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By John Cardullo, sportswriter
It has quickly become a popular ritual in the state of Rhode Island, and for the last three seasons, when the first week of April is marked down by every hardcore softball player, coach, sponsor and umpire. It is when the year’s class of new Rhode Island Slow Pitch Softball Hall of Famers are selected and made public.
“It has become one of the most anticipated announcements around this area for the last four years,” said the Hall of Famer Vice President Bob Berard. “The first year we began, we were looked at as a passing phase, where everyone thought that only the big named, modern people would be named, but those who were skeptical soon found out that the selection committee and process was very serious and a lot of work goes into creating the ballot of candidates, the research and the naming of that year’s Class of Hall of Famers.”
This year’s selection process was different from years past. In the first three years it was the Executive Committee ,which is made up of President John Cardullo, Vice President Berard, Secretary Scott Sunderland and former members Brian Cipolla. It was done internally among the Board, then Brenda Morrison, Kirby Murphy and Anthony Calabro were added in the second year. The 2020 class was selected but all events were put on hold because of the Pandemic.
The organization’s Secretary Scott Sunderland said, “It is our intention to come up with a plan to either merge the two dinners into one induction ceremony if we are permitted or having two separate induction dinners, making sure that we honor each Hall of Famer properly!” he added, “when we first put this together we all agreed to check our egos at the door, to do the best that we could and honor all those people who deserve to get into the Hall of Fame and to celebrate the sport that we all love. We also decided that by the fourth induction the inducted Hall of Famers should be involved in the selection process. We divided any interested members who wanted to participate into committees and left them alone to do the work and come out with the class of 2021.” Sunderland concluded.
Introducing the Rhode Island Slow Pitch Softball Hall of Fame class of 2021!
The Director’s category: Walter Henry, Warwick’s longtime Recreation Director and the father of competitive softball in Warwick. The late Robert “Bob” Casey of Johnston, he was Johnston’s longtime director and the A.S.A.’s Master’s (seniors) State Director.
The Sponsor’s wing of the Hall of Fame will welcome longtime sponsor in both the Men’s and Women’s program, Ken Kolher whose “Kolher Krew” teams were a State powerhouse. The Elmwood Sports Shop/Center collaborative of Al Rossi, Dominic Piscopello and Steve Marrocco. Their combined efforts supported teams from the early 1980’s until the present season. Scott “Stump” Sunderland as the longtime sponsor of S & S Landscaping who have made its mark not only on the State level, but on the regional and National level as well. Robert Daly of Action Auto Parts, moving from a young competitive team to a Senior Softball mainstay, his 50 years of softball support (and he still plays) is one of Rhode Island’s longest continued run. Finally fixtures of softball sponsorships since the early 1970’s, Jodi DiRaimo and Sonny Russo of the Players Corner Pub/Players Softball Club, proved to be one of the State’s longest and most successful softball franchises.
The newest members that were voted into the Hall of Fame is longtime ASA/USA State Umpire in Chief, Rudy Sanda and former NSA State Umpire in Chief and still is very much involved as a supervisor of officials for the Rhode Island Interscholastic League, Ron Pazienza,
Entering the Coaches wing of the Hall in 2021 will be Ralph Woodmansee from the Southern part of the state who has had a competitive softball team for over 60 years. Joining him will be Dan Perry Sr. known as the coach of both the Leesona Company team, National Plating “A” division team and was involved in many teams over the years. Frank Hogan who spent most of his career at the helm in the Cranston leagues and impacting the State landscape with Kelly’s Sporting Goods and Gem Plating and finally David Almeida who has led the USSSA powerhouse Valley Motors for over 30 years.
Moving into the players category the Women who were selected have been some of the biggest names ever to lace up their cleats. Mo Ford, Lynn Sheedy, Lori DiFilippo-Cirella and Kerri Rizzo were all pioneers in the emergence of women’s softball. The selected Men’s players run through the 1960’s to the 1990’s – Mike Copice, Al “Big Cat” Mello and Bill McCarthy all had careers that began in the 1960’s and finished at the end of the 1970’s. Then Walter “Stretch” Edwards, Doug Haynes, Tony Tager, Ken Andrews and Frank Murphy all began their careers in the 1970’s and most are still playing in the Senior Softball leagues into the 2020’s.
“We feel that we hit the nail on the head in both the women’s and men’s selection this year.” Berard who is an inducted hall of famer himself from the class of 2020, said. “A lot of time went into the selection of these inductees as well. We received a lot of information on each of their careers and the qualification of each candidate and those that weren’t selected this year made the final choices exceedingly difficult.” He added, “that the selected members come from all over the state and the committees should be phrased for the work they put into the naming of this year’s class. That is what makes this whole process special. We want this to be a fraternity of the best of the best who excelled at the sport that we love!”
The calendar of events for this class of Hall of Famers includes a softball tournament in their honor and a golf outing which all the Hall of Fame members both past and present are welcome to play in. The date and location for these events have not been confirmed yet but an announcement will be coming shortly.
The induction dinner for the class of 2021 is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, November 6, 2021 at the Crowne Plaza in Warwick. If Covid-19 protocols allow large gatherings by then, if not, it will be decided how to honor the inducted members of the class of 2020 who because of the pandemic have not had their induction dinner. “We’re working on this situation and coming up with different plans to assure that every inductee gets their special evening.” Berard added.
Wow great story! I played first game 1969 slater park while in high school al. Al cat mello played for fox point social! Tony tager great pitcher all the other names and teams u listed I played against! I hated pitching against Kirby Murphy he could take it out park with any pitch I threw! Lol. we love the game!I had to stop in 2017 hip issues so now I umpire rehoboth town coed league Going to try to play this in league just pitch and see if I can? It would mark 7 decades I would have played in! Now I race horses at plainridge park that gets the juices flow on race day, as did many years ago traveling to tournaments with my softball brothers and sisters!! So MANY GREAT MEMORIES!!! Frank DuBreuil