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  • Writer's pictureSean Savage

CUAA's Ritsema is Blessed to Be A Blessing

Selflessness is uncommon, no matter the person’s age. Colton Ritsema has spent much of his time at Concordia University Ann Arbor (CUAA) displaying a generous persona.

He has juggled responsibilities of being a student-athlete, serving as a Resident Assistant in his dormitory and also finding time to play the heroic role of Captain Von Trapp in the Sound of Music. One of Ritsema’s favorite quotes comes from Uncle Ben in Spiderman: "with great power comes great responsibility." Ritsema believes if you have the platform to influence others, do so positively.

"Other athletes in the same position as me use their influence to make it all about themselves,” he said. “They would potentially hurt others by being arrogant and not caring. That just did not appeal to me.”

On the basketball court, Ritsema was the Cardinals’ go-to guy during his recently completed senior season and one that everyone looked up to. The 6-foot-5 forward started all 27 games, totaling 276 points, 103 rebounds, and 49 assists. His leadership and skills on the court earned him a spot on the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference All-Academic Team.

Ritsema's altruism is also valued off the court.

"Colton is seen as a selfless, servant leader both on and off the court,” said Lonnie Pries, athletic director of the private university. “People definitely look up to him, and he is a great role model for our other athletes."

Ritsema's leadership has grown exponentially through the years. He "has become significantly more confident," says his father Randy. He notes that Ritsema is also willing to confront a teammate, if need be, but makes sure he does it "in a humble manner." His father has also seen his son show a great willingness to improve himself and grow as a Christian and a person.

"I am not only proud to be his father but I consider Colton to be a man of character and influence," Randy said.

Ritsema’s motto is not limited to lines from Marvel movies. Another is: “Life is bigger than me… It is something my parents instilled in me; to help others and put them before myself," he said.

During his sophomore year of high school, he worked with a program called Links. It was a peer-to-peer program; Ritsema assisted youngsters on the autism spectrum. One class involved Ritsema just sitting with the students. In another, he did coursework to learn about more learning disabilities.

"I was able to help them in class as a partner: to get acclimated and stay on task,” he said. “But, at the end of the day, I was also just a friend to them. That was the main part of it for me. I incorporated them into the daily school routine."

Ritsema attended events outside the program to further bond with the students. He even danced with one at homecoming. Ritsema was involved with the program through his senior year of high school.

With his youth group, he worked with In The Image. The non-profit organization strives to provide hope, dignity, and respect by providing positive shopping experiences for no charge. Ritsema saw this as another opportunity to give back to the community.

"It’s a shoe company that helps kids get outfitted with shoes for the upcoming school year," he said. "To me, that’s something I never thought of before. Getting to see how a new pair of shoes could be so exciting. Seeing the joy on some kids' faces said it all."

In addition, his high school team required its players to volunteer to officiate kids’ games. Ritsema went out on his own and served more community service than required.

"Someone once gave up their weekend and did this for me," he said. "I put myself in my shoes back in the day of how much I appreciated those people."

(Photos by CUAA Athletics, Cover Photo by @C2visualmedia)

Born in Jenison, Michigan, Ritsema's passion for basketball became evident at an early age.

“He actually climbed up into the basketball game at Chucky Cheese when he was three years old," his father recalled. "We found him playing with the basketballs after frantically searching for him after he had gone missing."

Ritsema started playing competitively in elementary school. As he grew older, he played on a travel team around Michigan. His skills and passion for the sport grew along with his height. His passion developed as he gained more success playing on the AAU circuit. He grew to love the teamwork aspect.

"The competition and challenges of the sport continued to draw Colton into developing himself as a player and as a person," Randy said.

His coaches played a part in his love for the game as they inspired him to become his best. This is where Ritsema developed a vision to play in college. However, he found the transition from high school to college as a student-athlete was a challenge in competition and time management.

Ritsema’s typical day starts at 8 a.m. A quick breakfast before his first class is followed by the basketball team lift. After that he grabs lunch and heads to more classes. He finds a way to get in a second workout. He then does homework before practice and after that it’s more studying.

Adding to this, Ritsema has to keep up with the responsibilities of being a Resident Assistant. The job requires scheduling meetings, scheduling hall programs, or doing rounds late at night.

"It's another way to help people, honestly," he said.

Also, during this past season, he squeezed in rehearsals and performances for the campus musical production where he played the role played by Christopher Plummer in the “Sound of Music” movie.

"It's a lot. I have to be very mindful of what I'm doing so I do not let the day slip away," he said in somewhat of an understatement.

Concordia University Ann Arbor has membership in both the NAIA and NCCAA (National Christian College Athletic Association) which is committed to having its student-athletes and coaches create a positive impact for Christ.

"My goal is to live like Jesus would, including loving others and where they are at," he said. His faith has been a solid foundation for his growth as a player and a person.

"He professed his faith in God through Jesus at around 11 years old. He knew he was gifted by God for athletics and wanted to glorify God with his best efforts, giving credit for his success back to God," his father said. "Colton has become a young man of influence both on and off the court. He is a true joy to be around, and his calm demeanor puts people around him at rest."

Ritsema is involved with Athletes in Action, a faith-based fellowship of athletes at the college level. He has led bible studies, team prayers, and devotions. This has enabled Ritsema to express his faith while encouraging teammates.

"The gifts given to me are not for my own glory; they are to help others and be an influence for God," he said.

Ritsema has also been committed to good grades as a student first and an athlete second. He exemplifies a balance of growth in spirit, soul, and body.

On the court, Ritesma knows, "even if I have a bad game or play a good game, my value is not found in my sport. I have a higher calling as a son of God."

Ritsema wants to continue playing beyond college. Athletes In Action also has a team that travels to Europe. "It's something I might pursue after playing next season. Playing in games and doing ministry work," he adds.

Pro-level teams have the potential to watch and sign players from the games they compete in. "Getting over there and playing semi-pro would lead to playing professionally. So I would really have to dig into it," Ritsema said.

For now, he focused on the off-season and school. Ritsema has another year of eligibility as a student-athlete due to COVID. His unselfishness and love for others drew him to be a communications major. Later on, he hopes to become a teacher and give back everything he has cultivated.

His advice to those in college or high school comes from something his parents once told him: "with your gifts, you are blessed to be a blessing." Sometimes, the best option is to take a step back and do well for others.

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