After 11 years, the annual Ruby Rutnik Memorial Softball Tournament is one of the most exciting sporting events of the season and this year’s competition — scheduled for May 4 and 5 at the Winston Wells ball field — will be no exception.
The tournament started in 1997 in the wake of the tragic death of Ruby Rutnik, a talented softball pitcher at Antilles, who died in a car crash during her senior year at American University.
Since the tournament began, $64,000 in scholarship money has been raised thanks to sponsors who purchase anything from one inning to an entire game, explained event organizer, Ruby’s mother Janet Cook-Rutnik.
“What really keeps it going is the fact that the softball players really enjoy it and the response from the community is so positive,” said Cook-Rutnik. “A lot of the sponsors have been with us since the beginning which is really nice. Some sponsor whole games and some have given as much as a full scholarship.”
Four Scholarships Awarded
Money raised by the sale of innings or games goes to funding scholarships for local girls. Originally one scholarship was awarded to a St. John girl who was planning to attend university in the mainland.
The event has been so successful, however, four scholarships of $2,500 each are awarded annually.
One scholarship is awarded to a new winner, one goes to the previous year’s winner — as long as she is still in good academic standing — the third scholarship is given to a member of the winning team and the fourth award goes to a male or female who will attend the University of the Virgin Islands.
Young Ruby Rutnik impressed many people with her signature windmill pitching skills, which was the inspiration for the tournament, explained Cook-Rutnik.
Impressive Pitching Skills
“We didn’t actually come up with the idea, it was David Mugar and Delia Thomas,” she said. “Mugar knew what a great softball player Ruby was and he was very impressed with her and thought a tournament would be fitting.”
“Many people had thought of the scholarship idea, but David and Delia really came up with the idea for the tournament,” Cook-Rutnik added.
A St. John women’s softball team, the Royal Sisters, was very active in the late 1990s and Ruby Rutnik helped them win a tournament in St. Croix, explained Cook-Rutnik.
“Delia is a St. John girl who has always been involved in softball and has known our family throughout the years,” she said.“Delia was also closely associated with the famous women’s team the Royal Sisters, which was an institution for years.”
“The team asked Ruby to pitch for them at a tournament in St. Croix one summer when she was still in high school and they won,” Cook-Rutnik added. “That was part of the interest.”
Royal Sisters Get the Ball Rolling
The Royal Sisters actually ran the first Ruby Rutnik Memorial Softball Tournament, according to Cook-Rutnik.
“The Royal Sisters did everything that first year,” she said. “They organized all the games and made all the food for concessions and even played ball. It was very special.”
Keeping in touch with past scholarship winners over the years is one of the nicest things about the tournament, Cook-Rutnik explained.
“Most of the lovely girls who receive the scholarships stay in touch with the family one way or another,” said Cook-Rutnik.
“We follow their success which makes this tournament very special. Also, a lot of younger girls always come up to me and say they can’t wait to play in the tournament when they are older.”
Five Teams Committed
Although the official schedule was not complete as of press time, five teams have committed to participating, two from St. Croix and three from St. Thomas. The tournament will kick-off around 3 or 4 p.m. on Friday, May 4, at Winston Well ball field in Cruz Bay with girls playing through the evening.
The competition continues around 11 a.m. on Saturday, May 5, and the championship game is scheduled for 9 p.m. that evening.
For more information about this year’s Ruby Rutnik Memorial Softball Tournament, call Cook-Rutnik at 693-8069.