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Baseball honors commitment to Jackie Robinson’s legacy

Jennifer Igbonoba | Photographer
The baseball program began its affiliation with the project 25 years ago when then Head Coach Tom Walter agreed to host a commemorative home game for Jackie Robinson.

Updated: Nov. 23, 2022 at 11:06 a.m.

The 27th annual Jackie Robinson night paid tribute to the efforts of the GW baseball program’s efforts to commemorate Jackie Robinson’s memory Thursday night.

The baseball program began its affiliation with the project 25 years ago when then Head Coach Tom Walter agreed to host a commemorative home game for Jackie Robinson. The Jackie and Rachel Robinson Society honored the baseball program with the Jackie and Rachel Robinson Society Community Recognition Award and expressed gratitude toward Head Coach Greg Ritchie for his lifetime commitment.

Ritchie picked junior shortstop Steve DiTomasso to receive the award as part of an annual tradition to select an athlete who represents the baseball program with qualities that best reflect those associated with Jackie Robinson on and off the field.

“It’s a long standing commitment to understanding what Jackie Robinson and Rachel have done for the world and the amount of change that happened because of their courage to step forward and say things and do things, and to show the actions of what it means to have justice in social justice,” Ritchie said in an interview after the award show.

The program, created in 1996, leads events that focus on Jackie Robinson’s impact on baseball and the civil rights movement. Associate Professor of Sociology and Director of the Jackie Robinson Project Dr. Richard Zamoff hosts lectures about Robinson at schools across the country.

In 2018, University officials announced plans to terminate the then-22-year-old project citing financial strains, but it has since persisted after receiving widespread discouragement against the move, including a student petition that garnered hundreds of signatures.

Zamoff said sweeping issues of discrimination and human rights abuses that face the United States today speak to Robinson’s assertion that even his own legacy left “much more work still to be done.” He identified a series of modern issues that Robinson would work against, like book bans, abortion restrictions and widespread racial discrimination, citing the first World Series without an African American player born in the United States since 1950.

“We cannot pretend, nor should wait, that those years did not occur, nor should we delude ourselves that those challenges have disappeared, there are decision-makers at GW who simply do not value what we do,” Zamoff said.

Zamoff said the baseball program has been a great resource for society as it has allowed them to institutionalize Jackie Robinson’s legacy with the annual game and award show as a celebration for the entire GW community. He said during the COVID-19 pandemic, the project was unable to host any events, but the baseball program proved to be “a valuable liaison” to connect the project to the student community.

Zamoff relayed messages praising the project from a series of GW community members who could not attend, including former baseball Head Coach Tom Walter, Karen Ercole, who managed academic support services for GW Athletics, and Stephen Butler, a senior staff member of the project.

“I want to thank you, the Jackie Robinson project staff and the students in the Jackie and Rachel Robinson society, for getting off the sidelines and honoring Jackie’s life and legacy in such a meaningful way on the GW campus,” Zamoff read from Walter’s remarks.

Zamoff then presented the Jackie Robinson Direct Appreciation Award to the baseball program while honoring Head Coach Ritchie for his commitment to continuing the relationship with the Jackie and Rachel Robinson society.

“And as I said in my messages inviting members of the GW community to tonight’s program, there is no entity on the GW campus that has come close to GW baseball in supporting the goals and objectives of the Jackie Robinson project and the Jackie Rachel baseball society during the past 25 years,” Zamoff said.

In the final minutes of the award ceremony, the baseball program gave its own recognition award to Zamoff for his years of service to the Jackie Robinson program. He said he wanted to honor Zamoff’s 25-year involvement with both the project and society in educating students about the importance of Jackie Robinson’s impact on race relations within baseball.

“It has been our distinct honor, and I’m very, very humbled in this award for all the people past, but it goes without saying that this would not be something so specific in this world were not for Jackie and Rachel Robinson,” Ritchie said. “And also bringing that to fruition to everybody to hear to see and be educated about, through our young men aspire to be exactly, honoring our men throughout the years has been something very special.”

This post has been updated to correct the following:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported DiTomasso received the the Jackie and Rachel Robinson Society Community Recognition Award. Ritchie designated DiTomasso to accept the award on behalf of the baseball program. The Hatchet also incorrectly reported that the baseball had a program in hosting the award ceremony. The event was only organized by the Jackie Robinson Project and the Jackie and Rachel Robinson Society. A previous version of the article also misspelled the names of Karen Ercole and Stephen Butler. The correct spellings are now reflected. We regret these errors. This post has been updated to clarify Zamoff’s remarks about modern issues Robinson would work to address. This post has also been updated to clarify the attribution of a quote Zamoff read from a letter he received from former baseball Head Coach Tom Walter.

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