Wayland’s Ritz reaches coaching milestone
Softball isn’t literally part of Cheri Ritz’s DNA.
But it might as well be.
“Some of my earliest memories were at the softball fields in Moline watching my dad and uncle play,” Ritz said. “Softball has always been a big part of my life and I developed a passion for it at a young age.”
That passion continues to this day, with Ritz recently completing her 36th season as a high school coach. That includes 34 seasons as a varsity coach, with the vast majority of those coming at her alma mater Wayland Union High School.
During the 2019 campaign, Ritz reached yet another career milestone as she racked up the 900th victory of her career.
“It felt good,” Ritz said of the win, which came during the first game of a doubleheader against St. Joseph last month. “There’s really not that much difference between 899 wins and 900 wins, but round numbers are always nice.
“And even though I get credit for the wins, this is really an accomplishment that also belongs to all the players who have played for me and the coaches who have coached with me. I wouldn’t have had the success I have had if it wasn’t for them.”
During the course of winning those 900, Ritz has experienced numerous highs both from a team and an individual perspective.
From a team standpoint, Wayland has won two state championships with 25 conference championships and 23 district championships. Individually, Ritz was named National Federation Coach of the Year in 2015 to go with being named District Coach of the Year 17 times and Regional Coach of the Year eight times.
“All of those things are great,” Ritz said. “But it’s like I tell the parents at our awards banquet each year. My greatest victories are in the lives of their daughters, not in our record or the banners on the walls. I want to make a positive difference in the life of each of my players. That’s my biggest goal.”
That goal was born out of a desire to give back to the sport that has given so much to her.
“Softball has given me some of the best experiences of my life,” Ritz said. “I played at (Michigan State University) and got to travel all over, including to Belize. I’ve had the opportunity to coach in Hawaii twice. It’s been a great ride and I owe it to softball.”
“God has been good to me and softball has been good to me. I just want to pay that forward.”
Ritz is also the softball chairman for the National High School Coaches Association.
“That’s been another blessing,” Ritz said. “I get to meet with the eight finalists for National Coach of the Year and spending time with coaches like that is amazing.”
While reaching the 900-win milestone was fun for Ritz, the season as a whole wasn’t quite what fans have come to expect from Wayland. With a young squad that included as many as six freshmen in the starting lineup, the Wildcats finished at 16-19 and were runner-up in both the OK Gold Conference and at districts.
Wayland had won 14 straight league titles and 15 straight district crowns.
“This year was a different kind of challenge given our youth,” Ritz said. “But we didn’t lower our expectations because of that. We still expected a lot out of ourselves and we fell short of some of our goals. But I have no doubt this group will work hard and we’ll get back to where we want to be.”
Along the way, Ritz will continue to rack up more wins, with all-time leader Diane Laffey and her total of more than 1,200 wins as the ultimate goal.
“Diane is one of the coaches I really admire,” Ritz said. “She’s been coaching more than 50 years, so I figure I have a lot of time left. Getting to 1,000 wins would be cool and why not aim for Diane’s record.”