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the Southerner Online

An upbeat website for a downtown school

the Southerner Online

An upbeat website for a downtown school

the Southerner Online

Atlanta Public Schools plans to focus on chronic absenteeism, missing any school, instead of truancy, unexcused absences. This takes the focus off of the legal process and onto the academic impact.
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Business teacher Cruz joins team as softball assistant coach

Ellie Palaian
Cruz helps the Knights warm up their batting before the game against Washington on August 23.

Former Little League World Series runner-up Rita Cruz, now a business teacher, is also the new assistant softball coach after previous seasons at Banneker, Sutton Middle School and Mt. Zion.

Cruz started playing softball when she was 8 years old, representing her home state of Indiana in the 1984 Little League World Series. Her Indianapolis team Christian Park, also known as “The Cinderella Team,” finished runner-up to New Mexico. Cruz’s team played in the finals with only 13 players, while New Mexico had a roster of 33 girls. 

“It was given to us by a newspaper at the time,” Cruz said of the “Cinderella” nickname. “I don’t think we understood as children what was really going on. But as we got older, we were like, ‘Wow’, it was just 13 of us, and the team that beat us had 33 players. It was almost really unfair, but at the same time, we were proud of ourselves. We weren’t supposed to go that far.”

Cruz has been teaching for 20 years. During that time, she has mostly taught Spanish but came to Midtown to teach business, which has always been a passion, she said.

“I knew I wanted to teach a business class because that was my first love,” Cruz said. “Finally, after 20 years, I’m teaching business.” 

Having coached at three other schools, coaching with the softball team became part of Cruz’s deal to come to Midtown.

“Dr. Bockman (Principal Dr. Betsy Bockman) was just like, ‘You wanna teach here, huh? Can you coach for me?’” Cruz said. “She asked me to be the head coach, but I’m like, when you go to a new place, you want to learn the politics, the culture. You want to learn everything because it’s new. So, I thought, ‘Let me start off as an assistant coach, and we’ll go from there.’”

After finishing last season with the best record in two decades, the Knights are looking for a title, and Cruz is determined to get it.

“I am competitive, and I would love for them to get a city title,” Cruz said. “They’re capable of doing it. We have a really good team; a lot of times it’s just how they mesh together. And then, as long as they increase their skills each time we play, then we could do it.”

Senior Mia Jurkovic said she is grateful to have Cruz as a new addition to the team and thinks the team will have success with what Cruz has done on and off the field. 

“Coach Cruz has really helped keep this team running behind the scenes,” Jurkovic said. “We’re all extremely appreciative of all the time and effort she has put in these past couple of months to make sure that all the players are safe and everything is running as smoothly as possible.”

Senior captain Lily Reilly believes Cruz is a crucial and important addition.

“Coach Cruz has brought a lot of energy to the team,” Reilly said. “She’s been amazing with helping the new players get a feel for how the sport works. She’s also very hands-on and helps us warm up our throwing and fielding.”

Cruz strives to create a positive, encouraging environment with the players.

“I tell them all the time, don’t compare yourself to other teams and other players, compare yourself to yourself,” Cruz said. “When you do that, you’re always going to do better.” 

The coaching staff, including Cruz, have made it a priority to get fair resources for the softball team, and to make the sport as safe as possible.

“All the coaches have really helped us get the equipment and field that we need,” Reilly said. “The coaches have been working really hard to improve the field conditions so that it’s safer for us to play on and have been helping to get us appropriate helmets to wear.”

Cruz said she has made it a mission to try to fix the fields and make it available, and fair, for both softball and baseball.

“Coach Eric (assistant coach Eric Twombley) and a couple of parents went out and raked the fields,” Cruz said. “They were really, really bad after four inches of rain that was just sitting in the dugout and on the field. It’s a step-by-step process. Some of the items APS can take care of, but others have to go through the boosters and PTA; so it’s hard to find that balance.”

The team started preparing for the season early in the summer, which gave Cruz time to connect with the players and coaching staff.

“We had voluntary summer workouts since May, and since the season officially started, we’ve all really gotten the chance to bond,” Jurkovic said. 

Cruz said she has bonded with the team well and looks forward to seeing where this season takes her and to how the girls excel as athletes.

“It’s a very strong coaching team, and the girls are adjusting pretty well,” Cruz said. “We’re a little old fashioned; so the girls are colliding a little with that, but other than that, they’re learning, and they’re progressing well.”

Reilly agrees Cruz has adapted to the team well, and she said she is appreciative of Cruz’s enthusiasm for the sport.  

“The transition from [former assistant coach Brishanti Weaver] to [Cruz] was pretty seamless. Coach Cruz fits in perfectly with this year’s team. She is just as eager to coach as we are to play,” Reilly said. “I think I speak for all my teammates when I say it’s amazing to have someone as committed to the team as Coach Cruz.”

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About the Contributor
Ellie Palaian
Ellie Palaian, Sports Managing Editor
Ellie Palaian is a senior and this is her third year on staff for The Southerner. She plays varsity soccer for Midtown High and is excited to write for the paper this year.

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