Who is Keith Ritchie? This was the question asked of several CHS students. Some responses included the following: “The guy who paid for our football field,” or “A kid who died in a football game.” Though some of these answers may seem ridiculous, there are bits of truth in each.
Ritchie was a 15-year-old sophomore and captain of the CHS junior varsity football team who was hit by a car in a Northridge parking lot in 1977. For the 18 months Ritchie was hospitalized after the accident that left him quadriplegic, his fellow students attempted to bring the high school experience to him by taking videos of school events for him to watch. As Ritchie became mobile, though constantly tethered to his wheelchair and respirator, the student bodies of CHS and A.E. Wright Middle School put together fundraisers to raise money for Ritchie’s medical equipment. One of these events was a rocking chair marathon through which Ritchie’s friends accumulated $20,000.
With unmatched determination, Ritchie continued to amaze people by graduating from CHS and attending San Diego State University and majoring in psychology. During this time Ritchie received $4.5 million as the result of an out-of-court settlement for the accident that left him completely paralyzed from the neck down. Because of his dedication to CHS, Ritchie then donated $10,000 of his settlement earnings to get the school’s football field new lights.
“He had gone through so much, with so much courage, that it was difficult to think that he would not make it,” said Penny Battan Mertens, Ritchie’s 10th grade counselor to the Los Angeles Times. “It sounds a little trite to use the word ‘inspiration,’ but that’s really what he was.”
Ritchie passed away in the beginning of March of 1985 at the young age of 23 for an unknown reason.
“In his will he left $50,000 to the Athletic Department as a thank you for the school that he loved and that loved him in return,” said retired CHS teacher John Reich. “The Las Virgenes Unified School District School Board then named the football field after him as an acknowledgement of Keith’s importance to the school and so that he would not be forgotten.”
Though he is no longer with us, Ritchie’s legacy continues as CHS is proud to have our football field named after such an astounding human being.