Zack Cohen | Sports Editor
To the relief of athletes everywhere, the mandate of the coach is a power typically restricted to the playing field. Were the individual that prescribes thirty push-ups on the spot able to assign chores, homework, and all the other mundane responsibilities usually restricted to parent and child, considerable objection might ensue. However, at Johnson this seemingly bizarre dynamic is the norm for two Johnson athletes: sophomore Conner Gesell, son of head baseball coach Gordon Gesell, and freshman Hunter Rittiman, son of head football coach Ron Rittiman.
“I call him coach on the field,” said freshman Hunter Rittiman, “If I don’t, I feel different from all my other teammates.”
Occasionally, what happens on the field between coach and son carries over to the home. In the Gesell’s case, these talks have become as natural as fielding a ground ball.
“‘Every time I mess up, we always talk about it,” the younger Gesell says of post-practice discussions with his father. “He’ll always just keep in between me and him.”
A successful football coaching career requires a passion that inevitably bleeds work into pleasure.
“He does a very good job of separating his work life and his home life,” said Patty Rittiman, wife of coach Rittiman and mother of Hunter. “We watch a lot of football at the house, and all four of us like to watch it. But now that my son is [at Johnson], they drive me crazy, talking about the games and plays. Especially, when they say stuff like, ‘We got Roosevelt this week, playa!’; because they call each other ‘playa’. That’s just their thing.”
Every parent wants their child to excel at whatever they choose to do in life. Athletic aspirations have no exception. However, coach Gesell makes impartiality a priority. “I don’t play favorites,” Gesell said. “I put the best boys on the field, based off their talent, not who their parents are.”
“I don’t directly coach my son, but I always watch him when he is on the field,” coach Rittiman said of his son, who is the starting quarterback on the freshman football team. “Even though I’ve never actually coached my son, we would always do some one-on-one drills in the backyard, like throwing the football around and working on fundamentals.”
Since he is not always watching his son during practice, other coaches often inform him of how his son is doing during practice and in games. However, academic performance is a far greater interest to the parents.
“He’s doing really well in all his classes, and keeping his grades up,” said Rittiman “That’s what’s really important during high school.”
There is nothing more important in life than a father-son relationship. Equally important is the relationship shared between player and coach, because many times a coach acts as a surrogate parent for his players. “I may only see him once or twice a day, aside from driving him to school,” coach Rittiman said of his son Hunter.“Some days, I come earlier than him for meetings, and his mom drops him off. Throughout the day I might see him in the hallways; but then again, I might not see him until eighth period when he’s in the weight room lifting or practicing on the field.”
With positives, there always come negative like in the case of coach Gesell.
“Earlier in his life, I wasn’t able to see him play that much because of work. Now that I’m his coach, I get to see him play all the time.” The term tough love really comes into play in this case.
“I’m probably harder on him because he’s my son than any other of my players.”