By Tom Shade
For DuBois Central Catholic senior cross-country runner Johnny Ritsick, his school-record setting performance at the PIAA State Championships was an impressive finale to a classic career in what many consider to be one of the most Spartan of all scholastic sports.
Ritsick, who also competes on the Cardinal soccer and track teams, placed 51st in a 216-man field of the finest runners among Pennsylvania’s Class ‘A’ schools, finishing in the top 23 percent of the competition with a time of 17:47 – all DCC records for the state meet.
It was the first time a runner from DuBois Central Catholic reached the state meet in exactly 20 years with the last qualifier being a familiar name to local residents: State Rep. Matt Gabler of the 75th Legislative District.
According to Coach Tom Shade, “Johnny’s varsity career began as a freshman, and his ascension to one of District 9’s most respected runners is a ‘rags to riches’ tale of growing talent and confidence. It has all been very inspiring, and is sure to become a part of the rich lore of DCC athletics.”
Ritsick, the boys MVP this year, also owns both the season and career wins records for the Cardinals, as well as team records on various courses in the district.
Ritsick said: “Never dream of something and expect to receive what you want without working for it. Work hard and you’ll receive the most plentiful rewards in your life.”
One of the motivating factors in Ritsick’s success was the influence of Gabler, who came to speak to the teams in 2017 to tell his story as a runner under Coach Tim O’Connor from 1998-2002, and to give any advice he could to help them also reach states.
“Representative Gabler has been a bit of a legend to our modern program, and his visit was very inspirational and had lasting effect. His name comes up all the time in our meetings and his accomplishment gave the athletes a target to shoot for,” said Shade.
O’Connor was head coach of cross country at DCC for over 20 years, beginning in the 1980’s and he offered congratulations to Ritsick as well. He also offered his own observation, “Johnny’s results this year are a reflection of how hard he works. Nothing replaces hard work, and that applies to any sport.”
Gabler took the time recently to visit the school and congratulate Ritsick, as well as other current team members and O’Conner and Shade, and to share a few stories of his exploits when he attended DCC in the former high school building that was across the street from the Penn Highlands Medical Arts Complex.
Shade said: “Matt related to us the changes that have taken place and the different courses that existed in the 1990’s, and told us many stories, including the state-qualifying run at Clarion, and the time in the year 2000 when he hurt his foot a week before districts, but managed to compete anyways.
“It was nice for Johnny and some of the team to catch the spirit of cross country this way, and it really adds to the credibility of the sport. This was a sort of ‘passing of the torch’ to Johnny to inspire the next state qualifiers.
“Johnny has been a district qualifier in the distance events, and it would be a fitting cap on his career to reach states in that sport, too. We are all rooting for him to continue his success.”
Ritsick now looks to the spring when DCC plans to host another Track & Field program.