Kathy Apostolovich | Provided

Kathy Apostolovich started playing softball when she was 9 and hasn’t stopped since. Apostolovich is a member of the 16-inch Softball Hall of Fame. Her team, the Breakaways, will also be inducted into the hall this year. This attention on women’s softball led her to this suggestion: “It would be awesome to have a No Gloves tournament for women.” Advocating for women to have equal opportunities in sports has been Apostolovich’s life’s work.  

It has carried over to her career as a PE instructor. Apostolovich taught for 34 years, before retiring in 2020. Not one to sit still, she has returned to teaching PE part-time. Her love of sports started when she was growing up in Bellwood. She had two older brothers and a younger sister and Apostolovich became a sports fanatic. She played soccer, baseball, softball and basketball. “I was always outside,” she said. “Tomboy” is an old-fashioned term but Apostolovich certainly fits the description.

She may have inherited her athletic prowess from her parents. Her dad played semi-pro baseball and her mom was an outstanding athlete. This talent has filtered down to Apostolovich’s daughter, Danika, who plays for the Clear Ridge traveling softball team. Danika is an outfielder because, “God blessed her with speed.” The 19-year-old has earned a scholarship to play softball for St. Francis University in Joliet.  

Apostolovich first started playing 16-inch softball while attending Proviso West High School. She also excelled at volleyball and played center/forward on the basketball team. She earned a volleyball scholarship to UIC, where she completed her PE degree. She went on to play beach volleyball professionally with her partner, Patti Spietz. She later coached volleyball at Morton College.

She found 16-inch softball even more challenging than volleyball. “Women have a disadvantage because they have smaller hands,” she said.  Apostolovich, though, was sure handed at all the infield positions while primarily playing short center. She tended to bat second in the order, with a goal of advancing runners. She noted that the women’s games tend to be low scoring. They involve “less power and more strategy.” 

Apostolovich may be tall at 5-feet, 9-inches but she was more of a place hitter than a power hitter. She was first and foremost a team player. “I hate to lose. I can’t handle playing with a bad team. I will do whatever it takes to win, including sitting on the bench.” The Breakaways became one of the top women’s teams and she was a mainstay. 

“I would play every night if I could. I couldn’t get enough. I would play wherever. I played three games in one night, with a bad hamstring. There was no quit.” Meanwhile, Apostolovich made a “ton of friends” in softball. She enjoyed the camaraderie of the Breakaways.

“We had fun on and off the field,” she said. After games, they would gather at their sponsor-bar, My Mistake, at 47th and Harlem. Apostolovich believes men have an easier time finding sponsors than women. “The problem for women’s softball is lack of sponsorship.”

Besides the Breakaways, Apostolovich played on a 16-inch co-ed team at Grant Park. They took the league championship 10 years in a row. “With co-ed softball, the women make the difference.” There were no limits for the female players. They had to field and hit like everyone else. 

Today, she plays 14-inch softball in La Grange Park, 14-inch co-ed in Forest Park and 16-inch co-ed in Oak Brook. “I’m one of the only Breakaways who is still playing.” She admits she doesn’t have the range, speed and power that she used to. This is true of older softball players in general. “Everyone’s fighting to play catcher.”

Apostolovich is also an avid fan of the No Gloves tournament. “I haven’t missed a year of the No Gloves. I’m always sitting in centerfield for the final game. The fields are in exceptional shape for the No Gloves.” She was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2019. She is not big on personal statistics. “I had trophies to show my stats.”

Apostolovich lamented the lack of a women’s 16-inch team in Forest Park. “There’s been a decline in women’s 16-inch. Players are gravitating to 12-inch.” This is why she believes there should be a women’s No Gloves tournament. “Women would come out for that. They haven’t been showcased like men. We could have it the week before the men’s tournament and the men could stay home with the kids. It might rejuvenate women’s softball!”

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.