Jul 29, 2022 - Sports

16-inch softball's new HOF class

Photo of a group of people posing for photos on bleachers.
Friends and family gather around Joanie McElligott such a big hono (center, blue shirt). She was recently inducted into the Chicago 16-inch Softball Hall of Fame. Photo: Justin Kaufmann/Axios

More than 300 people gathered Tuesday evening to celebrate the newest inductees into the Chicago 16-inch Softball Hall of Fame.

Why it matters: This unique local sport, played on hundreds of park diamonds across the city and suburbs throughout the summer, is woven into our cultural fabric.

Backstory: Started in 1887, the 16-inch game uses a larger, softer ball and is played by purists without gloves.

  • "Gloves are for boxing," 1999 inductee Linda "Chick" Lillis tells Axios. "We don't box."

Lillis grew up playing softball in the famed Kelly Park on the Southwest Side.

  • "I shagged fly balls for all the big-name teams: the Bobcats, the American Rivet, the Flamingos," Lillis tells Axios.
  • "I graduated high school before Title IX, so softball was the only way to compete in athletics."
Photo of a woman playing softball
Linda "Chick" Lillis. Photo: Justin Kaufmann/Axios

2022 inductee Joanie McElligott got the softball bug at 14 years old. She's played mostly at North Side parks with teams like Red Dog and Chaos, which she also manages.

  • "It's such a big honor," McElligott says. "I'm still trying to wrap my head around it."
  • "Sixteen-inch softball makes friends for life."

Hall of Fame vice president Ray Topps Jr. has been playing the game for 55 years.

  • "I have more friends in softball than any other part of my life. Every conversation ends up at softball."
Photo of a man on a bench posing for a photo.
Hall of Famer Sterling Spencer has been playing softball for 49 years, mainly in Washington Park, Blue Island and Garfield Park. Photo: Justin Kaufmann/Axios

What's next: The annual No Glove Nationals 16-inch Softball Tournament, the country's premier tournament, takes place in Forest Park this weekend.

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