Fondy Softball Hall Makes Another Call

HOF_logoBY Michael Casper

Every other summer a banquet is held honoring Fond du Lac’s best softball players. This is that summer, and founding father of the hall’s organization, Kenny Herr gave me a short history of the organization and its inception.

“It was 1998 when Dick Bestor, Tom Rausch, Bob Rundle and I got together,” Ken said “thinking it was time to put together a hall of fame. We created some bylaws, policies on how we would elect people into the hall, and so on.”

The “Hall” didn’t really start out as a hall.

“We had a kiosk,” Ken said “in the Forest Mall. But we quickly ran out of room. We then took over the west hallway wall that had a mural painted on it. We came up with a design, and built it.”

In 1999 the first class boasted the largest number of inductees.

“We had it set up for thirty the first year,” Ken said “the second year twenty, the third year ten, and then after that it was a maximum of six, and a minimum of one. The male players had have played for at least ten years, and be at least 40 years old. For the women they had to have played for eight years, and be at least 35 years old to be eligible.”

There are special exemptions, and exceptions.

“If there was anyone who was of all-star caliber,” Ken explained “who maybe had passed away, or had some other extenuating circumstance, who we think may have reached the level of ‘hall of fame,’ if they could have continued playing. We have one player so far, who fell into that category who was killed in a car accident.”

It’s not only players who are considered.

“We have umpires, managers, sponsors. We have contributors, those who are directly involved with the program. And we have another group under the ‘meritorious service’ heading. Those who are indirectly involved, for instance Bob Rundle from the Recreation Department, Curly Klaetsche from Klaetsch’s Sporting Goods, and so on.”

Ken says that softball is still a popular recreational team sport.

“Numbers are still very good. But it’s become more of a ‘participation’ sport, rather than a ‘competitive’ sport. Back in the day, people wanted to be good, and wanted to play at the top level against good teams. These days the interest in playing on weekends, and traveling to tournaments, and playing at high levels isn’t quite as much a priority as it once was. Over the years it’s become more a sport for something to do, ‘participate in’ instead of it being played at a high level of competition.”

The dinner is open to the public, and will be held at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Fond du Lac, and only $20 per person.

“It’s an amazing banquet,” Ken said. “Dale and Helen Fridley run the banquet, and it’s really first class.”

The Fond du Lac Softball Hall of Fame dinner and induction ceremony will be Friday night, August 14th. Cocktails begin at 5, dinner at 6:30. It’s open to the public, and tickets can be purchased in advance at the Rec Department, 85 Morningside Drive in Fond du Lac. For more information, call 920-929-2885.

HOF_TODD_BONLANDER_photoTodd Bonlander
Growing up in a sports-minded family, Todd started his career in Little League Baseball followed by playing baseball at Fond du Lac High School and the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point. After his baseball career was over he switched to softball and reached very lofty levels of success at the local, state and national level of competition.

In the Fond du Lac Softball Leagues he played for The King and I, Carol’s Korners, Ramjets, Cheers, Clubbers, Maurys on Main, Googles, Sports Page,
Frenchies, Dillingers and The Pressbox . While playing on these teams he was a powerhouse hitter and an excellent defensive first base man. He and his teammates won many League Championships and as well as a host of local tournaments during his playing career.

His greatest softball accomplishments were at the State and National Tournaments. Todd has played on an unprecedented 3 ASA 10-Man National Championship Teams with Dillingers in 2002, 2003 and 2006. He was named to the 1st Team All American Modified Team in 1995, 2001, 2003 and 2006. He also earned the Batting Championship at the 2003 Tournament. His latest highlight was playing with The Press Box and winning the national title at the 2014 National Tournament held in Fond du Lac.

His Dillinger’s manager, Tom Rausch, said Todd is considered “the best overall 1st baseman in the State of Wisconsin and at the National level, in his generation, to play modified softball.”

HOF_Dave_GrossDave Gross
In 1988 Dave Gross pursued his dream of being the owner of a local tavern. He bought into Cheers on Third Street and was in business at that location until 1995. Following that venture he had a full time job with General Beverage, but he still had the strong desire to be in the tavern business. He bought the former Thatchers Tavern at the entrance to Lakeside Park. He called his new business Cheers II, and operated that location from 2002 through 2009.

Dave sponsored 68 teams in 1993-94-95 and at Cheers II he sponsored 93 teams from 2004 through 2007. Those two periods of his ownership were the highest involvement in sponsorship coupled with the other years of operation brought his sponsorship total to an amazing 240 teams.

With most tavern owners in Fond du Lac the decision to sponsor sports teams is a business decision first and foremost with the hope that the fees spent on sponsoring would bring clients into the tavern and boost income for the business. This was not the only driving force in Dave’s decision making process. He had a love of baseball from his early childhood days that transformed into a love of softball in his adult years. Dave played in the softball leagues from 1981-2004 with Caddy Shack, Bases Loaded, and his Cheers and Cheers II teams.

HOF_TuffyMunsonTuffy Munson
As a player, his father always said, “Play at a level where players, coaches and fans take notice of your ability to play the game.” Tuffy considers himself lucky to have had his wife Kathy and his children Haley, Weston and Sam at almost every game he played. His family’s lives evolved around baseball and softball and they are very proud to be a part of the Softball Family.

