Every Monday, Thursday, and Friday at 7 p.m., Greg Ritts hurries to his Luxembourg home from his work as a lawyer. Once he arrives, his 17-year-old son, Cole, knows time is of the essence.
While Greg rushes to switch his suit and slacks for something more relaxed, Cole packs the bags in the car’s backend.
The triweekly song and dance has a purpose. They both have practice for the Luxembourg Lacrosse National Team at 7:30, and it’s important to be on time. After all, nearly six percent of the country’s 34 lacrosse players are in the Ritts family.
The two enter the car as father and son, but they exit as teammates.
“It’s a different dynamic on the field,” Greg, Luxembourg’s oldest player at 49, said. “I treat him as I generally do any other player out there, including the stupid jokes and giving people nicknames. It’s sort of a time for five or six hours a week where we’re more peers and teammates than father-son. It probably has given Cole an opportunity when he’s not happy with how I am as a father to get physical with me out there in an acceptable manner.”
Cole sees the situation similarly. He doesn’t find it strange to play on the same team as his father and treats him the same as his other teammates. That is, unless he has reason not to.
“I think it’s a good way to relieve stress of him telling me to do the dishes before practice,” Cole said.
Greg doesn’t just accept punishment from his son, though, he doles it out, too.
“I can distinctly remember him poke checking me in the helmet and dislodging my chin strap and saying it wasn’t a penalty,” Cole said.
The elder Ritts won’t hear it.
“There’s no referee at practice, so there’s no fouls at practice,” he explained. “The offensive guys always think the defensive guys are a little too rough.”
The Ritts’ battles always draw the attention of their teammates. They love watching them at each other’s throats, but the dynamic between the two is also a spectacle.
“Greg is quite direct and funny. Although he is 10 to 20 years senior to some, he’s quite youthful in how he acts and how he integrates with the rest of the players,” said Pit Bingen, a midfielder and president of the Luxembourg Lacrosse Federation. “Certain jokes, they are more awkward when the son is next to you. I think the jokes would also not be good for printing.”
But once Greg and Cole reenter the car, their familial relationship resumes. With Greg’s busy work schedule and Cole’s intensive studying regiment, work as an eagle scout, and commitments to his other sports of baseball and hockey, it can be difficult to find crucial one-on-one time. The car rides provide them with rare opportunities to bond, especially the hourlong or more drives to games and tournaments.
Joanne Pettito, Greg’s wife and Cole’s stepmother, said she has noticed differences in their relationship since Cole fully committed himself to lacrosse in September, after spending some time focusing more on baseball and hockey. As children become teenagers, they often leave behind their parents to hang out with classmates their own age, but lacrosse has given new life to the relationship between her husband and stepson.
“Normally I would say (to Greg), ‘Oh, did you know this about Cole?’ and he’s like, ‘Yeah, he told me that yesterday when we were driving to practice,’” Greg’s wife and Cole’s stepmother Joanne Pettito said. “It’s like they’re becoming friends.”
But it’s not all fun and games. The Ritts family is gearing up for July’s 2018 World Lacrosse Championships in Israel. As rare as it is for a father and son to play on the same team together, it’s even more unique to see on an international stage.
Cole didn’t attend any lacrosse practices last summer, withdrawing himself from the sport to focus on baseball and hockey. But when his father told him about the World Championships, he gave him the choice: fully recommit to lacrosse and come compete in Israel or stick with other sports. After a week and a half of deliberation, Cole chose lacrosse, has been a regular since September. He plans to continue to dedicate himself to Luxembourg Lacrosse and punch his ticket to Israel with his father this summer.
It took many dominoes falling perfectly for this opportunity. The Ritts family is originally from Seattle, but moved to Paris in 2011 before ending up in Luxembourg in 2014. There aren’t many countries in the world they could have landed where the balance is just so that the chance to play lacrosse is real, but the player pool is small enough for them to both make the team.
Due to complications with credit transfers from his school in Paris, Cole has junior-standing in high school despite being the age of a American high school senior, pushing back the start of his college career by a year. If not for that, he would be spending the summer on college preparation and moving back to America, not lacrosse.
And of course, the World Championships needed to fall exactly at a time when Cole was mature enough to compete and Greg could still push his body to that level.
“It’s just dumb luck that it happened this way,” Greg said. “It is really a fortuitous set of circumstances and one that I will never forget regardless of what happens there. If we win any games or not, it’s going to be an incredible experience to have and to be able to share it with Cole makes it that much more special.”