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Dec. 1, 2013
SSUSA Inducts 3 into Hall of Fame
By Jack Sirard and Ross McCulligan
Softball News Report
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Senior Softball-USA has inducted three new members into its Hall of Fame during the organization’s annual convention here in December.
Among those inducted were Terry Hennessy, chief executive officer of SSUSA; Benny Villaverde, the architect of the senior softball in Hawaii and Steve Simmons, a SSUSA national director who developed the national senior clubs and leagues program.
Both Steve Simmons and Benny Villaverde died last year.
In addition, Guy Grasso was inducted into the SSUSA Hall of Fame in Las Vegas during the Southwest Championships this spring because of a serious family illness prevented him from traveling here.
The Senior Softball Hall of Fame was launched in 2009 to honor those who have made significant contributions to the game both on and off the field.
Hennessy, who chaired the convention, was caught off guard by his election. Fran Dowell, executive director, put the wheels in motion months before the convention took place, even flying Hennessy’s daughter, Jayme, in to attend the banquet.
Hennessy began his career at Senior Softball in 1994 and became executive director under then owner Bob Mitchell in 1997. In 2002, Hennessy and partner Bill Ruth purchased the organization from Mitchell, with Hennessy becoming CEO.
Even through some tough economic times Hennessy has managed to keep Senior Softball alive and well throughout the country as it has grown to become the largest softball organization in the world. He has also had a critical part in extending the SSUSA boundaries internationally.
Senior Softball-USA has brought international tournament teams to Europe, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Australia and New Zealand. Hennessy has also played in Japan for nearly a decade as part of a program with Japan’s Ministry of Health and Sports.
In speaking of her father, Jayme Hennessy said that “my dad has always said if you live life with integrity, honesty, and fairness, that everything will work out.
“My father’s love for baseball started at a young age, as soon as he was able to hold a ball. He grew up in St. Paul, MN, playing ball in back yards, empty fields, and alleys with his brothers and other neighborhood kids.”
She noted that after 25 years in the newspaper business, “Senior Softball USA captured his heart: he understood it to be a special and unique organization, seeing what it stood for and imagining what it could be.”
Senior Softball lost one of the champions of the sport last year when Steve Simmons died at age 67 after a tragic accident.
He was an SSUSA National Director, but he meant much more than that to the organization – and to the sport itself.
Simmons had been instrumental in every facet of senior softball. He was a major force in the National Senior Softball Summit, helped create the SSUSA Clubs and Leagues program, created the very popular Recreational Tournament Circuits, was an exceptional tournament director, a member of the National Rules Committee – and, most important – he loved to play softball.
Simmons’ team, Minnesota Prize Co., this year won the 65 Division World Masters Championships in Las Vegas. Simmons was a fierce competitor, an avid softball player and a talented director who enjoyed running senior softball tournaments all over the country. He played baseball or softball every year of his life since he was a child.
The third inductee, Benny Villaverde, was called one of the ambassadors of Senior Softball and was inducted into the Hall of Fame posthumously. Benny, 85, died a year ago in Honolulu.
He had been the Hawaii state director for 20 years when he was named national director emeritus and official ambassador of Senior Softball in 2005 for his dedication and work in developing and growing senior softball throughout Hawaii.
Villaverde was not only one of the prime movers in developing senior softball, but for many years was an excellent player, which is not surprising given his gifted baseball career in Hawaii.
Over the past 15 years, he was active developing senior softball in Japan, helping to gather teams and acting as SSUSA ambassador at several tournaments in Hawaii. In addition, he attended all of the National Senior Softball Summits and SSUSA/ISA Conventions, adding wit and bringing Hawaiian hospitality.
Guy Grasso, who was inducted into the SSUSA Hall of Fame in Las Vegas in the Player Category during the Southwest Championships this spring, is 81 years old and lives in Las Vegas. Guy was born in New Jersey and won a baseball scholarship to Stetson University. He was signed with the Yankees as a pitcher in September 1951.
He went on two road trips with the Yankees and pitched batting practice for them in the 1951 World Series. He then served in the Army from 1952-54. In 1954, he was named “Outstanding Rookie Pitcher’ of the year with a 15-3 record.
Grasso hurt his arm in 1955 and became a fireman. He got back in the game with softball in 1985.
He made his mark in senior softball, winning World Championships with the So Cal Knights, D-99, Texas Classics and Center for Sight. Grasso currently plays for the 80-year-old Elk Grove, CA, team.
During most of senior softball career, Grasso played with one kidney, had three major knee surgeries (including 2 new knees), a hip replacement and an implantable heart defibrillator and diabetes.
Guy has played in 6 international tours and is known as one of the most powerful hitters in each age group within which he has competed.
SSUSA’s top award for 2013, the Award of Excellence, went to the Las Vegas Senior Softball Association for “excellent partnership in producing the biggest tournament in America.”
Other awards included:
The Executive Director Award to Doug Robbins, National Director from California.
Tournament Director of the Year to Don Brooks, National Director from Texas.
Umpire of the Year to Donna McGuire of Missouri.
Regional Director of the Year to Michael Boone of New Jersey.
2013 Complex of the Year to Papago Softball Complex in Phoenix.
Next Year’s Convention will be in Tupelo, Mississippi from Dec. 2-5, 2014.