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Softball coach donates kidney to No. 1 fan from her playing days

by Jeni Williams

Alison Ritter and RJ Henderson spend time with their mothers after the transplant operation. Photo submitted by Alison Ritter

Softball brought Alison Ritter and RJ Henderson together. Ritter played first base for Salisbury; Henderson was the team’s biggest fan.

“He was a good friend of our pitcher, and he would cheer so loud,” Ritter says of her playing days from 2007 to 2010, which included four Capital Athletic Conference titles and a 147-27 record. “When we made it to the Division III (finals), he drove five hours to cheer us on.”

The two lost touch after graduation, but in spring 2016, Ritter read a Facebook post that changed their lives. Henderson was in end-stage renal failure, and he needed a kidney. “My heart sank,” she says. “Right away, I reached out and said, ‘If I’m a match, one of my kidneys is yours.’”

The message started a five-month process of paperwork, testing, psychological evaluation and a visit with the medical team at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore — nearly four hours from Pennsylvania’s Keystone College, where Ritter is now softball coach.

When Ritter learned in September that she would be an ideal donor, she took two days to consider. Then, she texted her old friend: “Hey, Bud, I’m going to be your donor.”

Henderson, an elementary school teacher, was in a meeting when he received the news. “I walked out of the room to try to compose myself,” he says. “It was so emotional, knowing she would make this sacrifice for me after all these years.”

Today Henderson is back in the classroom, while Ritter is deep into her second season at Keystone. “We’re actually closer now than we were back in college,” Henderson says. “It’s amazing.”

Ritter hopes the experience offers lessons in kindness and personal responsibility.

“My players say, ‘I can’t believe you did that.’ But I tell them, ‘Softball is what led me to RJ, and this is where it led us,’” Ritter says. “I hope it inspires them to work hard for each other.”

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Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.

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