Frank McHugh was 25 when he played in the first season of the St. Christina Holy Name Softball League in 1979.
A group of Mt. Greenwood residents, including his dad, Frank Sr., had formed the league in hopes of bringing the community together. It didn’t hurt either to recruit some area talent to fill out the Mt. Greenwood’s Sunday league rosters.
McHugh was hooked.
Playing on Super Saturday on Aug. 3, Team McHugh defeated Team Conway 17-7 to win the St. Christina Holy Name Softball League championship on a beautiful, sunny afternoon at St. Christina’s athletic fields at 111th Street and Central Park Avenue in Mt. Greenwood.
The championship capped the league’s 40th season.
“Back in 1979, I never really thought I’d be playing in the league 40 years later,” McHugh said. “I couldn’t wait for the season to start each year, and they went by so quick. I’m just glad to be a part of it.”
For McHugh, it was his 14th championship, 16th championship appearance, first as a manager and first since the 2001 season. He started managing in 2011.
“I won a championship in each decade now,” McHugh said with a laugh.
He played on the first three championship teams, winning in 1979, 1980 and 1981 before losing in 1982.
Over the years, McHugh has seen the league’s numbers and popularity grow, building from four teams to now 12. The Holy Name league plays on Wednesday nights.
The championships were a blast, McHugh said, but there were more important things going on.
“Helping the community, that’s been the cornerstone of the Holy Name Society,” McHugh said. “We’re able to do a lot of things for people in the community and the church. You see the people, the camaraderie and folks coming out with a good turnout—all for money we raise for the church.”
The Team McHugh roster includes Tony Cortese, Larry Daly, Mike Gardner, Chuck Knight, Scott Lascody, Roger McCraw, Matt Mustafa, Chris Mylniec, Jim O’Donnell, Mike O’Malley, Dave Sahs, Nick Spallina, Andy Tourville, Bill Zupan and Charlie Zupan.
In his seventh season managing and 26th overall as a player, Tom Conway made his third championship appearance in the last four seasons. He won titles in 2003 and then again in 2017, his first title as a manager.
He inherited the team from Emil Millas in 2011.
Looking back, Conway said, he joined the league just to have fun.
“I was 18. I was in college and broke. They said it was $2 all you can drink,” he said with a laugh.
It didn’t take long for Conway to understand why the league is so special.
“You look at the elder statesmen down the first-base line. They taught us how to play the game and what it meant to be a Holy Name member,” Conway said. “That’s huge. The friendships and the bonds you make over the years, that never leaves you.”
Team Conway came into the playoffs as the six-seed, losing to two-seed Team McHugh.
The Team Conway roster includes Conway, Bob Bullington, Sean Conway, Joe Dalpino, Dave Devine, Pat Felker, Kevin Howard, Terry Johnson, Rees Klich, Mark McLaughlin, T.J. O’Neil, John Reaney, Mike Sablich, Tony Spangelo, Dan Strimel and Joe Tagler.
For Holy Name League Commissioner Kevin McMahon, the league’s 40th season was special. He hopes younger players over age 18 continue to come out for the league.
The league drafts new teams each spring. If a manager drafts a player with sons in the league, the team gets both father and son and vice versa. Regardless of rosters, the teams maintain the winning tradition of the South Side.
“Forty years, what it means for the league and neighborhood is a continuation of a great neighborhood and Chicago sport,” McMahon said. “We encourage all the kids in the neighborhood to try and join. We want to promote it to the younger kids and encourage them to come out and play this great game.”