Shane Pigue thinks big. When he took over the reins of the Wally Hall Tournament of Champions 12 years ago, he moved the tournament to Benton. A youth baseball field was added, and then special events. Trophies for winners weren’t big enough, so Pigue added rings and title belts, such as the ones you see on wrasslin’ on television.

Considering what Pigue has done to transform the TOC, it’s no surprise he has extravagant plans to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Arkansas Softball Hall of Fame. A banquet is planned for Thursday, May 24 at the Benton Events Center. Not only will a class of seven new members be inducted, but all past inductees will also receive rings and recognition.

“I think [the honorees] are going to be really excited when they see these rings,” said Pigue, a 2004 HOF inductee himself. “We couldn’t have done it without the board. When I talked to them about the rings and showed them what we do for the Tournament of Champions, they didn’t think we could raise the money we needed. All of the guys, each of them in the hall of fame, helped, and we had the money raised in two weeks.”

Pigue said that contacting the over 200 members of the men’s and women’s divisions was more difficult than raising the money, but that the board managed to “track down” most of them, or family members of deceased honorees. One of the honorees receiving a ring is 92. Pigue expects more than 500 people to pack the banquet hall.

“We are excited about it,” said Chris Walker, a 2009 HOF inductee and board member. “[Softball] is the hobby of so many of these [inductees]. Some of these guys played together, but haven’t seen each other in 25 years. I was always the young one hanging around the old ones, and now I am the old one. It is going to be really cool to see everyone and exaggerate stories about how good we were.”

It’s fitting to hold the inaugural banquet in Saline County. Pigue has brought one of the more prestigious tournaments in the state to his hometown, and some of the great players, including he and Walker, have played on teams with a core group from the county.

Pigue started playing softball in his early 20s in 1990, and after he’d played for two years, Benton’s prestigious Thomas Oil team picked him up.  Thomas had begun a run of dominance in the 1980s. Since then, they’ve had a number of local players including the late Carroll Hambric, Scooter McClure, and Darren Hurt, who played baseball at Arkansas Tech.

“I was lucky because I didn’t have to work my way up,” Pigue said. “We had a great nucleus of Saline County players, and Scooter and Darren took it to the next level.”

Men’s softball is split into six divisions:  Major, AA, A, B, C and D.  Thomas took 4th nationally in the Class A division in 1993. A year later, they were bumped up to the elite Major Class and finished fourth again.

Thomas also won 7 of 10 Tournament of Champions titles as they carved out a dynasty that stretched into the late 1990s.

As Thomas’ domination was winding down, Walker’s Fence Brokers team began making a splash. Walker, a southwest Little Rock native, began playing for Little Rock’s Glenn Brothers Trucking after returning from the University of Arkansas.

Walker took some time off, and in 2003 formed Fence Brokers. That team included several Saline County players, and played on the USSSA national circuit for 12 years. Fence Brokers was among the 16 teams that qualified for the Major Class national tournament in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2013 and 2015. The team finished as the USSSA Class AA World Champions in 2015.

Walker’s squad won Little Rock’s Busch Tournament’s upper division five times.

Fence Brokers has won the TOC nine times. Thomas and Fence Brokers have combined to win 14 of the possible 35 TOC titles. “Thomas was the top team in the 1980s and 90s and Fence Brokers from 2003 to 2017,” Walker said.

With the Hall of Fame banquet an instant success, Pigue now seeks a way to make Benton home to a permanent shrine for Arkansas’ softball elite. Pigue said the original events center plans had space for a Hall of Fame. Walker is hopeful the banquet will be the vehicle needed to convince officials to go forward with those plans.

If it’s up to Pigue, it will happen sooner rather than later.