2015 Hall of Fame Inductees

Male Player Category

Denis L. Fisher

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.

Male Player Category

Brian Benning

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!

Male Player Category

David Shaff

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!

Hall of Honor Team

Indiana Slammers

To say the Indiana Slammers Women’s Fast Pitch was an accomplished team would be an understatement. Representing 46 universities/colleges with player accolades to include: All American Awards, various College Awards, Cowles Cup and numerous USSSA All State Tournament Team, All World Team, MVP’s, Best Offensive, Best Defensive and Out-Standing Pitchers in State and World Series competition.

7 Players have played in the National Professional Fast pitch (NPF) program and 5 are currently participating to include: Shanna Diller and Jamie Davison retired from the Rockford Thunder. Whitney Arion is currently playing for PA Rebellion and Kelsi Jones, Kirsten Verdun, Natalie Hernandez and Sammy Marshall currently playing for the Chicago Bandits.

In 1985 Bob Zivic, Dick Wilson, Dave Safstrom and Dave Zagorski brought this self-sponsored team together after a very successful 16U Youth team finished 5th in a 234 team National Tournament. Girls that started with the 12U, 14U & 16U Slammer teams that went on to play on the Women’s teams include: Angela Grabczak, Kelli Zivic, Danielle Zagorski, Abby Wilhelmi, Mandy Wilhelmi, Jessica Wilson, Cassie Dixon, Amy Atteberry, Sarah Ward and Jeanette Piehl. A total of 13 coaches gave their knowledge and skills to establish this team as a dominant force in all Women’s Fast Pitch in the Midwest. Unfortunately, Coach Dave Zagorski and Coach Jim Kresl have passed away. In addition to Bob Zivic, current coaches include Kirk Piehl since 2000 and Dave Wilson joined the team in 2003.

Having no Women’s Program in Indiana and 80% of their players living in Illinois, the Slammers started playing most of their tournaments in Illinois. The Indiana Slammers won the Illinois Women’s State Championships (an unprecedented 6 times) in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014.  And were crowned USSSA World Series Champions in 2008, 2009 and 2011 and were Runners-up in 2012, 2014 and 2015. The Slammers finished 3rd in 2010 and in 2013. When Coach Zivic was asked his biggest win as a coach he replied, “In Women’s Ball, winning our first USSSA World Series in 2008”.

The Indiana Slammers not only play teams in the Midwest but have also played the Chinese Taipei National Team in 2004 and lost by a 2-0 decision. At the time Chinese Taipei was ranked 3rd in the World.

In USSSA Women’s tournament play since 2008 the Slammers have a very impressive 123-20 record. And they are still self-sponsored!

To sum up the Indiana Slammers (by former State Director, Brenda Paulson), “They’re a first class organization! Obviously very competitive but their players, coaches and fans are one the most professional groups I have dealt with over my many years in Fast Pitch or Slow Pitch. It gives me great pleasure that this is the very first Fast Pitch team to be honored by the Illinois USSSA selection committee and elected into the IL USSSA Hall of Honor." Thirty-two past and current players, 13 current and former coaches are represented and approximately 65 additional family members are here tonight to support this great organization!"

Good Luck Indiana Slammers in all future endeavors and welcome into the IL USSSA Hall of Honor, all of your members are most deserving of this honor!

Male Player Category

Joe Ambrose

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.”

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.

Female Player Category

Meghan Murray

Meghan Murray started playing slow pitch softball at the age of five and converted to fast pitch when she entered Minnetonka High School in Minnesota. In her senior year, this starring high school shortstop was awarded a scholarship to the University of Notre Dame.

While playing shortstop all four years at Notre Dame, Meghan was a two-time Academic All-American. Under her leadership, The Irish were the Big East Conference Champions three times and she was named the Big East Player of the Year. After graduation she played one year in the Fast Pitch Pro League with Tampa.

Following her fast pitch career she moved to Illinois in 1999 and started playing slow pitch again for such teams as Guervo Gold, Add-a-Bath and Blackhawk Athletic Club. Meghan always played shortstop and maintained a .500 batting average but she doesn’t remember how many home runs she hit over the years besides a couple memorable ones were on the “bigger fences” at Forest Hills Diamonds. 

On an individual level she was chosen to the All-Tournament Teams in National Invitational Tournaments in 2003, 2004 and 2006 while playing with Cuervo Gold and Add-A-Bath. In 2006, 2008 and again in 2009 she was selected to the All-Tournament Team at the Great Lakes National Tournaments. In 2007, while participating in the Mixed State Tournament, she was awarded All-State Team honors. 

Even though Meghan was a great player and a Field Director/Activities Director on and off the field, some of her most treasured memories are those post-game parking lot parties. One of her favorites included five teams (some from out-of-state), 10 umpires and circle of about 70 people - highlighted by a pizza delivery! Playing in front of her family in Minnesota at a Great Lakes National Tournament was another highlight and the “whole team going to her parent’s house for dinner after the game was amazing”. 

“I love softball. I have since I was a young girl. Fast pitch gave me the opportunity to attend and play at Notre Dame, slow-pitch gave me the opportunity to meet and forge lifelong bonds with friends. I’m committed to paying it forward." 

Meghan is now a volunteer coach for the Lake Forest Softball Program and co-chairs the Laurie Wilson Scholarship Fund started after the passing of her dear friend and teammate.  “The Fund raises money and invests it in young student athletes to ensure they have the opportunity to participate in athletics and learn the same life-lessons I’ve learned,” she added.

Meghan retired in 2012 but her name still appears on the Add-a-bath roster every year, just in case! You never know when you’re going to need a pretty good hitting, retired shortstop, a natural team leader and certainly an Activities Director at the ballpark.

Welcome to the IL USSSA Hall of Fame Meghan Murray, you certainly deserve this honor!

Lifetime Achievement Category

Teddy Giovanni

Over the past 45 years, Teddy has umpired numerous leagues and tournaments in the Joliet area. In addition to umpiring different classifications, Teddy has umpired at the state level, while also doing National Invitational Tournaments.

Teddy's most memorable tournaments are those hosted in Joliet during the "City Tournament."

Teddy enjoys umpiring still today. Umpiring has been very rewarding and he still loves the challenges it presents.

Teddy would like to thank Tim Johnson, Jerry Henry, Mike Mackey, Tom Seddon and Dave Catalini for making this opportunity so rewarding for him.

Teddy has dedicated his time from what was once just a recreational time to a commitment spanning over four decades.

Male Player Category

Jim Walsh

Mark, nicknamed “Ralph” participated with the Shamrocks from 1970 thru 1984. The first baseman swatted numerous homeruns, while posting an outstanding .650 career batting average.

He was a key member of one of the finest softball teams ever to play the game in southern Illinois. The Shamrocks were a very unselfish team that didn’t keep statistics and only kept a scorebook when required to do so.

Mark was a huge part of the Shamrock team that was instrumental in bringing USSSA to Red Bud so many years ago.  He recalls that the team’s participation in the USSSA was the best and we always competed very well, while having a terrific time playing together.