Matt Gillen graduated from Oaklawn Community High School in 1971. He then attended St. Francis University where he played baseball and basketball. After leaving St. Francis, he had tryouts with the Baltimore Orioles, the Cincinnati Reds, and the Kansas City Royals. He started playing sixteen-inch softball after college when he played in a game with some friends. He was asked to bat and promptly struck-out. This moment motivated him to develop his skills in Chicago’s unique game.
He started his own team – Magilla’s Gorillas. After playing in local leagues, legendary player and coach Eddie Zolna (HOF) noticed his talents and asked him to play for the Bobcats in a national tournament. Playing with the Bobcats and its list of legendary players, gave Matt the physical and mental skills to play at a national level. He then joined Bob O’Malley’s Phoenix and Cougars teams on Chicago’s South Side and later played for Coopers and Bud North.
Matt played shortstop, short center, and second base. He batted over .600, hit more than four hundred home runs, and drove in more than 1500 runs.
During his softball career, Matt has achieved numerous team and personal honors. In 1981, he helped the Bobcats win ASA and National titles. In 1984, the Cougars took third place and in 1986, Coopers took second to the Ducks in the ASA Nationals. In 1986, Bud North finished fourth in the ASA Nationals in Mt. Prospect.
Personally, Matt won all-state honors in 1979, was an All-American in 1984, 1985, and 1986 and was the MVP of the twelve-inch / sixteen-inch nationals in the 1990s, a tournament where a flip of a coin determined which sized ball would be used. Matt has received all-state honors in the 1990s and in 2001. He made every team he played for better because he was a true student of the game. He stills plays today with the Gamblers, thirty-five years after playing in his first softball game.
Matt has coached softball at Mother McAuley High School for ten years. He recently retired from the Chicago Fire Department after thirty-three years of service. Matt and his wife, Tracy, have three children: Trina, Lindsay, and Ashlee. They live on Chicago’s Southwest Side.