The three recipients of the Johnny Ritchey Breaking Barriers Scholarship will throw the ceremonial first pitch tonight before the San Diego Padres face the Los Angeles Dodgers at Petco Park.
The scholarship was created in 2020 and is awarded annually to a San Diego County high school senior from an underserved area that embodies the characteristics and qualities Ritchey displayed on and off the field, including the capacity to overcome adversity and break barriers academically, athletically or in the community.
Nominations for the scholarship were submitted online with nominees being asked to submit an essay between 1,000-1,500 words describing how they have encountered and overcome personal barriers based on their real-life experiences. Each recipient will receive a $5,000 scholarship towards the continuation of their education.
The recipients are Aisha Sharif Ali from Hoover High School, Arianna Sanchez from Monarch School and Florentine Ashukuriwe from Lincoln High School.
Ali immigrated with her family to the United States in 2015 from Kenya where she faced injustices and strict limitations of women's rights resulting in her inability to receive a quality education.
Upon first arriving in America, she struggled to adapt to American culture while dealing with the language barrier that prevented her from feeling fully accepted. Ali faced her challenges head on by asking questions in class, attending tutoring and reading classes, reading comics and other books and participating in class presentations.
As her mastery of the English language improved, Ali's comprehension and confidence also began to grow. As the eldest of seven children, she has since been able to pass along her knowledge and experience to her younger siblings as they faced similar challenges.
Ali hopes to become the first in her family to earn a college education and become an OB-GYN while serving as an advocate for education in underserved communities.
"I hope that I can inspire other women to pursue higher education and achieve their dreams," Ali said.
Sanchez is the oldest daughter among seven children of a single mother and helped care for her brothers and sisters amid unstable living conditions. Sanchez has been accepted to Cal State San Bernardino's social work program. She hopes to become a social worker and provide hope for children with a similar background.
Ashukuriwe immigrated to the United States at a young age after being born and raised in a refugee settlement camp in Uganda that did not have electricity, Internet access or television.
The United States was the first place she saw female teachers and women in positions of authority, who became a source of inspiration. Ashukuriwe will attend Point Loma Nazarene University. She hopes to pursue a career in the medical or environmental fields by continuing her education at Point Loma Nazarene.
The scholarship honors the catcher who broke the Pacific Coast League's color line with the Padres in 1948. A bust of Ritchey and plaque honoring him as "The Jackie Robinson of the Pacific Coast League" is in The Draft at Petco Park.
The plaque includes a quote from Ritchey: "It was a thrill to play for the Padres. The fans cheered and my feeling was it was because I was a San Diego boy making good. It had nothing to do with race."
Ritchey was born and raised in San Diego and graduated from San Diego High School. He was a star member of the Post 6 American Legion baseball team, but was not allowed to play in national championships held in the South because of laws forbidding integrated athletic competitions.
Ritchey also played at the then-San Diego State College. Ritchey's time in college was interrupted by serving in the U.S. Army for 27 months during World War II in a combat engineering unit, seeing service at the invasion of Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge and in the Philippines, rising to the rank of staff sergeant.
Ritchey returned to San Diego State following the war and was the Aztecs leading hitter in 1946 with a .356 average. He began his professional career in 1947 with the Chicago American Giants, leading the Negro American League with a .381 batting average.
Ritchey batted .323 as a rookie with the Padres in 1948, one year after Robinson made his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Ritchey also played with the Padres in 1949. He played with three other PCL teams, the Vancouver Capilanos of the Western International League and the Syracuse Chiefs of the International League during his nine-season career in organized baseball which ended in 1956.
Ritchey died in 2003 in Chula Vista at the age of 80.