“Step Up for Colleen” Race Held In Memory of Local High School Teacher

As they entered campus, over three thousand runners in pink clothing were welcomed and cheered on by Drumline, Blue Key Heads, and fellow viewers during the third annual “Step Up for Colleen” run last Sunday morning.

“Step Up for Colleen” is a 5K race held in memory of Colleen Ritzer, a long-time resident of Andover, Mass., who served as a math teacher at Danvers High School and a role model for many students and colleagues.

The race started at 9:00 a.m. in Central Park, Andover, where runners headed down Bartlet Street into the parking lot next to the Andover Inn before turning onto Chapel Avenue, towards the Cochran Bird Sanctuary, and going back to the town streets where they finished the race.

Trevor Lazar ’17, a member of Drumline, said, “The energy there was very cool especially for early in the morning on a high school campus. We got a good chance to see all the runners coming down from Bartlet Street. You could see pretty far down the road, and it was just a sea of pink! Everyone from Andover who was there was really excited to help cheer on the runners.”

Ritzer was part of the Class of 2007 of Andover High School. She graduated from Assumption College in 2011 and was pursuing a graduate degree at Salem State University. In 2013, Ritzer, while working at Danvers High, was murdered by one of her students with a history of mental illness. After her death, friends and relatives of Ritzer created “Step Up for Colleen” in 2014 in her honor. Runners were asked to wear pink, Ritzer’s favorite color. All profits made from the race go towards college scholarships for seniors in the Andover area who plan to major in education.

Johnny Rex ’17, a runner in the race, said, “My sister is studying education at college, and she received the scholarship from the Ritzer family last year in her senior year at high school. We felt because the family is giving us the scholarship and they’ve been doing a lot for us, running at the race is really the least we can do for the family and for Colleen, and it seems like a really good cause. It’s actually our first year doing the race, but we’re definitely going to continue it in the future.”

Rex took part in the race to support the Ritzer family and to memorialize Colleen’s positive influence on the Andover community.

“It is important to take part in these kind of events because it raises awareness of the issue. Who would have ever expected this to happen to the Ritzer family? The tragic event that she went through is eye opening to teachers and specifically women in education, and this event is definitely commemorating the life of Colleen. I think everyone was there to support the family,” said Rex.

Ananda Kao ’18 also took part in the race for her third consecutive year.

“I have run this race for three years now, in memory of Colleen Ritzer, her family, and all the people who were affected. It is always amazing to see how many people come out on this Sunday morning each year and race to support the Ritzers. I think it is important for people to take part in events like these to recognize the tragedies but also to support those most affected by them. When I was at the race, I could tell how much the Ritzers appreciate this event, and the joy that it brings them is why I race,” said Kao.

Christopher Capano, Director of Student Activities, mainly helped strategize ways for members of the school to welcome the runners onto campus. Capano reached out to the Blue Key Heads and Drumline to help cheer the participants on.

“It’s part of the town so we decided to be involved in some way. Because it’s a town thing, it nice to show some support towards the cause in some small way,” said Capano.

This year’s race offered features such as face painting, balloon artistry, and a photo booth. Many runners brought their baby joggers and dogs to accompany them throughout the run.

Payton Jancsy ’16, member of 2015-2016 Blue Key Heads, wrote in an email to The Phillipian, “There was a huge turnout for the runners, I was genuinely surprised to see just how many people came out in memory of Colleen; I think it speaks volumes to who she was as a person. I think it was a great day for the Andover community and it was special for our school to be a part of it.”