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With a name for the game, Ryne Christensen is the total package for Whitehall

Baseball is his No. 1 passion, but he’s created lasting father-son memories through wrestling, too.

WHITEHALL – Ryne Christensen loves the feeling of striking somebody out.

His favorite thing to do, however, is going to baseball practice every day with his best friends and helping to make them better or competing in games and “battling with them.”

Of course, the Whitehall senior also loves pizza. What teen-ager doesn’t?

“One of my favorite moments with Ryne was at our wrestling camp my freshman year (Ryne’s sophomore year) and we had spent all of our extra meal tickets to get a ton of pizza on the last night,” Whitehall junior Ryan Goodrich recalled.

“Nolan (Taranko) was there, too, but Ryne was just always making us laugh and shared plenty of great stories and moments on that balcony eating like five pizzas.”

When Whitehall’s baseball season ends and his high school career wraps up, Christensen should have plenty of great stories to tell.

He’s enjoying a really big season for the Vikings, who are 22-10 overall and were runners-up in the West Michigan Conference Lakes Division at 10-2, one game behind champion Oakridge.

Christensen’s primary goal this season is to “hoist a wooden mitten with my teammates.” That may mean a Division 2 district title as Whitehall competes up in Big Rapids on June 1. The Vikings take on the host team in the district semifinals.

“He’s not a very vocal kid but leads by example through his ability, knowledge, worth ethic, and passion,” veteran Whitehall coach Warren Zweigle said. “He truly knows the game inside and out. It’s like having a coach on the field when he’s in the game.

“I always thought he was a decent hitter, but pitching has been his forte,” Zweigle said. “The kid is proving us wrong this year – he’s leading the team with a (.475) average.”

Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark

Christensen is 48-of-101 at the plate with 11 doubles, three triples, and one home run. He has 36 runs scored, 27 RBIs, 21 walks, and 36 stolen bases.

On the mound, the 5-foot-10, 160-pound right-hander is 7-1 with one save and a 1.36 ERA. He has 65 strikeouts and 16 walks in 51 innings.

Christensen is having such a good season, he’s one of three finalists for the CatchMark SportsNet West Michigan Conference Baseball Player of the Year award.

The 17-year-old son of Craig and Britney Christensen will walk with his Whitehall classmates in their commencement ceremony tonight (May 22) at the Viking Athletic Center.

Ryne Christensen took care of business in the classroom with a 3.8 GPA. He will attend Muskegon Community College, where he’ll play baseball and begin his career pursuit of becoming a teacher.

Baseball has always been Christensen’s No. 1 sport. In fact, he’s named after Chicago Cubs Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg.

“It’s an honor because my dad always tells me stories about how high his character was on and off the field,” Christensen said. “I’m also very lucky my mom is just as much or more of a Cubs fan than my dad and approved of the name.”

Wrestling has always meant a lot to the Christensens as well, through the trials and tribulations and the bonding experiences between father and son. Craig Christensen is a longtime assistant wrestling coach for Whitehall, while Ryne Christensen has been a reliable grappler and teammate for the Vikings.

At the end of his son’s senior wrestling season, Craig Christensen provided a first-hand account of the father-son and coach-athlete dynamics and everything that goes into them.

CatchMark file photos

“I remember not knowing what to do besides cry,” Ryne Christensen vividly recalled. “Before I read that article, I knew and came to terms with my wrestling career being over. I had not yet come to terms with not being able to continue to wrestle for my dad anymore. This opened my eyes to how many memories we made with each other.”

Ryne and Craig Christensen have long been tight but wrestling helped pull them together even more.

While son is out there battling in wrestling or baseball, father is going through the gamut of emotions.

“He is so many different things to me: A role model, a coach, one of my biggest fans, and most importantly a great father,” Ryne Christensen said. “It’s hard to explain, but he’s all of those just combined into one.”

Said Zweigle: “They have an exemplary connection – one to be jealous of. Craig gets so locked in while Ryne’s pitching that he’s impossible to talk to.”

One particularly special moment during the most recent wrestling season happened when Ryne Christensen punched his ticket to the MHSAA individual state finals with a hard-fought victory during regional competition.

It was certainly emotional for Ryne, but equally or maybe more so for Craig.

“All those memories I am so thankful for and I will remember them forever,” Ryne Christensen said. “I am so lucky to be able to have those because not many kids out there can be able to share a similar experience to me. The fulfillment that went through my body after that (regional) match is indescribable and the fact that my dad was the first person’s arms I got to jump into is a blessing.”

In addition to the emotional side of Ryne Christensen, Zweigle said he can be “a little goofy” at times but he also knows when to turn that off and take things seriously when necessary.

Christensen is a jack-of-all-trades for Whitehall’s baseball team. He knows and thinks the game exceptionally well.

“He’s the ultimate baseball player, one that every coach deserves to coach at some point in their careers,” Zweigle said. “He has already left his legacy and he will be missed after he graduates.”

Christensen certainly has the respect of his teammates, both in wrestling and baseball.

Goodrich and Taranko have known Christensen a long time and know him about as well as anybody.

“My first impression was wondering who this kid was that was just always making jokes and was somehow good at wrestling,” said Goodrich, who has known Christensen since middle school. “As a wrestler, Ryne was always reliable for our team. He’s a veteran that knows Whitehall’s system and our style, so whenever the coaches need someone to turn to, to hit the quick tilt or grit out a match, he could be a teammate to turn to.”

Taranko, a classmate and longtime friend of Christensen, said that his buddy brings a lot to the table for the baseball team.

Best of all, he excels in being a great teammate.

Photo by Courtney Jimison | CatchMark

“One of the more important things that he brings to the table is being a great pitcher along with being a great hitter. Another thing that Ryne brings to the table is being able to play just about anywhere he is asked to. This year he has been asked to play numerous positions and he’s done a great job at each spot,” Taranko said.

“He’s one of the first guys to get up and cheer the team or make sure someone is recognized for helping the team score or advance a runner. Overall, Ryne brings a lot of positivity to the team whether it’s on the field or in the dugout.”

Christensen is grateful to both of his parents for the sacrifices they’ve made, including for him to play the game of baseball that he adores. He said he pushes a little harder on the field when he thinks about what they’ve done for him from a baseball standpoint and in shaping him every day to become a better person.

Some of Christensen’s best memories have been created during car rides or games of catch with his father in the yard.

“After wrestling practice twice a week for the last three years, he would drive me to Rockford or Holland just for me to be able to play a little more baseball,” Ryne Christensen said. “During these long trips, I would love to pick his brain about his coaching philosophy and how he interacts with kids. We talked about everything under the sun during these late-night trips and I will forever be grateful for those conversations.

“The most important memory we have created through baseball is that he has never said no to me when I have asked him to have a catch with me. Not one time to my recollection. He has always enjoyed playing catch with me out in the yard and I think those memories are greater than anything we have done together on the baseball field or even the wrestling mat.”


Lead writer for CatchMark SportsNet and Web Services leader for CatchMark Technologies.

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