STREATOR – Forty years after bringing home La Salle County’s first team sports high school state championship and to this day Streator High School’s only team sports state championship, the 1983 Bulldogs softball team is throwing a party Saturday.
And, like the team’s magical run 40 years ago, all of Streatorland is invited to join in on the fun.
“[The state championship season] wasn’t about us. It was about a community collective. And that’s what we want this to be.”— "Zami" (Mogill) Hay, Streator all-state softball pitcher
The Night of Champions will take place at Streator’s PNA Hall on Saturday, June 10, the 40th anniversary to the day of the team stunning two-time defending state champion Quincy Notre Dame in the state semifinals 2-1 and then completing the unprecedented and unrepeated state championship run later that night with a 6-2 dismissal of Rich Central in the state title game hosted by Pekin. Saturday’s event – an open house-style meet-and-greet with light snacks provided and a cash bar available – is scheduled to run from 4-9 p.m.
“Even the core, close-knit group of us lost touch at points over the years,” said Alexandra “Zami” (Mogill) Hay, the star, windmill-style pitcher of the early 1980s Streator softball teams who 40 years later still ranks in the top 10 in IHSA history for career wins and no-hitters. “We’re just really excited to get everyone there and see everybody.”
The idea for the Night of Champions spiraled out of the team’s 2022 induction into the Shaw Local Illinois Valley Hall of Fame.
“We were at the Hall of Fame [induction], and I think we all said, ‘Wow, it’ll be 40 years. We should do something big,’ " said Amy Ferko, then Amy Pedelty, an all-state right fielder for the Lady Bulldogs.
“We decided we wanted to do something more local and involve the community.”
In addition to all-staters Mogill and Pedelty, the 30-2, junior-led ballclub boasted a talented top-to-bottom roster. It featured the likes of Mogill’s batterymate, catcher Linda Weiss, as well as Peggy Killian, Jean Essman, LuAnn Kozak, Kim Hansen, Lynn Yanello, Ray Ann Simpson, Kim Hansen and numerous other contributors, including a handful of underclassmen called up for the postseason run to serve primarily as baserunners and moral support.
One of those underclassmen who joined the varsity team for its playoff run “as a pinch runner and glorified cheerleader in the dugout,” Brenda Gardner said of herself with a chuckle, has taken a lead role in publicizing Saturday’s event around the city she still calls home.
“Definitely it’s about giving back to the community,” Gardner said. “It gave so much to us, we want to give back to it. I think it’s just about Streator pride.
“We had no idea when we were playing that anyone was even paying attention to us back in town, and when we came back in – a lot of us were laying on the floors of vans sleeping, because we were tired – we were taken out of that and shoved on top of a firetruck, and there were thousands of people there lining the streets. I think we were all in shock. We had no idea anyone was even paying attention to us.
“We have no idea how big [Saturday’s event] is going to be, but I’m hoping it’s a big turnout and we see a couple hundred people. That would be great.”
The Night of Champions spun out of efforts by members of the 1983 team to have the Streator High School softball diamond renamed after the late A.T. Mogill, head coach of the program from 1980-86, as part of a 40th anniversary celebration. That renaming effort stalled, and a planned recognition of the state championship team by Streator High School before the current Bulldogs softball team’s May 13 doubleheader was rained out.
Fortunately, members of the team already had begun discussing ideas to celebrate not only the anniversary of the historic accomplishment, but the amazing support the team received. It’s something the players, now in their mid-to-late 50s, recognize and appreciate more than when they were teenagers just playing ball with their friends.
“It’s saying thank you to a community that did a lot for us,” Ferko said, “and the fact that we were probably too young and too naive to realize how much Streator did for us. We’re a little slow on the uptake, but it really is about maybe letting some people relive that moment again and getting the chance to tell them thank you and give back.
“I don’t think we realized how big of a deal it was until it happened.”
Saturday’s Night of Champions event will be the exclamation point of what the city of Streator has declared Champions Day. Last month, at Streator High School’s suggestion, the city voted to rename the stretch of Glass Street alongside the high school softball diamonds as Honorary Lady Bulldogs Way.
“[Being at the council meeting] was really just a beautiful experience,” Hay said. “[Saturday] is not just about celebrating our championship. It’s really about celebrating Streator and Streator history.
“Growing up in the late 1970s/early 1980s in Streator, it was a unique time and place. While the 40th anniversary is the catalyst for this, it really is about community pride and celebrating all that Streator is.
“When you look back on [the championship run] with grown-up eyes and see all these elders of the community who cared so much about their town and were so invested in and behind this group of girls and decorating stores and cars and the parade and the flowers and everything. They didn’t have to do that.
“It wasn’t about us. It was about a community collective. And that’s what we want this to be.”
In addition to remembering the successes of 40 years past and celebrating the community that helped make it happen, the Night of Champions will serve as a fundraiser for the organization right down the street from the PNA Hall where it all began, Streator Girls Softball. It also will serve as a late release party of sorts for a book on the team by Streator native and author/editor Richard O’Hara, “Beyond Our Wildest Dreams: Streator’s State Champion Women’s Softball Team.”