After successfully nominating others to be inducted into the Tennessee Amateur Softball Association (ASA) Hall of Fame the last few years, a local sports icon has been named to this year’s list of inductees.
A leader in Bradley County sports since her playing days in the 1960s, Rita Hannah has been involved with ASA softball for more than 40 years, serving the last 30 years as the local district director.
“It’s an honor for them to think of me,” she stated. “It’s very humbling to be nominated. I appreciated being considered and feel honored they felt I was worthy of induction.”
One of the top female athletes in Bradley County history, Hannah was a standout basketball player for legendary coaches Sam Ledford (Michigan Avenue Elementary) and Jim Smiddy (Bradley Central High School).
Hannah thrived under Smiddy's tutelage, making the all-district and all-region teams all four years at Bradley. She was also named to the all-state team twice, including 1969 when the Bearettes finished third in the state and 1970 when they won the first of four state championships in a six-year span (1970, '73, '75 and '76).
After playing a defensive guard in the old six-on-six girls’ format, Smiddy moved Hannah to the offensive side of the court for her final three seasons in the Black-and-Gold.
After her playing days at Bradley, the school retired Rita’s No. 25 jersey. Her sister Liz and niece Brittany were both granted permission to wear the No. 25 and also had their jerseys retired for their performances at Bradley. Only 16 players in Bearette history have had their jerseys retired.
“Rita and I were different type of players. I just wanted to shoot the ball, but she was more physical and meaner than me on the court,” declared Rita's younger sister, Liz (Hannah) Jackson. “She would battle underneath for the rebounds and back you back down. She was a better player than I was.”
Extremely high praise considering Liz was a two-time All-State and high school All-American as well as being named to three college All-American teams, two at Cleveland State and one at Middle Tennessee State.
Although she had opportunities to play collegiate hoops, Rita, the seventh of 10 children born to Glen and Nona Hannah, chose to forgo college after graduating from Bradley in 1970 to help the family. In May of 1971 she took a job with the city recreation department and has been there ever since, serving as director of the Cleveland Community Center for almost 35 years.
It was also during those years when she began to play softball for venerable coach Ralph Rymer and the powerful Lady Aces.
“During the early 1970s and 80s we would play every weekend in ASA tournaments all over the Southeast,” she related. “During that time, we captured four ASA state titles and finished third in the national tournament held in York, Pa., in 1976.”
“I began my association with ASA as a slow pitch player in 1970 and continued playing until 1990,” Hannah explained. “In 1972 my dear friend Joe Bridges introduced me to umpiring. I have umpired for 40 years, calling several regional and state tournaments, as well as three national tournaments.”
In addition to playing and umpiring, former ASA state commissioner and Hall of Fame member Tommy “Subs” Barrett appointed her the District Commissioner for the Adult and Youth programs in Cleveland in 1978, a position she still holds today.
The ASA Hall of Fame will be Hannah’s third such induction as she is also a member of the Bradley County Old Timers’ Hall of Fame. as well as the Bearette Hall of Fame.
The ASA Hall of Fame induction banquet, which had been delayed twice due to inclement weather earlier this winter, was held Saturday evening in Hendersonville, in conjunction with the association’s annual state meetings.