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St. Charles set to induct another impressive class
By Craig Brueske | Daily Herald Correspondent
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Published: 1/17/2008 12:12 AM

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Being honored by your peers is one of life's ultimate achievements.

This weekend, St. Charles High School graduates Richard Balla, Denny DeWitte, Sam Mele and Maggie Miller will receive such an honor.

They're the 2008 recipients of the Jodie Harrison Lifetime Achievement Award, and they'll be inducted into the St. Charles East High School's athletic hall of fame between Saturday's St. Charles North-St. Charles East girls and boys basketball games.

The list of previous inductees includes a one-time Green Bay Packers quarterback (Randy Wright), an U.S. Olympic Women's Soccer Team member (Marci Miller Jobson) and a Sullivan Award winner (Rick Wohlhuter).

Here's more on the 2008 (61st, 62nd, 63rd and 64th) inductees:

Rich Balla:Œ(Class of 1988) During his senior year at St. Charles, Balla served as team captain on the Saints' 1987 Class AA state championship golf team.

Balla and then-sophomore teammate Ken Vanko tied for third individually at the 1987 state tourney with 36-hole scores of 157.

"I believe it was Leo Vitali's final year as head coach," said Balla. "Rob Prentiss (Balla's presenter) was our assistant coach.

"One of the things I remember most about high school golf was how quick of a season it was. It was a short season but if you play well, you can win."

In his first full varsity season as a junior, Balla led the Saints to a third-place state showing.

Upon graduation, Balla went on to Iowa State, where he became a 4-year letterman.

As a senior, Balla earned all-Big 8 Conference golf honors for the Cyclones.

"That was quite an honor," said Balla. "I still have the banner hanging on my wall."

In 1995, Balla advanced to the match play (final 64) portion of the U.S. Amateur Championships held at Bull Valley in Newport, R.I.

"I didn't really expect it," said Balla. "But it was probably one of the best times I've of my life. I finished with the same 36-hole (qualifying) score as Tiger Woods -- 143."

Balla, who works as an accountant for Tour Edge golf in Batavia, has won a record 6 St. Charles men's city golf championships.

"As a junior golfer, Rich won every age division as he progressed," said Pottawatomie Golf Course professional Jim Wheeler.

Denny DeWitte:Œ(Class of 1971) A 2-time all-Upstate Eight Conference basketball player, DeWitte helped lead the Saints to their first UEC basketball title during his senior year in 1970-71.

"Denny was a team leader in terms of playing hard and getting everyone else to play hard," said Mark Vitali, who was a sophomore starter on the 1970-71 squad. "He was not exceptionally tall, but he could jump so he played forward. And he was a very smart player who could do everything."

Coached by Ron Johnson, the 1970-71 team that also included senior starters Dave Hill, Greg Janus and junior John Ball reached the sectional finals before losing 48-46 to Larkin.

"We lost to a team that we beat by 20 each game in conference," recalled Vitali. "We were a fast-break team that averaged 65 points per game so they put the ball on ice."

DeWitte began his basketball playing days at St. Patrick Grade School.

"St. Pat's had a lot of talented ballplayers back in the 1960s and 70s," said St. Charles mayor Donald DeWitte, a cousin of Denny. "He merged right into the high school basketball system as a freshman and excelled his entire career."

Upon graduation, DeWitte spent 2 years in Arizona before returning back home.

"He went to work for the city as an electrical lineman," said Don. "Being out in the public eye, he knew everybody in town."

DeWitte passed away suddenly last July.

"Denny was the type of guy who befriended anyone who he came in contact with," said Donald.

Sam Mele:Œ(Class of 1985) Mele was part of a group of players that helped thrust St. Charles soccer into prominence.

During his 3-year varsity career, the Saints compiled a 65-7-6 record that included a pair of state quarterfinal appearances and was capped by the team's third-place state finish (1984).

"I believe our 1983 team was the first to reach state," said Mele, who was a midfielder/striker for the Saints who were coached by Tim Dailey. "I'd like to think the teams I played with set the groundwork for St. Charles' soccer future successes."

During his sophomore season, the Saints finished 23-1-3 -- with the lone loss coming to Malta in the sectional finals.

"We lost in an overtime shootout," said Mele. "The game was played in a snowstorm which greatly affected our play. I sincerely believe our 1982 team was the best team in Illinois."

The next year, St. Charles suffered another OT loss -- this time in the state quarterfinals to Downers Grove South.

As a senior, the Saints finished 24-3 and reached the state semifinals before losing to Quincy-Notre Dame.

The all-conference, all-area, all-state and all-Midwest player graduated as the Saints' all-time scoring (53 goals) and assist leader (27).

"Those were some of the most influential and fun years I've ever had," said Mele, who went on to earn an engineering degree from the University of Illinois and currently serves as CEO and president of Firm58, a software company located in Chicago.

Maggie Miller:Œ(Class of 1992) Miller played a significant role in turning the St. Charles girls' soccer program into a state powerhouse.

As a sophomore in 1990, the seventh of eight Miller children (Mark, Mike, Mary, Mindy, Monica, Marty, Marci) helped lead the Saints to their first girls state soccer title.

Two years later, Miller and sophomore sister Marci were members of another state championship soccer squad.

Upon graduation, Miller became a 4-year letterwinner at George Washington University.

Today, she operates the Discover Hope Fund -- a nonprofit organization that helps dispense loans to impoverished women so that they can start their own businesses.