Original

Ellyn Ritterskamp: My sporting life

This is the third story in the SLR Original series on Title IX  (See previous)

Now that you know more about the story that launched this project, and before you learn more about others’ stories, you should hear about mine.

I played Little League baseball for a month when I was nine, in the summer of 1976. I think I liked it, as I grew into someone who deeply loves baseball, but I didn’t play very long because as the only girl, it was a lot of hassle.

Now, I would know to fight for a chance to play the greatest game ever invented. But when you are nine, you don’t always know how to fight like that. 

Ellyn family
Ellyn Ritterskamp as a child with her parents, Jack and Julie.

I learned volleyball and softball from my mom, Julie Ritterskamp, with whom my brothers and I always played at church events. My dad, Jack, was more instructive about how sports equipment works, but it was from Mom that we learned to throw ourselves into the moment. 

I played tennis my junior and senior years of high school, because I had a crush on one of the coaches (he was also the newspaper advisor, so I joined up there, too). I had rarely picked up a racket before that, but when you are 5’11’, there are some shots you can reach just by standing in the right spot.

I was No. 12 on a 13-person team the first year, and moved up to No. 8 the next season when some folks graduated. I never played in a match against another school, but was content to keep score and fetch ice, and pick up balls hit over the fence. 

Ellyn headshot (1)

I didn’t know it until the week of graduation, but the school gave you a varsity letter if you played two years, even as a sub, so even someone as bookish as I was could have a letter on their wall.

I played catcher for several years in rec league slow-pitch softball, and spent four heroic months as a tight end in a women’s tackle football league. I quit before the first game because I had a pinched disc, but had already discovered that while I am strong in ways that matter (courage, integrity, authenticity), I am not tough. 

But according to my favorite writing professor, Sam Watson, I once demonstrated “a delightful felicity with words.” Ever since then, I have tried to have something worth saying, or to keep quiet. This topic seems worthy.

Read the next part of our series on Title IX: Judy Rose

Ellyn Ritterskamp is a journalist and teacher who loves thinking about sport and ethics, especially if there is baseball involved. She lives in Charlotte, NC, has appeared on three TV game shows, and has visited all the parks in Major League Baseball, the South Atlantic League, and the Carolina League.

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