During his playing career which started in 1978, he played for: The Fond du Lac All Star Team, Jim’s 8 Ball Inn, Rocky’s Bar, Ironside Batteries, Ledgeview Lanes, Bug Haus, Strooks, Bernward Hall, Terry’s Bar, Irishs, Miller’s Bar, Buffalo Bills, The 4 Mile House, Vans, Sullys, Klotz’s Bar, Wally’s Pub, Bovee’s Bar and Tesch & Associates. In 1992 Tuffy suffered a very serious, near-career ending accident at his workplace and that injury involved an extensive 6-year rehabilitation. In 1999 he resumed playing for Sully’s Bar and retired due to the effects of his injury in 2001.

Tuffy played in more than 1500 games and maintained a career batting average of approximately 690. He accrued two County Home Run Derby Championships, 49 League Championships, 80 wins in USSSA Tournaments, 125 total tournament wins, and 23 times he was named the Tournament MVP.
Because of the things he learned while playing, he was able to coach his sons and help them to achieve a level of play that allowed them to be drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers and the Atlanta Braves.

HOF_GeorgeRieseGeorge “The Bear” Riese
George participated in organized softball from 1975 thru 2004, playing in the Northern, Classic, Eastern, and Olympic Slow Pitch leagues. As a first base man, George played for Wirtz Decorating, Lorenzen Agency, Jim’s 8 Ball, Googles, and Sully’s in the Fond du Lac leagues and with Wisconsin Aluminum from Manitowoc at select tournaments.

A Fond du Lac fan favorite, George hit for average as well as big power in the slow pitch game. He held a batting average of just over .550 for his career and his teams sported a win/loss record of over .750. His hitting power was evident by the following examples: On four different occasions he hit five homer runs in a game and on eight different occasions he hit four home runs in a game. During his years in softball, George hit over 1500 home runs in league and tournament play.

George was an outstanding first base man who covered a lot of ground with his exceptional long reach and stretch. In league play, George’s teams were: Classic League Champions 12 times. This was considered the highest level and competitive league in the city. He also captured Northern League and Olympic League Champions 8 times, each, and Eastern League Champions 7 times. On the tournament trail, Wirtz Decorating won a State Championship in 1981, and annually played in Regional and National Tournaments. Playing in local and area tournaments under the banner of various sponsors listed above, he and his teammates won over 50 different tournaments.

HOF_Dan_SweetDan Sweet – Umpire
Dan began his umpiring career when an assigned umpire failed to show up for a game in the “Country Gentleman’s League” in the late 1970’s. Although he only worked one game that year, something clicked and he became interested in that aspect of the game.

Working as an umpire took him to a variety of area softball hotspots including Fond du Lac, North Fond du Lac, Lomira, St. Peter, Theresa, Eden and Campbellsport for league softball. He also worked in many tournaments hosted by the same cities and towns. Some of his favorite tournaments were the Women’s Slow Pitch and the Men’s Moderate Pitch Tournaments held each year in St. Peter. On a larger scale, Dan worked many state qualifiers and state tournaments on the United States Slow Pitch Association circuit which included both Men’s and Women’s Tournaments. He also worked the Borderline Bash Tournament that was held in North Fond du Lac and Fond du Lac.

Dan’s desire to become a better umpire required him to attend National Umpire Clinics in Chicago, Indianapolis, Louisville and Milwaukee. Attending these clinics enhanced one of his strongest assets as an umpire—his knowledge of the rules of the game and how to apply them.

In 1991, the umpiring crew he worked with received the Wisconsin USSSA Award of Merit for the work that they did at State and National Tournaments held in Wisconsin. In 1994 he was recognized by Fond du Lac Softball, Inc. for his contributions to softball in the Fond du Lac area.

HOF_MikeCasillasMike Casillas
Mike was raised on a cotton farm owned by his grandfather until he was 11 years old. On the farm is where his grandfather taught him how to pitch, throw, and bat. In little league Mike got his start by hitting home runs and striking out batters. He then moved to Wisconsin, and when of age, enlisted in the military.

After his discharge from the military, he happened into Dr. Joe’s Tavern and that’s where his outstanding softball career began.

During his career, Mike “Cazzy” Casillas earned MVP awards at 16 different tournaments which included the following state tournaments: 1987 Class B, 1989 USSSA State, 1991 State Major, 1993 Class A State, and 2006 Class C State.

In 1987 State ASA Commissioner Bob Splam presented Mike with awards for outstanding achievement as an MVP and outstanding Achievement as a pitcher. Other pitching accomplishments include 2 no-hit games and many 1-5 hitters. “Cazzy” was not a one-dimensional player — He could hit for average and had over 100 home runs in his career.

Because of his reputation as a great pitcher, Mike played on 28 teams in the area during his career. Because of his knowledge of the game, he coached his son’s little league team for many years and his daughter’s team for two years. He was also hired by the Markesan School District as a pitching coach for their girl’s fast pitch team. He held that position for three years.

