COLUMBIA — During the Missouri tennis team’s home match against Kansas State last month, Big 12 Conference officials went over to the fence that surrounds the Green Tennis Center’s outdoor courts where Pat Ritchie stood cheering for his daughter, Tigers freshman Kaitlyn Ritchie.
As he has done for every home match this season, Pat Ritchie made the 5-hour drive from the Ritchies’ hometown of Bartlesville, Okla., to watch Kaitlyn and her teammates.
This time, however, Pat’s loud support was too much for the officials. They sternly told him they considered his comments during the match to be coaching, and if he did not stop, they would take points away from Kaitlyn Ritchie.
Pat Ritchie respected the officials’ request and kept quiet the rest of the match, even though he said his cheering is encouragement, not coaching. However, because Pat Ritchie has been a tennis pro for 30 years in Bartlesville, many people in Oklahoma and the surrounding states know of him. Since Bartlesville is close to the Oklahoma-Kansas border, he thinks it was his reputation that made his comments a problem for that particular match.
Kaitlyn Ritchie said her father naturally behaves that way when it comes to tennis.
“He’s always been very vocal and very loud and doesn’t hold back much of what he wants to say,” she said.
For Pat Ritchie, phrases like “move your feet” or “build some momentum” come instinctively from him throughout the course of every match and his words tend to echo loudly in the Green Tennis Center. He comes dressed in Missouri athletics apparel and stands attentively with his hands crossed behind his back among all the other Missouri tennis fans.
For some players, he’s just another encouraging voice, but for Kaitlyn Ritchie, his presence has far more impact on her performance.
While her father has always played a valuable role in her life, Kaitlyn Ritchie, a freshman playing her first year of tennis away from home, said it means even more to her to see and especially hear him on the sidelines. When Kaitlyn Ritchie talks about her relationship with her father, the first thing she mentions is that they share a connection.
“He knows exactly what I’m going through,” she said.
Before becoming a full-time tennis pro, Pat Ritchie played tennis at the University of Tulsa. He said that college tennis was about as much fun as he ever had, and he wanted his children, Kaitlyn Ritchie and her older brother J.P. Ritchie, a senior at Iowa University, to have that opportunity.
“I just wanted my kids to have that same gift if they had a desire to do it,” Pat Ritchie said. “I think it (college athletics) is just a great thing.”
Pat Ritchie said both Kaitlyn Ritchie and J.P. Ritchie chose tennis on their own, without any pressure from him. But for Kaitlyn Ritchie, being around tennis because of her father and brother was ultimately what made her want to play the sport.
“Fortunately for us, tennis was what they picked. It was what I was good at, and it was something we could do together,” Pat Ritchie said.
While working hard at tennis was something that brought Kaitlyn Ritchie and her father closer together, Kaitlyn Ritchie said her relationship with her father was never coach-player. She has always seen him as just her dad.
“Yes, he spent a lot of time with me and my brother in sports, but he also made it such a priority to do stuff with us that didn’t involve sports at all or tennis at all,” Kaitlyn Ritchie said.
Mondays were always Pat Ritchie’s day off, so he would be sure to dedicate it to his children. Kaitlyn Ritchie says those days are some her fondest memories of growing up.
For Pat Ritchie, whether it was doing things with his children when they were younger or driving to Missouri or Iowa now that they’re older, supporting them is something he said is the least he can do.
Part of Pat Ritchie’s dedication to his children comes from his own childhood. He grew up one of 10 children and said his parents went to every single thing any of them ever did.
“What I did for two is never going to be what (my parents) did for 10,” he said.
With that in mind, Pat says he has no reason but to give everything he can to his children. Thinking about his parents’ influence on him makes Pat Ritchie a bit emotional because his father died five months ago.
“How many people want to have 10 kids? How many of them want to spend their lives doing for those 10 kids?” Pat Ritchie said. “Most of us are a little more selfish, we want to think of ‘our time.’ Well, when you have 10 kids, there is no ‘our time.’”
The amount of time Pat Ritchie dedicated to Kaitlyn Ritchie was what shaped their relationship. Kaitlyn Ritchie said that though it sounds cliché, her father has “always been the person who has taught me not only sports, but life.”
Now that Kaitlyn Ritchie is in college and not around to hit balls and work out with her father every day, her relationship with him has grown into something different. He may not be her daily source of tennis instruction anymore, but as Pat Ritchie said, he still sees himself as her cheerleader.
“He’ll always be the person I go to for instruction and what to do in certain situations for tennis because that’s what he’s always been to me,” Kaitlyn Ritchie said.“But now he can just come, be removed from hitting with me every day, and just be that encouragement and backbone for me when I play.”
Kaitlyn Ritchie said that even though she feels the team is behind her every match, her dad’s presence helps her focus, have confidence and feel like she’s playing better, even when she’s not playing her best match.
“It’s special to know he’s there,” she said. “He put in so much for me to be at where I am and it’s just really excited to be able to share that with him.”
The tennis team has two away matches left on this season’s schedule at Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. Both schools are closer than Missouri is to Bartlesville, so Pat Ritchie and other members of Kaitlyn Ritchie’s family will be there.