“Bad to the Bone”
In l987 the Bunker Hill High School (BHHS) girls softball team brought a distinctive honor to their high school and community never before achieved in our high school sports programs or any other Macoupin County School. This girls softball team won the championship title in the IHSA Class A Fast Pitch softball competition. The road to the final 8 team tournament in Pekin, Illinois, began by winning the Regional tournament in Hardin-Calhoun and then the Sectional tournament in Freeburg, Illinois.
The team's first game in the Pekin finals was at 7:30 on Monday, June 8 with a team from Mid-County Varna High School. Bunker Hill’s team offense was so powerful that it ran up an 18 to 0 score in five innings. The coach, Rick Bertagnolli, took the opportunity in this game situation to give every girl on the team some time in the game so they would all be able to have the satisfaction of some playing time in the State tournament.
Mercifully, the high school association had a 10 run rule that declared a game complete if a l0 run or more difference in scores resulted after 5 innings of play. Bunker Hill’s defense was also very solid, which is indicated by the shutout. This win qualified them for the semi-final round the next afternoon and assured them of at least fourth place in the State.
The Tuesday afternoon semi-final game was not typical for the Bunker Hill team. It was played against Genoa-Kingston High School and was a 5 to 4, extra inning nail biter, but Bunker Hill prevailed and now assured they could not finish lower than second place; or to be more positive, they would play Casey High School at 7:30 P.M. that same evening for the championship title.
Casey High School had a highly rated team which had an established strong girls softball program which had won a prior state title in this tournament. Casey’s lefty pitcher, Julie Collins, had been getting wide publicity as possibly the best pitcher in Class A (small schools) or Class AA (large schools), and the team was well trained and well coached. The team was riding a 58 game winning streak.
Bunker Hill’s team, though not as widely publicized, was also well trained and well coached. They had an excellent right-handed pitcher of their own, Shelle Wadsworth, to lead the defense and powerful hitters to provide the offense along with good speed on the bases.
Here is the team roster:
Coach: Rick Bertagnolli. Rick was the right coach at the right time. Rick was just beginning his work career, and as chance would have it, he knew how to develop a championship team. The girls must have sensed this because they worked hard individually and as a team to meet his expectations. Rick was a recent graduate of SIUE and probably took this coaching job just to start a coaching career and was probably quite surprised at the talented group of athletes he became responsible to lead and coach. He began in l985, and the team lost out that year in the regional final and again in l986.
Catcher: Erin Mullink. Erin, a senior, was a tough, scrappy, excellent catcher who started her softball participation, as many of the girls did, at 7 years old in the Bunker Hill Khoury League. She continued to perfect her skills in this manner into her high school years. During her high school years she, as well as some other high school teammates, played on an American Softball Association Gillespie team headed up by John Kelly and George Frame of Gillespie.
Pitcher: Shelle Wadsworth. Shelle, a senior, was an accurate, unshakable and very talented softball pitcher. She also started at 7 years old and played in the Bunker Hill Khoury League as well as the ASA Gillespie team through high school. She took pitching instructions during the off season for several years from George Jones from St. Louis and a couple of private lessons from the Merrimac Valley Community College coach. Through her high school years, she usually threw l00 pitches daily to maintain and improve on her pitching skills. On many days, her good friend and teammate, Vadena Timmermeier who played third base, would meet her on the tennis court or in the gym to be the practice catcher. Shelle also attended a week long softball camp at Illinois State University at Bloomington, Illinois during two of those high school summers. She also attended a select camp near Chicago during her junior year designed for college coaches to select prospects for their programs. Some other teammates were also selected for this special camp, and they were Vadena Timmermeier, Christina Trail, Erin Mullink and Jana Heflin.
First Base: Christina Trail. Christina, a senior, was left-handed and one of the taller of the girls. She has a lot of strength with the bat and could hit the long balls. She also played in the Bunker Hill Khoury League and played summer ball at Gillespie during high school.
