Class of 2022 Nominees
Rick Boyer (1952-2021) was Mr. Baseball in La Crescent. He began his baseball career in middle school, played four years at La Crescent High School and then at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, and never stopped. After graduating from UWL he took over the family furniture business and signed on as an assistant coach for his alma mater Lancers. During the summers, he switched from coaching to playing. He remained active for the rest of his life, playing for local teams in Stoddard, La Crosse and La Crescent, moving on to senior league baseball when he reached his 50s. Most recently he was a member of the Minnesota Bandits 65-and-older team that won the 2019 National Division Championship.
Boyer graduated from La Crescent High School in 1970, and later that summer married his high school sweetheart, Susan Czechowicz, who survives him.
Boyer spent 45 years coaching at La Crescent High School, the final 17 as head coach, fashioning a 326-143 record. His teams made five state tournament appearances, winning it all in 2009. That year he was named coach of the year by the Minnesota State High School Baseball Coaches Association.
Boyer also coached the La Crosse Loggers from 2006 to 2007, compiling a 61-75 record. More than his accomplishments on the field as a player or coach, Boyer is best remembered for the positive impact he had on those around him, especially the hundreds of high school athletes he coached in in his nearly half-century affiliation with La Crescent Lancers baseball.
Mike Dee was born in 1953, and grew up in the Chicago area until his family moved to La Crosse before his senior year in high school. He enrolled at Aquinas High School, where he continued his high school baseball career. He played college ball for the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, and was a part of the UWL squad that reached the NAIA World Series in 1979.
He began his coaching career at his alma mater, leading the Aquinas baseball team to four consecutive WISAA state titles from 1982-87. In 1987 he was named Wisconsin State High School Coach of the Year and the Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association Coach of the Year. In 1996 the WBCA named him their Man of the Year. By then he was the pitching coach for the University of Minnesota, a position he held from 1988-98. During his tenure the Golden Gophers made seven NCAA tournament appearances.
In 1999 Dee took over the head coaching position at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). He took a team with a losing record in 1998 and turned them into perennial champions, winning 680 games in a 23 year career that featured 12 league championships and six NCAA tournament births.
He is the winningest coach in UIC baseball history, and was named Horizon League coach of the year a conference record 10 times, six times more than the second most honored coach. In 2017 he was league coach of the year and also selected as the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) Mideast Region Coach of the Year.
117 of his players were named first or second team all conference, 17 players were named All-Region honorees, and eight earned All American status. More than 50 of his former players turned professional, most notably three time All Star Curtis Granderson.
In 2013, Dee and Granderson teamed up to raise funds for a new baseball facility at UIC. Granderson Stadium opened on April 17, 2014. Dee also spearheaded the renovation of an old campus gymnasium into a state-of-the-art indoor training facility.
Steve Pavela (1923-2021) was born in La Crosse, and attended Aquinas High School, where he starred in baseball and basketball. He led Aquinas to its first state basketball championship in 1941. He played varsity baseball all four years at Aquinas, which were the first four years the sport was offered by the school. He was among a group of students who lobbied the school to offer the sport. After graduating in 1941, he received scholarships for both basketball and baseball at Notre Dame.
Pavela interrupted his college career to serve three years in the Navy during WWII. He returned to Notre Dame, graduating in 1948. He captained the Fighting Irish baseball team his senior year. After graduating, he moved to Michigan City, Indiana, where he taught and coached basketball and baseball for seven years, before returning to La Crosse to join his father’s construction business.
He did not last long in the construction business. In 1959 he accepted a position as executive secretary of the Wisconsin Catholic Interscholastic Athletic Association (WCIAA), which later became the Wisconsin Independent Schools Athletic Association (WISAA). He remained at the helm for 30 years, overseeing all interscholastic sports for private high schools in Wisconsin. He was instrumental in setting the groundwork for the eventual merger of the WISAA with the public-school Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association in 2000.
Pavela was recognized as a talented ballplayer at a young age. He began playing organized ball as a pitcher and centerfielder for the American Legion Junior All Star team representing La Crosse from 1937-39. His teams played in the Junior American Legions State Championships in 1938 and 1939. After his sophomore year in high school, he was offered professional contracts by both the St. Louis Browns and Cardinals, but turned them down.
After the fighting ended in Europe, Pavela played for US service teams in a highly competitive fastpitch softball league. His stellar play resulted in a lifetime offer to play with a national championship softball team back in the US. He also played semipro ball for the La Crosse American Federation of Labor team, managed by La Crosse Area Baseball Hall of Famer Paul “Pip” Wuest.
He married Marian Dorothy Stellick in 1948, and together they raised four children. They celebrated 71 years of marriage before she preceded him in death by two years. In 1988 Pavela served as Festmaster of the La Crosse Oktoberfest, and in 1990 he was named a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. In 2004 Notre Dame honored him with the Harvey G. Foster Distinguished Alumnus Award.
Leonard (Len) Vingers (1934-2021) was born and raised in La Crosse, graduating from Central High School in 1952. He was a multi-sport athlete, but his passion for baseball reigned supreme. Len played first base for Central’s state runner-up squad in 1952. After he graduated, he was a highly sought-after player for regional semi-pro tournaments. Among other teams, he played for the La Crosse Mohawks, the Spring Grove City team (as one of only two paid players) and the La Crescent City team.
He was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1954 and spent the season in their minor league system, batting 489 times for a .254 average, including seven homeruns and 24 doubles. He split the season between Albany in the Georgia-Florida League and Jonson City in the Appalachian League.
He returned to Wisconsin for good after the season and married his high school sweetheart, Donna Johnson. Together they raised two daughters. Len continued to play ball, moving on to a successful career in fast pitch softball. He starred for Quality Lumber & Coal and the Johnson Doughboy Fryers, earning recognition as an All State third baseman in a career that stretched through the 1960s. From there he moved on to slow pitch softball, organizing two different local leagues, earning the Claire Raith 12” Softball Award for his efforts.
Len’s connection to baseball extended beyond his playing career. He umpired for more than twenty years for the Stars of Tomorrow tournaments and the Minnesota State Legion tournament. He also served as a coach for his oldest daughter’s softball team and his grandson’s Boys and Girls club squad.