Half-dozen of softball’s finest inducted into ISC Hall of Fame
By John Thompson
Every sport seems to have one… Have what? A champion…. a gifted player… a builder and administrator…. a well organized manager or a motivational coach.
Yes, all of the above. And so does softball.
And most sports have a Hall of Fame…. and so does the International Softball Congress.
The ISC Hall of Fame originated in 1965 and is located in beautiful Kimberly, WI, and well worth a visit next time you’re in the beautiful Fox River community.
The Class of 2009, inducted into the ISC Hall of Fame on Sunday August 16, included the following six high-achieving stakeholders in the game.
Wes Haymond (Salt Lake City, UT)
Bill Hillhouse, who left high school to travel cross country to Utah to be groomed as a member of the US Youth Team, emphatically stated that “Wes Haymond has done everything in softball for every kind of team – managed, coached, organized.” That is well documented as Haymond has coached in 57 championship tournaments at all levels of the sport, for both male and female players. As well, he has served as an administrator for more than 30 years as a tournament director, president of the Valley Sports Association and administrator for Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation, as well as lead roles in pitching clinics.
Haymond shared “I was taught the administrative aspect of the game by (ISC Executive Director) Ken Hackmeister and enjoyed working with him. Mostly, I enjoyed the games and the parks. From Seattle to Tampa, Victoria, BC to Summerside, PEI, from Montgomery, AL to Kimberly, WI, I would arrive a day early for the tournaments. Whoever had the opportunity to be with me, we would head to the ball park the night before, when the parks were empty, but I could hear the ‘voices’. The voices were the spirit of softball that endures.”
In deference to the ISC, he indicated that his grandson’s name has a certain irony to it. The audience responded heartily when he said “My grandson’s name is Asa”.
Hillhouse summarized “It’s appropriate that Wes’ wife Marnye, and their children and grandchildren are in attendance at the induction as they were certainly at the ball parks for years. Softball – from youth to national teams - owes a great deal to Wes.”
Tom McAvoy (represented by Billy Smith)
The venerable Tom McAvoy was unable to attend his induction due to health challenges. His softball friend Billy Smith of Hankins, NY, nattily attired in his Sunday best, did a credible job sharing how humbled his friend “Mac” is to get a ring, because for McAvoy, “it was always about the ring.”
McAvoy was a baseball player of renown as a youth, with a career that peaked with a major league baseball appearance with the Washington Senators in 1959. Among his athletic accomplishments, Smith stated “Mac struck out Ted Williams - how many people can make that claim?”
McAvoy started his fascinating fastpitch love affair in Schenectady, NY in 1965, amassing local, state and regional championships. In 1992, he brought his Heflin Builders team to his first ever ISC, and finished as high as 4th in the 1999 ISC Worlds.
Smith circulated a “diary-style” book encouraging those present to put pen to paper and share best wishes and sentiments with Mac. In some of the early entries, references to great coach, true gentleman and ambassador were inked.
Smith shared that “Mac has so many friends – you can’t name an enemy. He brought not dozens, but hundreds of players to the game. Many of them – Kiwis, Canadians, Dominicans – have spent time in the McAvoy household in Stillwater, NY. Tom defined the ‘international’ in ISC as he traditionally started the season in the Dominican Republic.”
In closing, Smith held the room in rapt attention in stating that “Mac has pancreatic cancer - he’s a battler – please keep him in your prayers.”
Marley Lloyd introduced himself stating “I’m from Mankato, MN, the home of Happy Chef softball”. Dan Nessler was an outstanding young athlete in Mankato. With a post- high school transition from baseball to softball, Dan was renowned for his speed and bunting prowess and Lloyd stated “Dan was one of the best hitters in the game for 20 years.”
In ISC competition, Dan was All-World four times, twice each with Happy Chef and Penn Corp. During his five years with Penn Corp of Sioux City, he was ISC World Champion three times (1988-89-91).
In accepting the induction Dan shared that in softball, he was “just out having fun.” He acknowledged his batting accomplishments undoubtedly resulted from the fact that “in Sioux City, I got to see a lot of strikes when I was batting between such greats as Bill Boyer and Marty Kernaghan. What great team-mates they were.”
In preparing to be a valued contributor to his team, Nessler stated “When I showed up at the park, I challenged myself – how I can help my team to win today – that’s truly why we’re here.” En route to Quad Cities, Dan, his parents, ex-wife Jo-Anne and children Steven and Loren visited Dyersville, IA for a visit to the “Field of Dreams” movie-set locale where more memories were made on a sunny afternoon.
He closed, stating – “I’m humbled and I’m honored. Thank you.”
Conrad Margolis, executive with the Vancouver Grey Sox, introduced “a man that I have known and admired for 20 years – Mike Piechnik. In the early days, Mike was one of the best in BC, and then his fame spread across Canada, and now, he’s one of the best ever.”
Margolis recalled the “gigantic battles in BC that pitted Mike with Darren Zack and that as a human being – “Mike is a fine person – a family man, a devout Christian – and a pitcher that I would not hesitate to take in any single game match-up with any team.”
Mike is a nine-time ISC All-World selection, 4th in career pitching wins (49) and was the starting pitcher the last time Canada won the ISF World Championship in Manila in 1992.
Mike provided an emotional response, recalling this is the moment that “started out as a game of catch with my brother in the back yard. I feel like a ‘fish out of water’ – because now I can’t play. I’m happy to sit on the bench tonight – and I never liked to sit on the bench. Thanks to the Vancouver Grey Sox for one game this tournament – what a class softball organization.”
Piechnik recalls that he got the nick-name “Peaches” from the late Russ Boice – perhaps because Boice had difficulty getting the linguistics correct on “Piechnik”.
