NORMAL - The sign that welcomes visitors to Champion Fields is easily readable. The heart-felt memorial written beneath is anything but.
Bruce Callis wouldn't want it any other way.
For years, Callis, a former State Farm executive, was instrumental in funding girls' athletics in the Bloomington-Normal area despite keeping a low profile.
One year after succumbing to abdominal cancer in 1999, Callis was honored by the community as Champion Fields were officially dedicated in his memory. Seven years later, Callis' granddaughter, Sarah Ready, is playing on the same field for the BNGSA Angels in this week's ASA Girls 14-under National Fastpitch Softball Tournament.
"He always liked to work behind the scenes. He never liked to take credit. We always even wondered if he'd enjoy seeing these signs out in front of the park," Callis' daughter, Kim Ready, said. "But I think he'd be extremely proud that the community has come together and made the fields and the facility such a wonderful place that draws national tournaments. I think he'd be in the background but very proud."
Growing up in Boonville, Mo., a small town halfway between St. Louis and Kansas City, Callis struggled at the notion of his mother and grandmother not being allowed to participate in athletics before Congress passed Title IX in 1972. Following the passage of the bill, Callis dedicated the rest of his life to ensure all female athletes were given an opportunity to shine.
"It would be neat for him to see that his granddaughter is playing competitive softball on the fields named after him," said Kim's husband, Bob. "He didn't see women in his era have an opportunity and now to see his granddaughter play competitively … I think he would be proud."
Realizing the tireless efforts of her grandfather inspires Sarah to succeed on the field.
"When we play on these fields, you always feel like you're with him," said Sarah, who will be a freshman at Normal Community. "You just try to do better."
Perfection on the field
It did not take long for the national tournament to see perfection as Katy Lewis of the Georgia Impact Black pitched a perfect game in her team's 7-0 victory over the Virginia Legends on Monday afternoon in Pool T.
"My teammates were hitting the ball," Lewis said. "I had to be there for them."
Lewis struck out 17 of 21 batters faced in the victory. The Fayetteville, Ga., native credits her devastating riseball for the large amount of strikeouts.
"They were all going for it," Lewis said.
Quite a surprise
John Francis knew exactly what he should pack before heading to the sultry Midwest.
"Shorts and T-shirts," Francis said before flying to Normal from San Jose, Calif.
Little did he know the humidity was almost nonexistent.
Expecting temperatures to be in the "mid to upper 90s and about 70 or 80 percent humidity," before he left the Golden State, Francis was pleasantly surprised as temperatures were only in the mid 80s with 45 percent humidity before his granddaughter, Melissa Ortiz, played a 1:30 p.m. contest for the San Jose Lady Sharks.
"It's actually a lot cooler than I expected," Francis said. " … If this can hold out for the week, I think we'll be in good shape."
'You don't see that in Phoenix'
Jason Houle knew the 1,798-mile round trip from Phoenix to Normal was easily accessible. He and his father proved it.
Houle and his father, Stew, made the jaunt from Arizona to Illinois in just three days - on motorcycles.
"Everywhere my daughter plays, we usually take the bikes and she flies and we meet her there," said Jason, whose daughter, Jordan, plays for the Arizona Sun Cats. "For us, it was nice because we both got to go together again."
The Houles stopped twice to sleep - in Albuquerque, N.M., and Salina, Kan. - and noticed the differences in terrain from the prairie and desert.
"We passed several gigantic cattle farms," Houle said. "You don't see that in Phoenix. It's real green here. It was nice."
Houle also mentioned the gas prices in the Twin Cities were "15-20 cents cheaper than Phoenix," and the expense of traveling cross country was "worth every penny."
"Both of our bikes ran good; we got here," he said. "You get to see a lot more on a bike. You're not trapped in a car; you're not trying to turn your head to look through windows. You sit back and ride and have a great time."