Former Sooner pitcher Keilani Ricketts went into the week prepared to compete for her team, the Scrap Yard Dawgs, against the USSSA Pride Monday, June 24, with both teams chock-full of talented players in their post-college, professional careers. But by Saturday, Ricketts was wearing a jersey with someone else’s name on it for a new team created just days later to empower the softball community to raise awareness about the Black Lives Matter movement.
Ricketts’ newly-founded team, This Is Us, played its first game Saturday against the Pride (featuring former Sooners such as Shelby Pendley, Sydney Romero and Shay Knighten) in Melbourne, Florida, at Space Coast Stadium. The team has been supported by donations on short notice, after Scrap Yard decided to not play under the name anymore after its general manager tweeted at President Donald Trump. The tweet disrespected athletes for kneeling during the national anthem, a movement made to speak out against racial inequality at the hands of American law enforcement.
Trump has been vocal on his displeasure of athletes kneeling during the national anthem since NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick started the demonstration in 2016.
Over the course of a week, the team decided to devote its voice and resources to promoting racial equality, and plans on soon making a schedule to continue competing under its new name.
“We've been having a lot of meetings trying to figure out how we want to be able to represent ourselves,” Ricketts said in an interview with The Daily on Sunday, “being able to show our voice to the softball community and being able to be an example to the softball community about how to speak up for yourself when you believe something’s right. We just feel like the best way to represent ourselves is being able to call ourselves ‘This Is Us.’”
This Is Us will play on Monday, and Ricketts said a full schedule will be released soon.
On the back of her jersey, Ricketts chose to represent Mississippi State Coordinator of Softball Operations Kayla Winkfield, who was a Scrap Yard player when the team won the 2017 National Pro Fastpitch Cowles Cup. Winkfield works with Bulldogs softball head coach Samantha Ricketts, Keilani’s sister. The jerseys were made to represent Black athletes in the sport.
“I've had a relationship with (Winkfield) and the impact that she's had on the team,” Ricketts said, “and that's why I wanted to highlight her.”
We've got live softball being played! Pretty heartwarming moment to see @laniricketts10 wearing the name and number of @HailStateSB's own @KaylaCamille9 tonight. ❤️https://t.co/dXJjFqg4Q8 pic.twitter.com/0V5qrjVl4s— Samantha Ricketts (@Coach_Ricketts) June 27, 2020
Ricketts said the team is done commenting on the tweet to Trump that sparked the decision to cut ties with Scrap Yard, and says everyone is only looking forward to expanding the team’s message, no matter how uncertain the future is. With a team that was created within days amid the coronavirus pandemic which has postponed almost all sports in America, Ricketts can’t say at this point what the coming months will look like for professional softball.
Ricketts’ training for Team USA Softball was halted in March when the virus prompted nationwide isolation. She’s been based in Norman since, and has been training on her own.
“It's really hard to be able to say what (This Is Us) will bring for softball because our sport is so unknown, especially with the Olympics being in and (then) out,” Ricketts said. “I think we could just only hope for the best and just continue to do what we believe is right for the sport and just hope for that to grow our sport even more.”
This Is Us Softball made history tonight. These athletes used their voice for the betterment of this world, and I have never been more proud to be a part of a team. This is a night I will never forget.This Is Us. pic.twitter.com/2SzqG9DYc3— Jade Hewitt (@JadeHewittMedia) June 28, 2020
For now, This Is Us only plans on the near future of playing more softball. The team has been producing videos on social media about its message, and games are open to the public to watch. To Ricketts, being a part of this new team seemed like the only option for ensuring a positive message of supporting Black athletes.
“To have a voice is crucial for us,” Ricketts said, “and being able to stand up for our sport is very crucial for us. Being able to try to get our sport in the right direction is very important for us.”