Second Base: Jodi West. Jodi, a junior, was a smiling, quiet girl whose gentle appearance tended to disarm the opposition. She was a complete player, good hitter, good defensive player, and very speedy. She participated in the Bunker Hill Khoury League and, to my knowledge, played only during the high school years. Jodi set some hitting records at the state tournament that may stand today.
Third Base: Vadena Timmermeier. Vadena, a senior, who was called Dena by her friends and teammates, was very fast and quite reliable on defense. She was blessed with an extremely quick and accurate throwing ability. When she stopped a grounder in her area, the runner would be out. No one could outrun her throw. She also started at 7 years old and played locally at Bunker Hill and Gillespie and attended summer camps at Bloomington at ISU.
Short Stop: Jamie Anderson. Jamie, a junior, may have been the best all round infielder and explains why she became a short stop. In her early years she was also a pitcher and took instructions from George Jones from St. Louis along with Shelle Wadsworth. She played on St. Louis teams during her summers during high school. She also started out at 6 or 7 years old in Bunker Hill Khoury League. Jamie has a pleasant personality and was all business on the ball field. She was the teams best percentage hitter.
Left Field: Stacey Stieglitz. Stacey, a sophomore, was another of the players who was good at her position but with a quiet disposition. She was also a good hitter. She made a key diving catch of a looping fly ball in the championship game at Pekin. Stacey was one of the younger players on the l987 team.
Center Field: Jana Heflin. Jana, a junior, roamed center field and would also hit the long ball. She played in the Bunker Hill Khoury League and, as mentioned earlier, was selected for the special scouting camp near Chicago in the summer between her junior and senior years.
Right Field: Tara Heflin. Tara, a freshman, got the right field position during the season partly because of her good ability and partly because the senior, Gina Mullink, who had been playing right field, injured her leg and finished the season on crutches. Tara did very well covering her position and could also handle the bat. She was thrust into the important starting role and handled the pressure and helped the team achieve success.
Here is a list of the remaining team members:
The nine starters who played in the title game played the entire game. It was an exciting ballgame. Each pitcher gave up three hits. Jamie Anderson got two hits for Bunker Hill, and Jodi West got one hit. These three hits produced two runs for Bunker Hill, but Casey did not get any runs for their three hits. The unbelievable result was Bunker Hill 2 and Casey 0. Not only did Bunker Hill win the State Class A Championship; they shut out the team that had a 58 game winning streak.
There is a background story to the efforts of this team that is very sobering, especially considering the success of this fine high school girls softball team. During the summer and fall of l985, the Bunker Hill High School Board and administration recommended the elimination of the girls softball program to help trim the overall budget. This program was a small item of approximately $300.00 in the school budget but appeared to be in great jeopardy. There was public discussion at one of the scheduled school board meetings at which many students, mostly some of the players and some public supporters, spoke out on the merits of this program. Some of the players were already advised by various colleges and universities that they were under consideration for softball athletic scholarships. To not have the opportunity to play through their senior years of high school could totally eliminate their further consideration for these scholarships.
One supporter, who will remain anonymous, met with the school superintendent to personally agree to provide the needed budget amount for the softball program. As luck would have it, this private offer was never implemented, because the school board decided not to drop the program. This was a close call that almost denied Bunker Hill High School of its first State athletic championship.
The team had its budget and authorization to continue their ball seasons, but the allotted funds were adequate to cover the coaches compensation and little else. The drab, old and ragged grey uniforms that the school had available needed to be replaced. The coach and team put their heads together and decided to try a raffle of some sort in order to raise enough money to buy new uniforms. A side of beef was donated to the team to be the main prize of the raffle. Raffle ticket sales went well, and a drawing for the side of beef was held at the half time of one of the high school boys basketball games. The team got their new red, black and white uniforms.
