Ellis to be inducted into Hall of Fame

Jeff Birchfield • Updated Nov 7, 2017 at 4:28 PM

Johnson City Parks and Recreation Director James Ellis started the USA Softball of Tennessee Hall of Fame over a decade ago.

On Saturday night, he will be one of 10 people inducted into it in ceremonies at the Black Fox Lodge in Pigeon Forge.

Ellis, a 39-year veteran of the Parks and Rec department and a member of its Wall of Fame, was appointed the USA Softball of Tennessee’s District 1 JO (youth softball) Commissioner in 1981. He was promoted to District 1 Softball Commissioner in 1993 when he directed the Men’s Super ASA National Tournament, which consisted of the top 16 teams in the nation.

He directed 15 national tournaments and 14 times he won the “James Ferrell Award of Excellence,” named after the former USA Softball National Commissioner. Now, he’s a Hall of Famer with along Maryville Parks and Rec Director Joe Huff, who Ellis said is like a brother.

“It’s a tremendous honor,” Ellis said. “With the great history of USA softball in Tennessee, the original idea was to recognize all the people who made softball what it is today. I’m really glad they selected me and am humbled to be in there with some great folks around the state.”

Ellis, a ASA/USA National Council Member for three decades, has served as Vice President and President in Junior Olympic and Adult Softball divisions of Tennessee USA. He has also served on the legislative, playing rules, tournament awards, umpire, membership and commissioner committees. He has directed hundreds of invitational, state and regional tournaments.

He successfully hosted Team USA versus Milligan College during the 2008 Bound 4 Beijing Tour.

The game, which featured a capacity crowd of 3,476 to Cardinal Park, brought such superstars as Monica Abbott, Jessica Mendoza, Cat Osterman and the world’s most famous player, Jennie Finch, to Johnson City.

“To have that caliber of players, even when you compare them to today’s USA team, that was significant,” Ellis said. “Those are the all-time greats in women’s fast-pitch softball. We had sunshine, rain, snow, but it was really exciting. For Milligan to have the opportunity to play Team USA, those were lifetime memories.”

Other accomplishments include starting the Little Caesars-Worth Classic with over 100 adult slow-pitch teams annually, developing state-level umpire schools and serving as national representative for the Men’s Major Industrial Tournament.

Ellis was appointed State Commissioner by the ASA Softball National Board of Directors in 2014. He has also served as President of the Science Hill Softball Boosters Club and his daughter, Heather, played for the Lady ’Toppers last season.

There has been a true love for the game, although he didn’t start out with a plan of being so immersed in the sport.

“I was at the right place at the right time,” Ellis said. “A former Parks director said, ‘I run ASA softball and I’d like to get you involved when you’re off the clock.’ I picked up and started helping him run tournaments and promote games. My daughter started playing t-ball at age five, then she went through the coach-pitch and eventually pitched herself. Her teams were very successful in the rec programs, and she played at Indian Trail, Science Hill and a year at Milligan. You spend all those years on the ball fields, then all the years with her and with my son on the baseball field. It’s a big part of your life.”

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