Rita Menke ’80, former head coach of the Belleville East High School Lancers softball team in Belleville, Ill., received a surprise honor from the team as she prepared to retire as chair of Belleville’s English Department at the end of the 2013-14 academic year.
The team held “Rita Menke Day” to celebrate the career of its former coach. As part of their pregame ceremony against the Althoff Crusaders, the team donned shirts reading “We (large symbol of a heart) Coach Menke” while her favorite song, John Fogerty’s “Centerfield,” played from the public address system as fans, school administrators, and former players cheered. During the ceremony, Menke’s accomplishments were noted, and a banner honoring her as “Forever a Lancer” was hung on the right field fence. She then threw the first pitch to Lancers catcher Andrea Roberts.
Inducted into the SJC Sports Hall of Fame in 2002, Menke ended her high school softball coaching career with 609 wins, 11 Southwestern Conference championships, nine regional championships, seven sectional championships, two super-sectional championships, and three state championships.
Former players say that Menke had a tremendous impact both on and off the field. Current Lancers coach Natalie Peters, who played for Menke in high school, stated, “It’s impossible, really, for any of us to put into words what she means to us. We know she’s retiring from teaching, and we wanted to give her a big send off and get as many former players and parents of players as we could here to support her and let her feel that impact she’s had on people’s lives. We just wanted to honor her and make her feel really loved.”
Menke says she plans to spend retirement with her family, running, golfing, reading, and helping out with the softball team.
Named a "character-building college" by the Templeton Foundation, a "Best Midwestern College" by the Princeton Review, and “Best Value” and "Best Midwestern College" by US News & World Report, Saint Joseph's College is a four-year, Catholic college offering 27 majors, 4 group majors, 35 minors, and 9 pre-professional programs, complemented by the nationally acclaimed Core Program. Founded and sponsored by the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, SJC is located in Rensselaer, Indiana, approximately 90 minutes from both Chicago and Indianapolis, on a park-like campus of 180 acres and has an enrollment of nearly 1,200 students.
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