October 21, 2014

Elyria
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Elyria Sports Hall of Fame: Jan Sito grew up with sports, never left the games

Isn’t it a sure thing that a girl growing up among five sports-focused brothers will develop an affinity for sports?

CT photo illustration by Ed Betzel.

It happened that way for Jan Sito.

Her brothers Ken, Dave, Don, Jack and Chris were almost by nature into sports. As the third-eldest of six children, Jan was surrounded by sports and took to them more-or-less naturally.

“I started playing softball around the (West Avenue) neighborhood when I was young,” she said. “We just picked up and started playing. There were no girls and I had five brothers. There was nothing but boys around there to play with.”

Evidence this: “When I was 3, my uncle gave me a doll for my birthday and I threw it away,” she said. “After that, he gave me money.”

Not surprisingly then, Sito was among an early wave of women to play organized sports in Lorain County. At 15, in the mid-1960s, she played for Lorain’s legendary Old Dutch Brewerettes, a fastpitch softball team that made its mark across Ohio.

That was not long after she enrolled as a freshman at Elyria Catholic. She stayed at EC for a year, then transferred across town, where she became an Elyria High Pioneer, which was a nifty coincidence.

Given events that unfolded over the years that followed, Sito emerged as a pioneer in the literal sense.

She founded the softball program at Elyria Catholic and later also coached softball at Elyria High and the old Southview High in Lorain. She coached volleyball and basketball, continued to play softball for the Brewerettes and became prominent as a softball, basketball and volleyball official.

She was even one of the first women in the state to coach a boys Little League All-Star team when she led the South All-Stars into the 1968 postseason.

Over the years, teams she coached won league and conference championships and Sito received coach of the year awards. Even today, she is assistant softball coach at EC, under the leadership of her brother, Chris, and she continues to be active as a multisport official.

For her accomplishments in many sports at several levels, Sito will be inducted into the Elyria Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday night.

She will join Ken Fenik, Brooke Bader, Adam Larrick, Briant McLaughlin and the 1972-73 Elyria and Elyria Catholic boys basketball teams as inductees in a ceremony at the Lorain County Community College Spitzer Center.

“I started playing for the Brewerettes in 1965 when I was 15,” she said. “I started in the outfield, then worked my way to third and first and I caught. I think starting in ’68, we were state champions, then in the early ’70s we disbanded and went down to Ashland where they had a team.”

In that span, the Brewerettes won three state titles and the Ashland team captured one. In the mid-to-late-’60s, when she was a Brewerettes catcher, Sito saved up enough money to buy a new glove, made of kangaroo skin, for the then-unheard of price of $60.

When she told her father, Tony, about the purchase, he said: “Tell your mother (Julia) it cost $35.”

It was in the early ’70s that Sito suffered a knee injury and retired from fastpitch softball. Which does not mean she retired from softball. She took up the slowpitch form of the game and pitched, among other things, for a variety of teams that won a variety of championships.

Sito coached Elyria South Little League boys in 1967 and ’68. At first, the boys were skeptical of a woman coach, she said.

“So I said, ‘OK,’ and I went up and hit a home run right-handed and a home run left-handed,” she said. “Then they listened to me.”

Sito was among the first to stand out in women’s varsity sports at LCCC, where in 1969-70 and ’70-71 she played on the field hockey, basketball and softball teams, all coached by Linda Rowe.

“In those days, there was no budget for women’s sports at LC,” she recalled. “Linda paid for our uniforms out of her own pocket — in all three sports.”

For her junior year, Sito transferred to Bowling Green, where she played field hockey. She graduated from BG in 1973. For a time, she worked in the former Sito’s Polish Village, a popular neighborhood tavern owned by her parents. But not for long.

She earned her education degree about a year after Title IX of the U.S. Education Act became law in June 1972. Title IX mandated equal opportunities in athletics for girls and young women attending public and private schools that received federal funding.

Never mind that previously there were few, if any, organized sports for females in and around Elyria and Lorain County. There were scarcely intramural programs for them in many high schools, colleges and universities nationwide. Title IX created opportunities for them and for Sito.

At that point, her involvement in sports for girls and young women was just developing. She became the founding coach of Elyria Catholic’s softball program and later coached softball for one season at Elyria, where she was succeeded by her brother, Chris.

She joined the faculty of St. Jude’s elementary school in Elyria, where she taught physical education for nine years starting in 1976. During this time, she coached girls volleyball, basketball and track in the CYO program and, for a time, coached girls basketball at EC.

During her season there, the varsity went 17-3, the junior varsity 15-5, the eighth- and sixth-grade teams were undefeated and the seventh-grade team lost just twice. Following her stint at St. Jude’s, Sito moved on to the Avon schools, where she taught for five years, while at the same time coaching at Elyria High.

Later, after moving to the Lorain school district, she coached freshman volleyball at Southview and took over the Saints softball program in the early 1990s. In her best softball season (1997), the Saints went 17-3 behind the pitching of Eve Sextella. Their only losses were to Elyria — and to Sito’s niece, Pioneers pitcher Lindsay Anderson.

Sito has been officiating volleyball, basketball and softball for nearly 40 years and has been president of the volleyball officials association for 20 years. She still teaches a class for volleyball officials.

“I’ll probably be active until I die — or until I can’t or I know it’s not helping the kids,” she said. “That’s the big thing: when the kids still like it when you show up.”

Next up

  • WHAT: 42nd Elyria Sports Hall of Fame induction banquet
  • WHEN: Saturday
  • WHERE: Spitzer Center, LCCC
  • TICKETS: Sold out

Contact Bob Daniels at 329-7135 or softball@bobdaniels.info.