Note: June is always a big month around high schools. There is graduation and the end of the scholastic sports careers for seniors – plus Father’s Day, which is Sunday.
During previous Junes, Tom Williams has turned over his column to Ocean City athletes Nicholl and Abbey Fenton, Danielle and Andrew Donoghue, Stephanie Gaitley, Matt Woolley, Jeff Boyd, Allison Rinck, Erik Geisinger, Doug Colman, Allie Moreland, Tracey LeFever, the Degenhardt sisters, Chelsea Bruno, Danielle McNally, Dave & Casey Beyel, the Mensinger brothers, the Donahue sisters, the Impagliazzos, the Baruffis and Shaune McLaughlin, among others, to write about their fathers. And to Tori Rolls Rhodes to write about her grandfather.
20 years of them are available HERE.
This year, senior Owen Ritti, a championship runner in cross country and track who is headed for Drexel University after a great academic career at OCHS, writes about his father. Owen won the South Jersey Group 3 championship in the 800 meters earlier this month and will complete his running career this Saturday in the NJSIAA Meet of Champions. He does not plan on running in college, where he will major in math.
His father, Ed Ritti, a math teacher, has compiled an impressive eight seasons, together with co-coach Bryan Chojnacki, as coach of the Raider golf team – including eight straight winning seasons, a South Jersey championship and four county titles in five years.
By OWEN RITTI, Guest Columnist
For as long as I can remember there was only one rule for my brother and me when it came to sports – try everything! So that’s what we did.
As a former player, ice hockey was first on my dad’s list but we learned quickly it was not the sport for me. Next up was golf, his second favorite, but I think it’s the only sport where I’m worse than in ice hockey. We kept going until we found travel soccer, which I did enjoy and play for several years.
Somewhere along the way, in the fifth grade, a handout was passed around in gym class for the Ocean City Pi Day 5K. I knew a lot of kids at school were signing up but running three miles seemed fairly impossible to me. My dad – definitely not a runner – offered to do the race, too, and help get me across the finish line.
We stood that morning with everyone else in the pouring rain. The goal was simple; let’s not totally embarrass ourselves. But when they fired the starting gun my racing instincts took over. I left my dad at the one-mile mark and never looked back. When he finished alone, my mom was so sure I’d gotten lost on the course she went looking for me on the streets of Ocean City. But I wasn’t lost. I was inside the rec center receiving an award for winning my age group.
Later that spring, with my dad’s encouragement, I decided to run another 5K, and then another, and another. A year or two after that I switched to cross country and track full time. The rest is history.
This “try everything” approach has been modeled for me my entire life. Never just a math teacher, my dad has also always been a coach. Before we moved to New Jersey he coached the ice hockey team at Radnor High School in Radnor, PA, to two state championships while I was just a baby. He was an assistant coach on our rec basketball and soccer teams as well as my brother’s travel soccer team. For the last eight years, he has been one of the head coaches of the Ocean City High School golf team.
But being involved with sports has never been about winning medals or breaking records in my house. My dad doesn’t ask me about my times or even which events I’m running from one meet to the next. Instead, his focus has always been on the team and the importance of having fun together and supporting one another – win or lose, no matter what.
He was right. I’ve had a lot of success on the track and at other times I’ve struggled but when I look back at my career it’s the little things that mean the most to me now. Being stranded at the airport with the cross-country team my sophomore year. Late-night Shake Shack on the ride home from indoor meets in New York City. It’s the days we made each other go just a little bit faster in practice. And the days we managed to laugh our way through the last mile of a 10-mile run. Personal records (PR) are great but you realize you are as happy for a teammate who PRs as you are when you PR yourself.
I wouldn’t have had these experiences or made these memories if my dad never lined up with me on the boardwalk that rainy Saturday morning seven years ago and pushed me to take a chance on myself and try something new.
Thanks, Dad, for giving me that push. Thanks for standing with me when I didn’t have the confidence to stand alone. Thanks for always believing in me even when I don’t believe in myself. I hope I’ve made you proud.
Happy Father’s Day.