LADY LIONS' SOFTBALL COACH RECENTLY INDUCTED INTO THE USA WATER SKI HALL OF FAME
From humble small town beginnings in Oskaloosa, Iowa, to world-class skiing and slalom champion in Florida, many doors have been opened for Bryan College’s softball coach, Mark Ritchhart, who was inducted into the USA Water Ski and Wake Sports Foundation Hall of Fame in 2019.
Ritchhart was presented the Award of Distinction last April, where his wife, Renae and their two daughters, Leah and Lyssa, along with his mother, Bonnie (87), his mother-in-law, Nancy Horn (90), were in attendance of the ceremony held in Orlando, Florida.
Other friends, former teachers, former coaches and fellow skiers also joined Ritchhart and his family for the Hall of Fame ceremony. They include Pat Burke and his wife, who traveled from Oskaloosa, Iowa. Burke was Ritchhart’s little league baseball coach. Susan and John Robins, from Orlando attended, Brenda and Steve Oliver, who was Ritchhart’s principal when he and his wife taught 15 years in Orlando. Larry Cameron, a dear friend of Ritchhart’s from Ohio, and Steve McDermeit, who skied with Ritchhart as a professional in Missouri in 1979 and 1980.
The desire to ski began at age 14 for Ritchhart, where his parents would drive him five and a half hours from Iowa to ski at the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, where they had a cabin.
Ritchhart’s love for skiing and his success on the baseball field as an all-state catcher in high school landed him a baseball scholarship at Truman State University (Formerly known as Northeast Missouri State University), located in Kirksville, Missouri. Admittedly, Ritchhart specifically chose the school because it was closer to the Lake of the Ozarks, where he could pursue his true passion—skiing.
“I chose that school because it was a direct straight line to the Ozarks, so it was a little quicker if I had a weekend or two to go, before it got too cold,” said a chuckling Ritchhart. “Right after I finished college in December 1983, I went right to Florida in January, 1984. Basically, I was jealous of everybody skiing 12 months a year.”
Along with playing baseball in college, being a state Judo champion, being a musician, specifically, playing the drums, and skiing as often as he could, Ritchhart was also a cheerleader for three years. He credited his mother for talking him into trying out for the cheer team.
“I was actually a college cheerleader as well, and that blessed me so much,” said Ritchhart. “I used to not talk about it, but now I think, and the more I think about it, they are really good athletes, with all of the gymnastics and the lifts. So, I thought, you know, I should not be embarrassed of that anymore.
Once she saw the athleticism of it, my mom actually talked me into trying out,” continued Ritchhart. “Thanks to all of the doubles stuff and lifts I used in cheerleading, I walked into a tryout at Sea World, and by the end of the tryout, I was teaching them all of these lifts. I was just there to try and get into what they called a training program, but after that day, they let me bypass the training program. My upper body strength I already had from cheerleading and the lifts, along with the pre-show preparation I was already so comfortable with, it was just one of those things that helped set me apart from everyone else.”
Ritchhart believed in hard work and dedication for the sport he wanted to make a career, as he put in the practice to further his skills.
“Almost everything I learned, was by myself, with just my dad driving the boat,” said Ritchhart of his early skiing career days. “We’d go to a show and watch it and I would try some of the stuff, and I would have no idea what I was doing. I would beat myself up like crazy, but then, I took a couple of lessons, like a jumping lesson with a ramp, and that’s about it.
I never felt like a gifted, natural skier, I always felt like I outworked people,” added Ritchhart. “I thought when I went to Florida, everyone would be skiing all of the time, but then I realized, they weren’t skiing more. If it wasn’t this perfect glass water, or rain, or if it was an overcast day, but whatever the reason, people just weren’t skiing. I was so hungry for it, and so used to skiing on whatever, for those few months I could ski, that just really opened the door to further my skills.”
Ritchhart has been a professional show skier at Sea World (1983, 1984, 2005), Cypress Gardens (1997-2000), Fort of the Osage Water Ski Show (1981), the Lake Ozark Ski Show (1980), HO Sports (1993-1996) and the Oceans of Fun Water Ski Show (1982). He stated his show ski regimen consisted of four shows a day, six days a week.
Among his professional ski shows, in his 20s, Ritchhart’s slalom and trick skiing background paid off when he discovered the joy of kneeboarding. Within a short period of time, he was getting noticed, only spending two years in his age division and entering into the open division in 1989.
From Ritchhart’s traditional trick skiing, the trick event was good to him but kneeboard slalom became his forte. He faired quite well in the Men Open Division for the first 12 years of competing, and then, in the final 11 years of his Open career, Ritchhart won every slalom tournament for 10 straight years of competition (2000 – 2009).
“As my body aged, I continued to train hard and wise, which guided me to Open Men National and International records that were both several buoys farther from my competitor’s best in the history of the sport,” said Ritchhart.
Ritchhart competed as an open competitor for 22 years, from 1989 – 2010. Like any other open competitor, he had to annually qualify for that division with both substantial trick and slalom scores.
“I was blessed to be able to do that and leave the competitive part of the sport on top,” said Ritchhart of his 10-year slalom tournament reign, where he had no losses.
Ritchhart’s main profession is teaching and coaching, and he has been in education from 1986 to present day.
