22A The Michigan Daily - Thursday, March 9, 2000
Unsure her path would go Michigan's way, a second chance helped bring the
Wolverines into prominence
By Joe Smith - Daily Sports Writer
n today's college-sports world, it's
hard to find coaches who stay long
enough for fans to keep track of
them. Gone are the days of long-stand-
ing tenures such as Bo Schembechler or
Woody Hayes. Now, the coaching posi-
tion is more of a revolving door, where
everyone is wondering who will be the
next person that will take the heat for a
team's misfortunes or NCAA violations.
This is not the case in the Michigan
women's tennis program, as there has
been no problem of inconsistency when
it comes to who's calling the shots.
Bitsy Ritt is in her 16th season at
Michigan, and has brought the women's
tennis team to regional and national
prominence in her stay.
With 200 victories, four NCAA tour-
nament appearances, three gig Ten
Coach of the Year awards, one Midwest
Region Coach of the Year award and the
program's first Big Ten Championships
title in 1997 included in her portfolio,
Ritt has gained the respect of coaches
around the country.
"She's first class in every aspect"
Minnesota women's tennis coach Martin
Novack said. "She's very knowledgeable,
sincere and straightforward - and
coaching-wise, her record speaks for
Not only does she have a 200-171
record at the helm of the Wolverines, but
she also contributes much of her time to
the improvement of the sport as a whole
- Ritt chairs several ITA Regional com-
mittees and NCAA committees.
"I was raised in a family where my
parents always gave back and were active
in the community," Ritt said. "I've
always felt that giving back is not an
Other coaches around the nation
appreciate this extra effort.
Said Wisconsin coach Patty
Henderson: "She does a helluva lot for
the region. She puts in a lot of time doing
a thankless job - looking out for what is
best for collegiate tennis."
IS THAT YOUR FINAL ANSWER?
Sixteen years ago Ritt almost turned
down the job at Michigan. A critical 30
minute span decided her fate and career
as the Wolverine's coach.
In 1984, Ritt was in her second year as
an assistant coach for Wisconsin, her
She learned in the Big Ten Tournament
that Oliver Owen, Michigan women's
tennis coach at that time, was going to
resign - but she never really thought of
Meanwhile, in a meeting between Kit
Saunders, the women's athletics adminis-
trator from Wisconsin, and Phyllis Ocker,
the senior women's administrator at
Michigan, Ritt's name was mentioned as
a possible candidate for the position.
Sure enough, a few weeks later Ritt
received a letter from Ocker, encouraging
her to apply.
"I went there for an interview, just
going for the experience of interviewing
and applying,' Ritt said. "But I could tell
our conversations were going really well,
and when she was driving me to the air-
port as I was leaving, I thought to myself
'Please don't offer me the job'.
"This is because I was happy in
Wisconsin and didn't want to have to
make a decision of that magnitude."
Ocker offered Ritt the job, turning the
decision from possible to inevitable.
After frantically thinking it over for a
couple days, Ritt called Ocker and thank-
fully turned down the job.
But unexpectedly, Ocker replied, "I
think your making a big mistake. Think it
over again and call me back in a half
Often times, administrators would
have taken the rejection as damaging to
their ego, and just moved on to another
candidate to fill the position.
But Ocker, who was a Kinesiology
professor at that time, was an educator
who had a lot of experience dealing with
students. This background led her to look
out for what was best for Ritt, and that
was giving her another chance to take the
Ocker noted that Ritt's career goal was
to be a head coach for a collegiate tennis
team, and this was her chance.
"I was torn;' Ritt said. "I wasn't sure
if I wanted to, and I was nervous - even
a little scared too."
After talking briefly to her parents and
thinking over her options once more, she
decided to take advantage of a second
chance given by Ocker.
"I called her back and accepted the
job," Ritt said. "tI think about her (Ocker)
all the time. I was really fortunate that
she gave me another chance. And look-
ing back on it, she was right - I would
have made an awful mistake"
NOT EXACTLY A 'PIECE OF CAKE'
The young, inexperienced Ritt had the
challenge of building a successful
women's tennis program when the
University didn't support women's athlet-
ics as much as it does today.
"Eight scholarships was a full comple-
ment for tennis, and we had three," Ritt
said. "There was a lack in the operating
budget and providing a competitive
,, : ._<
Throughout her 16 years as Michigan head coach, Bitsy Ritt has used a positive
approach towards her players - bringing the Wolverines much success.
schedule. Not to mention coaching con-
tracts were for 10 months, and now
There were eight new women's head
coaches hired that fall, and all of them
had to handle other responsibilities that
didn't stop at their respective teams.
"I remember being so worried about a
certain, bus showing up, or having the
right flight information, or many other
things that were not involved with
women's tennis," Ritt said.
Along with not having an assistant
coach until the late 80's, Ritt had to hold
practice in the Track Building. With
many other teams having to use the facil-
ity, this proposed a problem in conduct-
ing a constructive practice without inter-
"Sometimes we would have to practice
later in the evening, or at 7-9 in the morn-
ing," Ritt said. "I remember practicing
with athletes running around the track,
starting guns going off, and shot putters
throwing - it is distracting for everyone,
and affected the quality of the practices."
THEN AND NOW
Sitting in her private office in the six-
million-dollar Varsity Tennis Center, Ritt
knows how things have changed.
"You can't even compare the two in
terms of facilities, Ritt said. It is evident
how much commitment the athletic
department has in investing in women's
Not only in terms of facilities, but in
the team's progress throughout her
"We had some really low moments,"
Ritt said. "There was a period of time
where we weren't really competitive in
the Big Ten, and a couple years in a row
we finished in last place. It was hard on
players and coaches in those down
In fact, in Ritt's first five years as head
coach, the Wolverines finished in last
place three times.
"That's why when we were able to
improve, it meant so much to eve ,'
Ritt said. "In 1994 when we reachthe
final of the Big Ten Championships for
the first time, it was even more gratifying
knowing where we came from."
Under Ritt, Michigan also won its first
Big Ten Championship in 1997, and its
first NCAA regional victory.
Always constant throughout the years
is Ritt's positive approach to coaching.
Using her experiences on the court,
earning Most Valuable Player hon a at
the University of Wisconsin, , itt
attempts to get the best out of her players
by knowing when to give constructive
criticism and when not to use negative
"Even if we end up losing, she is
always positive and loves to build on
that," co-captain Danielle Lund said.
"As a player that's what you want" Ritt
said. "You want someone to push and
motivate you, but you also want so .ne
that believes in you and has confidence
in you. Plus, it makes things more fun if
"You learn a lot from winning, and you
learn a lot.from losing. I am the.same
coach I was when we were losing than I
was when we were winning. Its so
important that you keep things in per-
Although her perspective and cech-
ing methods haven't changed ovyhe
years, one thing has.
The Michigan women's tennis team,
along with the rest of collegiate tennis is
in better hands with Bitsy Ritt leading the
Thank God for second chances. "
Join your fellow classmates in this effort to help
support the annual fund in your school or college!
U of M Telefund students will be calling you starting
To commemorate your special graduation year here's an idea!
Graduation year = 2000
A gift of $20.00 now, and
A pledge of $20.00 (or more)in the fall.
To thank you, well send you a U of M yo-yo.
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