HOF_MarkLefeberMark Lefeber
From from 1973 to 1986, Mark “Bones” Lefeber was a premier shortstop who played that position as well as any shortstop in the Fond du Lac Softball League’s proud history. He competed in the Classic Slow Pitch League, the Businessman’s League, the Morning Moderate, Industrial Slow Pitch and Eastern Slow Pitch Leagues.

Mark played for area tennis including Roadhouse Pizza, Strohs, Soo Line, McGray’s, Dr. Joes, Sportshop, Groeschel’s Excavating, Rocky’s, and North Aluminum.

As a leadoff hitter, Mark maintained a very good batting average. He did not keep personal statistics during his career but during a period of a few years with the Soo Line team, records were kept and Mark’s batting average was .600 or better each year. A highlight of his career centered around one year when he played Monday and Wednesday in the Businessman’s league with Roadhouse, the Tuesday Moderate Pitch League in North Fond du Lac with Groeschel’s, and the Soo Line in the Thursday Night Industrial League. Including tournaments and all league games in that year, the combined record of the three teams was 109 wins and 3 losses.

Mark’s skills on defense and offense lead him to being named MVP in several tournaments and on the All Tournament Team in the State Industrial Tournament. When his team was not playing in a tournament, Mark was in high demand to play shortstop and be the leadoff hitter for many other teams.

HOF_KellyObrienKelly O’Brien
Kelly’s softball career began long before she was ever on a softball team. It began in her backyard at an early age with her brothers, neighbors, cousins and her dad, who was her first coach.

Kelly played softball at Campbellsport High School and went on to play at UW Fond du Lac for two years. She started playing in Fond du Lac for Maury’s On Main and was playing ball five nights a week and nearly every weekend in a tournament. She played for Hopper’s, Jack’s Team Sports, Cheers, Clubbers, Press Box, Green Acres, Woody’s, Culley’s, K.B. Lettering and Health Hut.

Her national resume includes ASA and USSSA Tournaments in 1992, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2002 at Athens, Tennessee where her team finished 2nd, 2004 in Auburndale, Florida placing 7th, 2005 and 2006 at Disney Wide World of Sports in Florida where they finished in 3rd place. Kelly won numerous tournament team awards, but one of her biggest accomplishments was at the 2002 Women’s Class C Tournament in Athens, Tennessee where she received the Batting Champion Award for an amazing batting average of .833 along with All-American Honors.

HOF_PaulWagnerPaul Wagner
Paul’s Fond du Lac Softball career began as a 3 year old bat boy for the two-time FdL County Moderate Pitch Champs, Green Acres Supper Club. As a kid growing up in Dotyville, he always dreamt of playing in Fond du Lac under the lights at Lakeside Park as his father had.

Paul received his first call to play at the park from his cousin Todd Jahns and his partner in crime, Sara Mietzel. As a 19 year old he played for Pat Lloyd and the Sports Page softball team and the rest, as they say, is history.

He played for Irish’s Pub, Arden Wendt and Ellison Electric, Dave “Dad” Gross and Cheers before making what he calls “the best decision of my life,” to play for Tom “The Rat” Rausch and the Greatest show on Dirt…Dillinger’s of Fond du Lac. He committed to Tom Rausch and the gang the summer of 1994 and decided to call it a career in 2009.

In the 17 year span, they won 10 WISAS State Championships in 11 years and three ASA National Modified Championships with two runners-up and several league championships at the Park.

Some of Paul’s many memories of playing at the park include winning state championships, hitting a tournament walk-off home run, winning a National Tournament, being inducted into the WISAS Hall of Fame….All of which took place at Lakeside Park. Not too bad for a kid from the Holyland!!

HOF_DaleRockDale Rock
Dale grew up at the ballpark watching several of his father, Gordon Jr’s teams play over the years. Dale’s career started in 1988 playing slow pitch for the Press Box, followed by stints with Ramjets, and & Caddy Shack (where they won the USSSA 1995 Ohio Valley Regional Class E Championship) and Taco Bell.

He was the ultimate throw back player as he excelled at playing modified equally as well as slow pitch. On the modified side, he enjoyed his most success while playing for state and national powerhouse, Dillinger’s. Dale also played for Sports Page, Arbuckle’s, and Subway/Frenchies. Rock was a member of the Fond du Lac’s first ASA state championship winning team while playing for Arbuckle’s in 1993.

Rock was a manager’s dream. Although he wasn’t one of the bigger guys on the field, he hit for power, average, stole bases and when you needed a bunt, he was more than capable. It also didn’t hurt to have range, speed, with a strong and accurate arm. He was an outspoken, aggressive, and fierce competitor who’s will to win didn’t always translate to the casual observer/fan, but those who truly understand him, know him as supportive teammate and fun loving guy.

In 2003, Dale played on Dillinger’s Slow Pitch team in its record setting 63-22 playoff victory. In 2006, he won a national championship while playing for Dillinger’s. In 2007 at the ASA National Championships, he earned All-American honors as an outfielder helping Dillinger’s to a second place finish. Dale has played for five state championship teams, two national championship teams, two national runner-up teams and several league and local tournament champions.

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