USSSA Introduces New Leadership; Celebrates New Complex, NPF Title, Six New Hall of Fame at 51st National Meeting

By Mark Linnemann

Temecula, Ca.—The United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA) signaled the dawn of a new era in Temecula, CA., as it introduced a new Chief Executive Officer and a new Chairman of the Board of Directors, and rolled out a new leadership team at its 51st Annual National Meeting.

The world’s largest multi-sport governing body also celebrated the success of its professional fast pitch team, new sports complex, and hosting the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WSBC) Women’s Baseball World Cup. The Association also welcomed six new members into its Hall of Fame, and passed seven Constitutional amendments, seven slow pitch rule changes, and six slow pitch by-law changes.

Convention attendees luxuriated in the newly expanded Pechanga Resort & Casino, which is nestled in Temecula’s picturesque Southern California Wine Country. Directors and other guests enjoyed the resort’s award-winning Journey at Pechanga golf course and the largest casino on the west coast, while also exploring Temecula Valley and savoring wine tastings at the more than 40 available wineries.

Transitioning from his previous role of Executive Vice President to CEO was Don DeDonatis III, son of retiring USSSA Chairman of the Board, Executive Director and CEO, Don DeDonatis. Assistant Executive Director Rick Fortuna was elected the organization’s new Chairman of the Board of Directors.

It was Don DeDonatis Sr. whose vision and drive led USSSA into a 15-year partnership with Walt Disney World and a relocation from Petersburg, Va., to Celebration, Fl., then to Kissimmee, Fl., before settling into Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Fl. in 2017.

“I’m grateful to my dad,” said DeDonatis Jr. in his “CEO welcome” on Monday, “for all he has done for this organization and of course, for all the incredible life lessons he has taught me. Without his leadership and vision, it is safe to say none of us would be sitting in this room today.”

Focusing on the theme of the convention – “ONE USSSA” – DeDonatis stressed the importance of “working together.

“USSSA is at an exciting point in its history,” he said. “It is clear to me as I take on the responsibility of CEO, that I cannot be successful without each of you in this room. To accomplish our goals, we will work together to innovate, communicate and operate seamlessly across the country. This will ensure that anyone involved with our organization experiences quality and consistency as we deliver world class sporting events and experiences to enrich and educate the lives of participants at all ages and levels of competition.

“It’s my turn to push forward and not leave any ideas unexplored,” he continued. “Our USSSA world has been evolving. And in the last year, I can honestly say, we’ve made dramatic changes. Our people, our technology, our processes, and the information we are using to drive our business have all changed. What is certainly not different is the commitment we bring as ‘ONE USSSA’ to growth and success.

“I’m looking forward to serving in this role and am confident that as ‘ONE USSSA,’ the future holds amazing things for us,” concluded DeDonatis. “So this week, as we leave Temecula and go back to work and play USSSA, please minimize regrets and don’t be afraid to fail, take initiative and be idealistic, and dream big like we always have as ‘ONE USSSA.”

In his Chairman of the Board “Keynote Address” on Tuesday, Rick Fortuna reflected on 2018 as “a time of change and transition” that witnessed “a lot of positive changes.

“But now is the time to pivot towards the future, and the Board looks at 2019 as ‘the Year of the Director,’” said Fortuna.

“We want to change our strategic focus based on improving infrastructure – such as financial processes, IT, and director services – as well as providing more opportunities that will benefit all of our directors,” he stressed. “I’ve always believed that USSSA is a ground-up association. The directors in the field are the lifeblood of this organization. And I look forward – and I know our Board does too – to helping provide more opportunities for all of our directors to grow and flourish.

“I also look forward to working with Donny and his excellent leadership team to help make all the things possible that we want to accomplish in 2019,” Fortuna continued. “I hope everybody has a great week. We truly appreciate that you are here.”

Following Fortuna’s remarks, DeDonatis introduced his new leadership team through a video. Team members include: D. J. Wabick, Vice President of Sports Development and International; Brian Wegman, Vice President of Sports Development and Strategy; Scott Wruble, Vice President of Information Technology; Emily Moak, General Manager of Space Coast Complex; and Kevin Reynolds, Vice President of Business Development.

USSSA’s professional fast pitch team, the USSSA Pride, completed their 10th season as a member of the National Professional Fastpitch league by capturing a league-leading 7th regular season title and 4th Cowles Cup. The team capped off their historic season with a three-game sweep of the Chicago Bandits, helping them to a franchise record 42-win season.

Also, at USSSA’s spectacular new state-of-the art 15-field Space Coast Complex in Viera, the Association welcomed over 100,000 participants in its first year. The facility boasts the latest in sports technology, where players can view every play on the HD video boards, and watch every game streamed live at usssa.live.com. The complex not only hosted the Pride and Women’s Baseball World Cup, but also USSSA’s most prominent national events. These included the USSSA Space Coast World Series, the USSSA Select 30 Baseball Tournament, All-American Games for both baseball and fastpitch, the USA World Series for softball, and the USA Elite Select for fastpitch.

