Head Track and Field Coach Ryan Pitts earns Presidential Lifetime Achievement award for volunteer service


Josephine Moore

Ryan Pitts, head coach of track and field, receives the Joe Biden’s Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award. Each recipient received a certificate signed by President Joe Biden.

Editor’s Note: The original version of this article was updated for clarity on Feb 26. at 10:43 a.m.

Last November, Baker University Head Track and Field Coach Ryan Pitts received the 2021 Joe Biden Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award for volunteer service. He traveled to Houston, TX to accept the award, at the Second Annual Presidential Lifetime Achievement Awards Ceremony on Nov. 12.

Sponsored by AmeriCorps, the award ceremony was put on by one of Pitts’ athletes’ mother, who is a retired U.S. Air Force member.

Pitts was among a variety of recipients, including his own brother, Chester Pitts, who is a retired NFL veteran and currently, does charity work in Houston. Pitts said receiving the award was a special moment to share with his mother and brother.

Pitts received this honor because of his volunteer service in Southern California. He decided to train athletes during weekends and summer breaks, free of charge, to advance in their sports.

“As long as the kid would show up and work hard, I had no problem getting out of my bed to show up at 9 o’clock in the morning to work a kid out, make sure they’re staying in shape and anything just to keep them off the street or have something to be involved with,” Pitts said.

Pitts grew up in Southern California and was immersed in the sports scene at an early age. As an athlete, he possessed qualities of leadership.

“Throughout high school, if my coach did something I didn’t like, I was always thinking of what plays I would have done differently or how I would have spoken to an athlete differently,” Pitts said. 

That student mentality eventually translated into coaching. The first team he ever coached was for a fourth-grade basketball team when he was 18 years old. 

Since then, he has coached all types of youth athletic teams in California, many of which were volunteer positions through the local parks and recreation center. He coached volleyball, fifth-grade basketball and baseball, eighth-grade basketball, high school track and field and more.

Pitts was constantly learning how to be a better coach throughout his years of coaching young athletes. He says coaching high school girls’ track and field at Warren High School in Downey, Calif. taught him the most.

“I learned that you can’t talk to all your athletes the same. You have to learn their different personalities,” Pitts said. “If you do get on them for making mistakes, you always have to follow it up with some positive reinforcement, like tell them what they did well, but ‘this is how you fix it for next time’.”

When it was time for Pitts to decide his next step after high school, he chose Baker. At Baker, he was a student-athlete who played on the football team and graduated in 2006 with a history degree.

In 2014, he came back to Baker as a graduate assistant for the football team as he worked on his master’s degree in the Master’s of Liberal Arts (MLA) program with an emphasis in history. In 2015, he added volunteer assistant to track and field to his job title. 

When the position for head coach opened up in August of 2014, Pitts was encouraged to apply and he got the job in 2015.

“I came here to get my Master’s Degree and my career fell into my lap,” Pitts said. “My ultimate goal was always to be a college head coach. It just came a lot sooner than I thought, so obviously I accepted the position and the rest is history.”

Pitts says he is grateful to be doing what he loves, coaching, at his alma mater. 

“I hate sitting in the office all day. I’m like, ‘when is it time for practice?’ When I go out to practice, I hit a different gear, I’m fully up and energized, so I definitely enjoy coaching,” Pitts said.

Pitts can be heard at Liston Stadium yelling out splits times to his athletes while they run at practice. He constantly encourages them and pushes them to greatness.

“Having Pitts as a coach is pretty amazing,” Sophomore Shelby Butts, a member of the women’s track and field team, said. “He always makes sure his athletes come first [and stay] healthy physically and mentally. Also, he’s goofy and makes practice fun.”

Not only did Pitts find his passion in coaching, but he also loves teaching as he feels the two go hand-in-hand. Pitts was able to teach a BK100 course at Baker during the Fall 2019 semester. This is also his fourth year advising the athlete study hall group.

Pitts was not recruited heavily out of high school and he did not get the typical signing day experience that many athletes at every level do today, so when he recruits athletes he makes sure their experiences are special and that they never feel cheated when they get to Baker.

During his time as head track and field coach, Pitts has led teams to two conference championships and has produced 47 individual conference champions, 29 All-Americans and one National Champion. He has also been named the Heart of America Coach of the Year as well as the Southwest Regional Coach of the Year.

Deverius Brown, graduate assistant to the track and field team, said Pitts is a “mastermind in track,” but he does not mind asking for help, and he values and respects Brown’s input as a coach. 

“The biggest thing Pitts has taught me is patience. Something he is big on is trusting the process. If you put in the work, results will show,” Brown said.

His spirit of service extends beyond the sports arena. Pitts tries to attend at least one of each Baker athletic team events every season to support student-athletes. If he has athletes in a theatre or music show on campus, he is there. Pitts said his responsibilities as a coach are not limited to the track.

“You have to be a coach, but you also have to be a mentor. You even have to be a therapist sometimes, but if an athlete of mine needs more help than I can provide, I make sure to get them the necessary help. I always want to make sure that my athletes feel comfortable enough to come to me if they need something,” Pitts said.