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October 27, 2002

Ritter, Malone understand what friendship means

From: Cherry Hill Courier Post, NJ
Oct. 27, 2002

You won't hear about any one better than Katie Ritter.

The senior at Shawnee High School creates a symphony of sticks with the sound of wood banging on wood while playing her determined defense for the powerful Renegades field hockey team.

She doggedly keeps the ball in front of her with the tenacity of Eagles free safety Brian Dawkins. Ritter will make some noise putting a body on you too like Dawk, anything it takes or sound it makes to keep the ball away from the net.

Ritter, however, is at her glorious best away from the furious action in front of the cage. Away from the chaos, cacophony and cheers woven within every field hockey game, Ritter shines even brighter than her golden hair when there is perfect silence.

For when it is most quiet, Ritter is at her greatest.

That is then when Ritter signs to Jessica Malone.

Malone was born deaf. And, although she hasn't been able to hear Ritter slashing sticks to splinters for the past four years as field hockey teammates, she has seen Ritter speak.

Ritter decided to learn the skill of signing as a freshman upon meeting Malone. The two haven't stopped listening to each other since.

Malone only doesn't hear Ritter when she has her back to her, which is just on the field. But, that is for the entire game since Malone is the goalie for the No.6 ranked Renegades.

``She is such a caring person,'' Malone said clear as could be thanks to years of speech lessons and continuing speech classes about Ritter.

Malone, who lives in tiny Tabernacle, recalled how Ritter helped her hurdle the challenge of attending such a huge high school without the ability to hear.

``I was terrified,'' Malone said. ``I was so scared to go to school.''

But, the fear was swiftly replaced by the friendship of Ritter.

``She didn't judge me,'' Malone said about her friend who reads opponents offensive attacks as quickly as Malone reads lips. ``She took time to get to know me.''

Since then, Ritter's reach for Malone has continued to stretch well beyond her sizeable stick length. When asked, however, how does it feel to know how much she has meant to helping Malone, Ritter only said softly, ``I don't really think about it.''

Maybe not, but if there was a Heisman Trophy for a high school humanitarian, Ritter should have a front row seat at the New York Athletic Club for the presentation.

``She showed me,'' Malone said thinking back to her freshman year, ``that people do care.''

Helping out, indeed, is something which has come natural for Ritter. And, really all those who know her fine parents, Sandy and Mark, probably expect nothing less from the youngest of their three kids.

You see, Sandy and Mark have been helping their entire lives too. Sandy is a teacher and one of the best field hockey coaches in South Jersey history. She just won her 300th game at Collingswood last week. Meanwhile, Mark was a terrific boys' basketball coach for the Colls for many years until he moved up into high school administration.

They both have been very active in their community of Taunton Lakes in Medford. For years, Sandy organized and ran the annual Easter Egg Hunt there. As you can imagine, due to her athletic ability, Katie wouldn't need mom's pre- hunt help as a youngster to find any eggs.

Now, later in life, Katie Ritter has found something much more precious than a colored egg to a young kid on Easter morning. She has found from Malone that one of the neat things about helping her out all these years is it is Malone who has been so quick to help out her these past few months.

Sadly, Sandy Ritter found out she had cancer over the summer. Understandably, it's been tough on the family and surely Katie, who is playing the sport her mother loves for this final high school season.

But, Malone has been there to listen to Katie, although medically it says she can't hear. And, now, she is the one watching her friend's back, and it just hasn't been from the goalie cage looking at her best defender sweep away another attack.

``She has been so amazing, she has just shown amazing strength,'' Malone said. ``I'm just really proud of her. Sure, she has her bad days, but she always steps up and plays. I don't think I could do that if my mom was going through that.''

With that said, Malone reached over and gave Ritter a huge hug. It was a tender hug a lot of people would like to give Ritter right now.

``As a person, she looks out for other people,'' Shawnee coach Heather Xenakis said about Ritter.

Ritter plans to continue to care for people when her and Malone go their separate ways after this school year.

Ritter also plans to still make her wonderful wooden noise playing field hockey in college. No doubt her mom will watch - and hear - her play there as a senior too.

Malone, too, hopes to continue to play hockey, possibly at either Rutgers, Ball State, Rhode Island or Rider.

There, hopefully, she will meet a friend like Ritter.

Meanwhile, Ritter will certainly meet someone like Malone. She plans to attend McDaniel College, which was formerly Western Maryland.

There, Ritter plans to major in deaf education.

Copyright 2002 Courier-Post.