Mike thanked his first coach Ron Hill who “made the game fun and exciting. When we win a tournament or I receive an award, I always phone and continue to thank him. Coaches can make a difference in some-one’s life – and Ron Hill did for me.”
To the surprise of many in the audience, Piechnik confessed that he actually “announced my retirement in the early 1990s. Then the accident happened (death of Paul Magan) and I got called to play in Sioux City. I have been so blessed since 1993.”
Mike continued - “Sometimes, to myself I sing that Johnny Cash song – ‘I’ve Been Everywhere.”
He thanked venerable Rod Peterson for “giving me my start in the game in 1985 – he taught me about life and integrity in this sport. As well, he blessed me with time with his Dad, a guy with great wisdom. I love elderly wisdom.”
Mike thanked two ISC catchers who contributed to his career success – “Doug Chase (HoF 2008) brought the very best out of me, and Tim Wahl (HoF 2007) should be on the all-universe team. Those two and others have provided me with the best of the best catchers.”
Mike acknowledged the importance of the “many great umpires – and many of them are here this morning”. He followed up, with tongue in cheek – “What did you expect? - I might be still playing next year” resulting in a good-natured round of laughter.
In closing, a visibly emotional Mike stated “my wife Heather loves this game – she supported my desire to play – and gave me her personal encouragement to ‘throw smoke, work hard and have fun’ - anyone playing this game realizes that when you leave the house with that kind of family support it means so much. God has given me a gift that I have been blessed with.”
Denny Bruckert (ISC HoF 2008) recalled the arrival of Michael White in Decatur, IL. “When Mike came to Decatur, he already had a resume for inclusion in the ISC Hall of Fame.”
With time, came more accomplishments and Michael White is now the leading pitcher in ISC history (70 wins) having led teams to 11 ISC/ASA Championships. He has been named to 10 All-World and 10 All-American teams in addition to his five combined MVP Pitcher awards in the two organizations. And don’t forget that perfect game in the 1996 ISF gold-medal championship game when his native Black Sox shut-out Canada.
In addressing the audience, Mike predicted a daunting task of taking 27 years and compressing into today’s single moment in time. He recalled the fork-in-the-road that he encountered as a New Zealand teen-ager. As a member of the national soccer team, a much anticipated trip to Fiji was cancelled. The other option was to respond to Art Gillis’ beckoning to come to the USA and play softball in Michigan…. to follow in the spike-strides of legendary Kiwi pitcher Kevin Herlihy.
In an unsuccessful attempt to mask his emotions, Mike thanked the softball community for its response to his family having “reached out” and how he and his wife Lisa and children were “over-whelmed with the response” to his daughter’s surgery. His report that “Sidney is doing well – she got the treatment she needed” was received enthusiastically by the audience.
White summarized “Every year, I looked forward to the ISC tournament – the greatest event next to the ISF World Championships. Now, I have a new job (ladies Softball Coach at University of Oregon) in the game I love and we’re optimistic for Sidney.”
Rob Wills had the unique experience of introducing his father Bob Wills. Rob recalled that at the Green Valley Park yesterday, he saw a player carrying a baby prior to the opening ceremonies and that reminded him of his childhood. Quite simply, he stated “I grew up at the ball park.” It was time well spent with his father, Bob. Bob grew up in northern Michigan and began playing ISC ball in 1964 for the defending champion Downey Impalas. He later played for the legendary Long Beach Nitehawks, a team that already has 18 inductees in the Hall of Fame. Bob played in eight ISC tournaments, and was a member of the 1971 champion Nitehawks. In 1972, he was the leading hitter, threw a no-hitter on the mound and was named the tournament’s MVP. His personal work ethic and life’s journey has taken him many summers and two full years for mission work in Guatemala. Not letting an opportunity pass, he was involved in management of the Central American country’s men’s and ladies’ national softball teams. Currently, he is involved in administration and the softball coach at Capital Christian High School in Sacramento Ca.
Emotional closing – thanks from Mac :
Utilizing available technology, at the end of the induction introductions, the approximate 200 people in attendance focused on Billy Smith’s telephone located next to the podium microphone.
On third outgoing ring, “Please leave a message” brought a wave of laughter, but seconds later, the audience strained to hear the words of a female voice – that of Tom McAvoy’s wife Jean – “Hold on Billy”.
Tom McAvoy, as he did in so many ways in his baseball and fastball careers, and through-out his life, made every effort to do the right thing. He wanted to thank his peers.
Smith handled his moderator role effectively, and led the conversation “Mac, it’s Billy and I’m here at the breakfast – looking directly at Denny Bruckert, Larry Lynch and so many others who want to hear from you. How’re you doing?”
A slightly frail voice, familiar to so many in the room, responded “I’m doing all right – just a little tired. All I want to do is sleep, but I’m doing all right. Thanks to the ISC, Ken, the coaches and all the players….”
Billy referred to a list of players that he and McAvoy felt should be acknowledged, and Billy inquired “is that list of softball players who have passed through your home - is it in the hundreds?”
Mac responded – “That’s right”, and ever the optimist, he concluded “And there should be more.”
Billy summarized McAvoy’s challenge in fastball terms – “Mac, you’re going to war. It’s the bottom of the 6th, and you’re down by four – if anybody can do it, you can. We want to see you in Midland, Michigan (2010 ISC Tournament) next August.”
In a room hanging on every word of the conversation, Tom’s final thoughts wafted through-out the Paradise Ballroom of the Bettendorf Isle Casino Hotel in Quad Cities – “To everyone, I love you guys – God bless you! I’ll be there in Midland.”
Player candidates must have demonstrated outstanding playing ability during their playing years in ISC tournaments and ISC affiliated leagues, must have been inactive for at least five years or have reached their forty-fifth birthday when nominated, must have played in at least five world tournaments and must have been named to the All-World (All-America)