“As much as I loved show skiing and kneeboarding, I loved the teaching, and bringing people into the sport, through the various sports’ disciplines,” said Ritchhart. “Through all the years of coaching water skiing, I never had any student that wasn’t successful at accomplishing the feeling of skiing. I loved being challenged to find unique ways to teach, so skiers and boarders could learn at a faster rate.
It was always a thrill for me to figure out how to help the skier succeed. I guess that was the teacher in me,” continued Ritchhart. “For instance, I introduced a trick number system to kneeboarding tricks about 16 years ago that is still taught today and allows juniors, and older divisions, to boost their scores and qualify more easily, along with their enjoyment of doing more tricks on the water.”
Among his professional ski shows and his stellar slalom competition record, the following is a list of Ritchhart’s notable accolades:
Current Open Mens Slalom Record at 67 (1 @41 off); Current International Slalom Record at 63 (3 @39 ½ off) – (Sky Hangers, the top division); Current National and International Flipout Record at 10 flips in 22.64s; 24 Open Men National Kneeboard Titles; 7 International Kneeboard Titles - (Sky Hangers, the top division); 3 MII National Kneeboard Titles; 80-plus State Kneeboard Titles; 4 International Tour Kneeboard wins – (Sky Hangers, the top division) 4-time USA Kneeboard Team member representing the USA in the Sky Hangers; 1 Adagio Doubles National Title at NSSA Nationals; 1 Adagio Doubles American Professional/World Title; Turned Florida Southern College Team around back to the national championship; Travel through FL and Puerto Rico to side ski for the disabled; Current AKA Board Member the past sixteen years; Winner of the prestigious AKA Ron Veno/Andy Remy Award 2015; BOD Vice President from 2009 – present; 5-time USAWS/AKA Male Athlete of the Year (2002, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2009); 7-time Kneeboarder of the Year (1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1998, 2001); Winner of the AKA Mr. Pete Salassi Good Sportsmanship Award 1993 and 2005; Adagio Doubles 1st place in USA National (1994); Adagio Doubles 1st place American Professional (Worlds) (1994); Adagio Doubles 1st place Southern Regional (1994 and 1993); 1994 Overall Male Skier Award for Florida State Show Ski Championships; 1996 Lynn Novakowfski Most Outstanding Skier at Southern Regionals
Ritchhart has been featured in numerous water sport magazines, which included feature stories, contributed articles by him and numerous action photos.
Ritchhart came to Bryan College in Aug., 2017, from Central Christian College in McPherson, Kansas, where he served as head softball coach from 2015-2017. Prior to that, he was at Pine Castle Christian Academy for a second stint, where he served as administrator (Athletic Director, Director of Student Development, Dean of Students and Director of Character Development), PE and Bible Teacher, Mentor Program leader, chapel coordinator and varsity softball coach from 2000 – 2015.
From 1990-1999, Ritchhart was on staff at Florida Southern College, where he was Interim and Associate Director of Wellness, Water Ski Coach, Waterfront Director, adjunct PE instructor (water ski, boating and safety course) and Admissions Counselor. His first stint at Pine Castle Christian Academy began in 1986, where he served as athletic director, PE teacher and softball coach.
Ritchhart hasn’t competed in nearly 10 years. He had knee surgery six years ago, but recently, he’s been contemplating competing again as age 60 approaches him, but there is a little hesitation.
“In the back of my mind, there’s an international world championship tournament next summer, and I’m wondering, at 60 years old, I wonder if I can go do this thing,” said Ritchhart about possibly competing one more time. “I am tempted to get back on the water, but realistically, there’s probably about a 5-10 percent chance I actually do it.
I really miss the water. I really miss it,” continued Ritchhart. “Moving in my mind, with that thought process, I know I have a whole year to decide and prepare. It would be kind of cool at 60, but I’ve thought about it, but I just kind of want to get back to the water again and just have the original fun I used to have, because skiing became a job.
Show skiing was wonderful and I loved the entertainment, the performance, the energy and the showmanship, but there was so much involved and it was really hard work to keep up and to go through the pain,” added Ritchhart.
What began as a teenage passion, has opened so many doors for Ritchhart, setting him on a path never imagined, and he feels he would not be where he is today without water skiing.
“It’s real mind boggling to see, not just in the coaching, but going from that small town in Iowa, where I could definitely still stay at, water skiing brought me to Orlando, which brought me to my best friend, which really brought me to Jesus,” said Ritchhart of meeting his wife and becoming a Christian. “Skiing brought me to my wife, my children, brought me to the chance to mentor and to coach. Really, my passion is helping other people, serving and nurturing. Skiing brought me all of that and I’m eternally grateful.”
While he’s not coaching the Bryan College Lady Lions’ softball team, Ritchhart can be found leading spiritual devotionals nearly every Sunday evening for the past 27 years, playing drums for his church, The Grove, being a Certified Personal Trainer with the National Strength and Conditioning Association, juggling, writing, speaking, mentoring, studying scripture and leadership, black belt in taekwondo, wrestling, judo, adventure racing, disc golf and racquetball. He also continues to work out and run regularly.
Whether Ritchhart decides to compete next summer at age 60, he’s a man that believes in living life to the fullest, having a strong work ethic and desire to get better at everything attempted, which is a trait he tries to instill in his players.