The 8th WBSC Women’s Baseball World Cup hosted at Space Coast August 22-31 showcased the best female baseball players in the world, and marked the first time the biennial event has been held in the United States. The 12 teams played a record 50 games, with every game produced and available to global audiences for the first time ever as part of a host broadcasting agreement between the WBSC and USSSA.

Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony

Inducted into the 2018 USSSA Hall of Fame were (left to right): John Keigley (CA), Victor Cordova (CA), Megan Willis (CA) and Ken Dirks (NE). Not pictured is Natasha Watley and Doug Morrison.

USSSA inducted six new members into its National Hall of Fame. They were: Victor Cordova (CA) and John Keigley (CA) in the male player category; Natasha Watley (CA) and Megan Willis (CA) in the female player category; and Ken Dirks (NE) and Doug Morrison (MO) in the director category.

Also announced during the 51st Annual Meeting was the National Hall of Fame class of 2019. The six inductees will include: Doug Berfeldt (MN) and Brian Rainwater (GA) in the male player category; Christan Dowling (WA) in the female player category; Eddie Small (VA) in the director category; Wally Fortuna (KS) in the executive category; and Hayes LeMay (AR) in the sponsor category.

The six will be inducted during a Hall of Fame banquet at the USSSA National Meeting on November 17-21, 2019 at the Sanibel Harbour Marriott Resort & Spa, Ft. Myers, FL.

About USSSA: USSSA is headquartered in Viera, Florida. USSSA is the world’s largest multi-sport athletic organization. Founded in 1968, USSSA has grown to over 4 million participants, competing in 14 nationally sanctioned sports including Baseball, Fastpitch, Slow Pitch, Karate, Basketball, Soccer and more! USSSA is an Associate Member of the WBSC. For more information about USSSA, visit www.usssa.com and follow USSSA on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

2018 National Meeting Awards

National Headquarters Award of Excellence Award: Jim Pilla, NJ

National Headquarters Award of ExcellenceJim Pilla (NJ) with Stacy Loving.

Dwight Hall Spark Plug of the Year Awards:

Slow Pitch: John Norman, VA; Kelly O’Bryan-McLemore, KS

Dwight Hall Sparkplug of the Year (Slow Pitch) (left to right): Kelly O’Bryan-McLemore (KS), Kevin Naegele and John Norman (VA).

Baseball: Gary Godden, NY

Dwight Hall Sparkplug of the Year (Baseball)  Gary Godden (right) with Joey Odom (left).

Basketball: Will Roark, AR

Fast Pitch: Karen Wright, TX

Dwight Hall Sparkplug of the Year (Fast Pitch)  Karen Wright (TX).

USSSA Official and Umpires of the Year Award:

USSSA Official of the Year: Victor Canales, IN

USSSA Official of the YearVictor Canales from IN. (left) with National UIC, Charles “Doc” Beckwell (right).

USSSA Softball Umpire of the Year: Jason Oberlag, AR

GSL Softball Umpire of the Year: Joe Norris, PA

USSSA Fast Pitch Umpire of the Year: Shaun Dustin, UT

USSSA UIC of the Year: John Hart, MA

Director of the Year Awards:

Fast Pitch: Jeff Kittle, PA

Director of the Year (Fast Pitch)  Jeff Kittle (PA)

Baseball: Dennis Dick, OH; Kory Scaringe, IN

Director of the Year (Baseball)- Dennis Dick from OH. (right) with Joey Odom (left).

Slow Pitch: Ken Hawk, AR

Director of the Year (Slow Pitch)  Ken Hawk from AR. (right) with Kevin Naegele (left).

GSL Softball: Tom Bradle, PA

Basketball: Chris Horton, FL

USSSA Award of Merit:

Crown Awards, Hawthorne, NY

Award of Merit  Crown Awards (NY)

USSSA Distinguished Service Awards:

Bernie Guenther, Osceola, FL

Distinguished Sevice Award recipient  Bernie Guenther (FL)

Assistant Executive Director’s Award

Sean Melvin, CA

USSSA’s Danny Brown (left) presented the Assistant Executive Director’s Award to Caliornia’s Slow Pitch State Director, Sean Melvin

Andy Wisk, MD

USSSA Chairman of the Board, Rick Fortuna (left) presents Maryland’s Fast Pitch Director, Andy Wisk (right) with the Assistant Executive Director’s Award.

E.A. Ramsey/CEO Award:

Brian Wegman, OH

E.A. Ramsey/CEO Award recipient, Brian Wegman (left) with USSSA CEO, Don DeDonatis III.