Ryan Christenson has been involved with a baseball program since he was five years old. The Ellsworth varsity baseball program was Christenson's main tie to baseball for 12 and a half years, but the Panthers' former head coach is now directing his baseball career along a new path.
Christenson was offered an assistant coaching position at University of Wisconsin-Stout in late January and will begin his run with the NCAA Division III Blue Devils this spring.
"I have worked hard to develop my coaching skills and have been very fortunate to be surrounded by great people, which has opened up many doors for me," Christenson said. "I have always felt it was necessary to be where your feet are, trust the process, do the right thing and good things will happen. I am very fortunate to have this opportunity."
That doesn't mean his decision to leave the Panthers was an easy one, however.
"It's difficult to leave something you care so much about," Christenson said. "Once I made the decision, I wanted to ensure I spoke to my players, assistant coaches and administration so they could hear the news directly from me. Those conversations were not easy; however, I truly appreciate the amount of support and well wishes I received from everyone."
Christenson coached as an assistant under Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Steve Block during his first 10 seasons with the Panthers before being promoted to head coach once Block retired after the 2016 season. The Panthers recorded a 28-15 record during Christenson's two seasons as head coach and earned the program's first WIAA state tournament berth in five years in Christenson's final run with the team.
Ryan McGregor, who received All-State honorable mention baseball honors before graduating from Ellsworth High School in 2018, said Christenson's "unbelievable" passion and knowledge for the game of baseball shaped him and his teammates throughout his successful high school career.
"This helped us as players because we developed a love for the game," McGregor said. "I have no doubt that he made our team the best we could possibly be because he always knew what was best for us.
"Coach C's passion, knowledge and quotes - can't forget those - were in my mind what made him such an amazing coach."
Christenson's attention to detail was not lost on Drake Flom, who was also a member of the 2018 state-qualifying Panther baseball team.
"Coach C will be tough to replace," Flom said. "He knows everything about the game, including details that most people never notice. I will always have respect toward all the time and effort he took into making his players the best they could be."
Christenson's reciprocated feelings for his players and co-coaches are indisputable.
"I will miss coaching at EHS as the kids, our coaches and the community have become my family," Christenson said. "I have faith that everything will work out and EHS baseball will have another great year. I know our new head coach will be deeply supported by the players, parents, administration and the community, just as I have always been."
Ellsworth's athletic director Ann Huppert offered the open coaching position to Rob Heller on Tuesday, Feb. 19, and pending approval from the Ellsworth School Board, Heller will take over this spring. Heller, a technology education teacher in the district, also serves as the Panthers' head football coach and as an assistant coach for the Panthers' wrestling team.
"My only advice to the next head coach is just to be themselves and trust their coaching abilities," Christenson said prior to Heller's hiring. "Ellsworth baseball is in great shape with some incredibly talented and selfless players. Whoever is named the next head coach will enjoy this group of kids - I know that for sure."
Christenson thanked the Ellsworth School District for entrusting him to lead the baseball program, and shared his appreciation for the constant dedication shown by his coaching staff and players.
"It has been a pleasure working together both on and off the field with them," Christenson said. "I will always be thankful for the memories made while coaching baseball in Ellsworth."
Though he'll no longer be found in the dugout or behind third base at Panther games, Christenson still plans to be a part of the Ellsworth baseball memories that have yet to come: "I look forward to cheering from the stands this season and supporting the team."
His former players know his support for Ellsworth baseball will be ongoing.
"From hosting camps to helping form our first baseball bash, Coach C's work led to our community knowing who Ellsworth baseball was," Flom said.
"In my time with Coach C, I saw him try to bring the community together through the game of baseball," McGregor said. "Coach Christenson, although moving on to a collegiate coaching career now, will still do whatever he can to keep improving Ellsworth baseball."