For the l987 season everything was falling into place. Morale was high and anticipation of a winning season was almost taken for granted. The coach had a little surprise for the team and supporters alike. He had put together the most challenging schedule the team had ever faced. It included two games with Casey which Bunker Hill lost. Cahokia came to Bunker Hill with their good Class AA team and beat Bunker Hill 2 to 1 in 13 innings. There were the usual tough games with Bethalto and Southwestern which Bunker Hill won. All these mentioned teams had outstanding pitchers that year which, in fast pitch softball, is a necessity for a team to be competitive.
The stroke of genius by Coach Bertagnolli was getting the Casey coach to schedule a Saturday double header at Altamont, Illinois. Coach Bertagnolli and many of the softball players were very aware of Casey’s perennial powerhouse teams which had already won a prior State championship. On the other hand, Bunker Hill had never been to the State tournament and although was known to be a good team locally, Casey was in the Southeast part of the state and probably believed there was little to fear from playing Bunker Hill. As was said before, Bunker Hill did lose both games. But Bunker Hill got to see how Casey played. This inspired the Bunker Hill players to work harder than ever the rest of the year just in case they got into the finals and might have to play Casey again. The team probably wanted another shot at Casey because after three innings of the first game of that double header, Bunker Hill had a 4 to 0 lead and lost 7 to 4. Six of these runs were unearned. Casey’s coach and team were almost visibly shaken in these first three innings, because they were used to shutting out any team they played. Coach Bertagnolli left that day with invaluable scouting information on Casey’s team, and the Bunker Hill players believed they should have won the first game. There was no way Bunker Hill was going to be intimidated by Casey's winning record of 58 straight games, because they knew Casey almost had one loss, and it would have been to Bunker Hill.
The softball team stayed in a motel in Peoria Monday and Tuesday nights of the tournament, and Marianne Looper drove the team back and forth to the Pekin softball diamond in a Bunker High School bus. She was the bus driver for the tournament trip from Bunker Hill and the return trip.
There was a large following of Bunker Hill fans as well as a significant number of fans from Gillespie and other nearby communities. When it was known that Bunker Hill would play the championship game, many additional people from Bunker Hill made the trip to Pekin for the Tuesday night 7:30 P.M. start. An estimated 200 Bunker Hill fans witnessed the event and enjoyed the immediate euphoria of the Bunker Hill win. The players were very excited and relieved when the game ended with a lazy line drive in Jodi West’s direction at second base. Jodi took a couple of steps in the direction of the ball and confidently gathered it in her glove.
Bunker Hill was now the Class A high school champs. The girls ran toward each other and clustered near Jodi West, jumping up and down and screaming sounds of triumph, happiness and victory. At some point, the team removed or opened their uniform shirts and revealed they were all wearing tee shirts under their uniform. The tee shirts carried the message “Bad to the Bone”. “Bad to the Bone” was the title of a popular song in that era that the team adopted as almost a theme song. During some practice sessions this was played on a portable tape player for supposed inspiration.
When the team came back to Bunker Hill in the early afternoon the day after the win, they had a police and fire truck escort from near Gillespie and a following caravan of local area fans. The streets were packed with well wishers for two or three blocks when the caravan passed through town. A special reception was arranged at the high school gym. School officials praised and honored the team’s accomplishments and, each team member received a rose.
A group of merchants followed up later and presented each player with a commemorative sports jacket which was appreciated and cherished by this team that nearly became a budget cut prior to their glory year.
Many of the players went on to play at various colleges and universities on sports scholarships. Shelle Wadsworth went on to play four years at Southeast Missouri State University, Vadena Timmermeier played at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville. Erin Mullink played for Wabash Valley Community College and later at Drake University. Christina Trail also played at Wabash Valley Community College and later at Lindenwood College in St. Charles, Mo. Jamie Anderson played at Quincy College. Gina Mullink played at Miliken University. Rick Bertagnolli also moved on to coach at Wabash Valley Community College for a couple of years. He then went to South Carolina-Spartanburg for five years and is presently at the University of California in Pennsylvania.
These are the highlights of this remarkable team and their coach. They turned out to be special, but they worked very hard to be special. Maybe something like this will happen to Bunker Hill again. It can be done. These girls proved it.