To say that the Wallace Softball League had humble beginnings would be a huge understatement.

The program didn’t even start in a park. It began life in some empty lots, at 3301 South Wallace in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood. It didn’t have a backstop, or a blade of grass and there were no lights. The lot had to be raked of glass, rocks and bottles before play could begin.

The Wallace Softball League was created in 1966 by some men in the neighborhood for kids to play (ages 9-13).

Fifty years later, Wallace Softball is still going strong and has been invited to this year’s No Glove National Softball Tournament in Forest Park.

Toncie Siriscevich was one of the aforementioned neighborhood men who assisted with the birth of Wallace Softball. The diverse group of founders included: Nick Spata, Ray Houlihan and Siriscevich, representing Italians, Irish and Croatians.

“It started out as a softball league for kids,” Siriscevich said. “We had a big turnout for registration at the empty lot. We had to get sponsors, and we got eight sponsors in no time. We had a draft to make up the teams and recruited volunteer coaches. Art-Flo provided uniforms on consignment. It took a year to get the league started.”

The Wallace Softball League was an immediate hit.

In fact, the program was so popular, Siriscevich helped start and offshoot called the Junior All-Stars.

“It was for kids 6-8, who were afraid of the league ball,” Siriscevich noted. “It was a success right away.”

As for Wallace Softball, the league became so popular elected officers had to handle the finances.

“We used the money to buy white softball pants from J. C. Penney,” Siriscevich said. “We held parades for Opening Day. Mayor Richard J. Daley was the grand marshal for one and his son, Richard M., was the grand marshal for another.”

Opening Day was in May and the season ran till the end of August. There was a midseason All-Star Game, where kids ate hot dogs and hamburgers. An annual banquet was held at St. David’s parish which attracted more than 400 guests.

League expansion continued with the creation of a Senior League for kids between the ages of 14-17.

“Many of these players ended up playing for elite teams,” Siriscevich said. “Due to the good players we attracted, the league became credible right away.”

Keep in mind, this period was during the heyday of neighborhood softball. Many parks had 18 and under leagues. The state finals were held as a park located on 47th and Damen.

As for his own softball career, Siriscevich started playing in the 1960s for a Knights of Columbus team, based at St. Albert the Great.

He was a left-handed leadoff hitter, who took advantage of the shorter bases, which were 50-55 feet.

“I made a living playing softball,” Siriscevich said, “There were money games everywhere.”

In 1972, Siriscevich started his “day job” as a dispatcher for the Streets & Sanitation Department, a position he still holds.

Siriscevich went on to play for the Bobcats from 1963-64. He is a member of the 16″ Softball Hall of Fame as an organizer, coach and player.

He never played in the No Glove National, but Wallace Softball qualified for the tournament in 1992.

“Our best year, we went 3-2 and beat some of the top teams,” Siriscevich said

He also managed Windy City to a No Glove National title.

His son, Tony, a former Junior All-Star, still plays for Wallace Softball, in his 40s. There are now four generations of players, who have competed for Wallace Softball. They won the Forest Park League twice, in 2007 and 2009. They finished 5th in the Nationals but have never won the No Glove National.

“The No Gloves is the greatest softball tournament there is,” Siriscevich said. “It’s an invitational tournament of the best teams. It’s the pinnacle of softball.”

Park District of Forest Park employee Ryan Russ plays for Wallace Softball. Their roster once included a right fielder named Luke Gregerson, who recently signed a 21 million dollar contract to pitch for the Houston Astros.

Recalling a life of full of wonderful softball highlights, Siriscevich’s fondest memories are still of starting a fledgling softball league in an empty lot.

“It was something we did for and in the community,” Siriscevich said. “There were no accolades. It was for kids who didn’t play baseball.”

Wallace Softball lost its home field in the 1980s when houses were built on the empty lots.

This year marks a celebration of 50 years of Wallace Softball. Making a good run at the No Glove National championship would be a fitting tribute.

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.