Matt Myers and Denny Albert.
Rich admits, "We had some great players that all had an intense desire to win." This intensity shined the brightest during the state tournament at Taylorville in 1978, as they captured the title over a heavily favored and everyone's pick win team.
Rich also never lacked confidence in his own abilities, as he put himself into the line-up at the World Tournament when his team's bats seemed to go cold and went 4 for 4. Needless to say, he is still holding that over his teammate's heads.
Without a doubt, Rich deserves this Hall of Fame honor, as perhaps no one knows how to motivate and create better.
Male Player Category
James "Tank" Kersten
Tank began playing USSSA softball with the Comets from Downers Grove in 1994 after being asked by Guy Altier, Kurt Stepina and Jim Bonnamy to participate with them in the Northern D State Tournament. That was the beginning of an exceptional twenty-year run, as he has accumulated a lifetime batting average of .685, while hitting over 1,000 home runs. His best season batting average was .740 in 2005, while playing for KA Softball.
Jim mostly participated behind the plate and received All-National selections in Class C during 2013 season and Class B during 2005. He also has received numerous all-NIT and All-State selections during his competitive playing career.
Jim sites the 2006 KA Softball team as being the best team he has played for due to their team chemistry, which made winning easy. He also recognizes Scott Opels, Dave Shaff, Ken Adams, Steve Hardy, Dennis Muth, Todd Ankney, Dave Catalini and Gary Lofton as the best coaches for whom he played.
As he reflects on his great career, he wants to be remembered as a teammate that would always give his time to help another and thanks the USSSA for providing him the opportunity to compete at a high level.
His most memorable softball experience occurred while playing in his first Class B NIT with the Wombats in Toledo, Ohio. He explains, "Our first game was against Harlow Printing from Michigan. I walked my first at bat and when I arrived at first base the first baseman began trash talking. Blabbing on how Harlow Printing was this great team and that we did not have a chance. The Wombats ruled them in 3 innings 30 to 3."
His funniest experience happened this year at the USSSA Class D World Tournament when his teammate, Bill Bernabei, bet him that he would not slide down the kiddy slide at the Chick-Fil-A restaurant. Tank secretly asked the manager if he could slide down the kiddy slide. She gave him the go-ahead, as long as he paid for any damages. The slide and the kids on the slide all survived.
Tank would like to thank all of his teammates, friends, sponsors, umpires and officials over the years for making his softball playing "A ROADHOUSE" experience.
Over the past 33 years, Jim has umpired numerous leagues and tournaments in the Rockford area. In addition, he has umpired many different classifications at the state tournament level, while also doing National Invitational Tournaments at both the men's and women's levels.
Jim sites umpiring the 1996 Women's World at Kalamazoo, Michigan as being one of his most exciting events and remarks, "The friendships I have made with umpires and players all over the United States are everlasting."
Jim also says that umpiring has been very rewarding and he still loves the challenges it presents. He has also provided rules instruction at several umpire clinics over the years.
Gary Stone is truly a prime example of a softball pioneer, as he has played the sport for 45 seasons and 25 years with the USSSA organization. Twenty-one of those seasons were with the outstanding program of the Bank of Westmont.
Little did Gary know, that when a good friend, Jim Duffy, led him to the game of softball, he would one day be a member of the Illinois USSSA Softball Hall of Fame. Gary's diamond history was born at Lyon's Township High School where his team finished 2nd in the 1962 IHSA State Baseball Tournament, quickly followed by him signing on with the Chicago White Sox organization following graduation. The next year he was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals and played 9 years in the Minor Leagues.
He perhaps is one of only a few that are both members of the Professional Baseball Hall of Fame and a softball hall of fame, as Gary was part of a record setting 29 inning (6 hour and 59 minutes) marathon one summer night in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Following his baseball career, Gary helped lead the Bank of Westmont to 4 State Championship, and since 1998 through 2014 has participated in four world tournaments with the Chicago Classics Senior Softball Organization.
With a lifetime batting average near .600, his major position has been pitcher over the years.
Speaking of his experiences with the Bank of Westmont, Gary says, "What a great bunch of guys and a wonderful sponsor. Everyone knew how to play the game and win. They also played with total respect for all the teams they played against."
He also recognized Brian Shultz, Jeff Davey, Jim Cushing, Don Loid, Tom Spahn, Mike Oats and Duffy as some of the best players he ever played with, while recognizing Ron Havelka as his best coach.
"I want to be remembered as a guy that respected his teammates and was never afraid to sit and let someone else play. I knew how to help the team win!" Gary said.
Gary knows that with success there are always some regrets, as he wishes he could have spent more time with family and friends rather than playing ball almost every weekend. He, however, recognizes he had their total support throughout his career.
The 1988 All-World selection recalled his funniest softball experience: after he hit a home run and sat down on the bench to hear the umpire call him out for missing home plate. One thing he is not going to miss is his induction into the Illinois Hall of Fame. "I can't wait to get that ring!"
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!"