After a year of uncertainties due to COVID-19, Ramona High School softball player Mackenzie Rutkoff is looking forward to attending University of Colorado at Colorado Springs on an athletic scholarship next fall.
The 17-year-old senior will be pitching for UC Colorado Springs’ Mountain Lions softball team, a position she has practiced for nearly her entire life. Mackenzie said she started playing softball when she was 6 years old and has been pitching since she was 7.
Although she’s tried playing soccer and volleyball, and even dabbled in water polo beside her older brother, Josh Ferry, who played water polo as a goalie for Ramona High for four years, Mackenzie is dedicated to softball.
“It’s become my whole life,” said Mackenzie, who has been playing travel softball for five years on the San Diego-based Firecrackers Brashear/Hicks travel team that plays throughout San Diego and in other states such as Arizona and Texas.
Mackenzie has also played softball the last four years on the Bulldogs’ varsity team.
The NCAA Division 2 university caught her attention because she wants to major in sports management at UC Colorado Springs’ College of Business with the goal of becoming a sports agent.
“I’ll get to do internships with professional sports teams in Colorado and I’ll get to continue playing softball at the collegiate level,” said the athlete, who expressed excitement about meeting professionals who play for the Colorado Rockies baseball, Avalanche hockey and Buffaloes basketball teams. Mackenzie plans to visit the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Center near UC Colorado, too.
Another attraction, she said, is the beautiful campus, which she visited in January 2020, just a few months before the coronavirus shutdowns. Mackenzie said she feels lucky to have had the opportunity to visit the school because some of her teammates committed to attending universities but will have to attend them sight unseen.
Timing was again fortuitous when UC Colorado Springs actively recruited her in fall 2019. By spring 2020, the Bulldogs softball team had only played 10 games in their season before being cut off by COVID-19 restrictions.
Ramona High Varsity Softball Coach Michael Pelchat said the team usually plays 28 to 30 games each season depending on the playoffs schedule.
“I didn’t get to do CIF or Valley League play so I don’t know who would have won in league play,” Mackenzie said about the unprecedented halt to games before the playoffs.
Pelchat said he talks to CIF (California Interscholastic Federation) coaches from throughout the county by Zoom every Monday to stay in touch about the status of sports during the coronavirus. He said football sets the tone for the other sports and in Ramona, the high school football season is on track to start in December. Pelchat said he is optimistic the other sports will continue to play because safety protocols are being put into place and the development of a vaccine for the virus looks promising.
“As of right now we’re cautiously optimistic with the protocols in place that we can play,” said the coach, who estimates softball will be pushed back from its February start date to a March start.
Pelchat describes Mackenzie as a “true gamer” who never gives up and is unfazed by the other teams’ successes.
“She always wants the ball,” said Pelchat, praising her good sportsmanship. “She can give up a run and then strike out the next batter. She always gives our team a chance to win with every game she pitches. She’s out there because she wants to be out there. The passion for her game, you can just see it.”
Mackenzie’s dad Micah Rutkoff said his daughter’s tenacious personality got her through the coronavirus setbacks. When she couldn’t play organized sports in the spring and summer, Micah Rutkoff said she would hold Zoom practices by setting up a camera outside and videotaping her pitching.
“She makes everything a new challenge and comes up with ways to go around it,” her father said.
Mackenzie has been a leader off the field as well.
Two years ago she joined the Ramona High yearbook staff and was given the opportunity to be the sports editor. She performed so well that in the 2019-20 school year the yearbook adviser Tim Hall appointed Mackenzie editor-in-chief.
“It was very stressful, but I learned a lot,” said the versatile student. “I had to run the class and delegate. It’s all about producing a giant book for the school. It taught me leadership skills and how to work with different types of people while still being productive and having a good time. A lot of things go into the yearbook that nobody thinks about. I had to think about them and get it done.”
Mackenzie said she and the other yearbook staffers were able to finish the book just before schools were shut down by coronavirus in mid-March.
“There was only one page we didn’t get done,” she says proudly.
This school year Mackenzie is involved in Ramona High’s ASB Leadership Class, where she helps to plan school events such as dances and assemblies and the senior Homecoming and Prom. Mackenzie said ASB leaders are trying to connect students virtually, but the bigger events are still up in the air. She said Homecoming may possibly be held in January or February and a possible site to hold the prom is being considered but nothing is finalized yet.
Mackenzie was part of a modified Petco Park celebration for 250 students in San Diego County who earned a scholarship and are expected to play sports at the collegiate level next year. The National Letter of Intent Signing was held Wednesday, Nov. 11, in celebration of a national signing day for potential college athletes.
The San Diego Sports Association-hosted event usually welcomes students inside the ballpark and holds a presentation with athletes on stage, but this year Mackenzie said students and their families parked their cars, then went out one at a time to walk across the stage to have their names and the names of their schools announced.
This content was originally published here.